Researching Swedish Ancestry

Why and When Swedes Immigrated

Between 1867 and 1929, some 1.2 million Swedes immigrated to the United States. All told, one out of every five Swedes departed for America, a percentage exceeded only by Irish and Norwegian immigrants. Factors including available farmland and higher working wages in the region drew most Swedes to the upper Midwest states of Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois. At one point, Chicago was the second largest “city of Swedes” after Stockholm. Mass Swedish immigration to the United States ended when the stock market collapsed in 1929. During the following years and throughout the Depression, many Swedes returned home.

Searching for information in U.S. records

Check at home. Your first step in learning more about your family in Sweden is to identify the ancestors who immigrated – birthplace information in U.S. census records can help you pinpoint the immigrant ancestors. But you’ll also need to find the family’s county or parish in Sweden. Check with relatives for information they may have about where the family came from. Letters and postcards from Sweden in albums and attics could clues about the family’s home too. Also look at photos and notes written on the back, plus newspaper clippings and legal documents.

U.S. church records and other possible hometown clues. U.S. church records for Swedish ancestors may have recorded their birth parish in Sweden. The Swenson Swedish Immigration Research Center has tools to help you learn where the records can be found today. Also check for birthplaces in U.S. census records (although usually these only record home country rather than a county or parish) and vital records including marriage and death records and birth records of children.

Passenger Lists. U.S. census records from the 20th century include immigration year, which can help you locate your ancestor’s arrival in passenger lists at Ancestry.com. You may also find an ancestor’s departure in Gothenburg, Sweden, Passenger Lists, 1869-1951. Common Swedish names like Carl Andersson or Oscar Johansson can sometimes make it difficult to know if you’ve found the right person. Use birth year, approximate arrival year and names of other family members to help you sort through the list. Click here to learn more about Swedish naming patterns.

Moving into Records from Sweden

Move into Swedish records with the new Sweden, Indexed Birth Records, 1880-1920 collection. And use information you find here and from records created in the U.S. to browse household examination lists, part of Sweden, Church Records, 1500-1937. Other records in this collection tracked births, baptisms, deaths, burials, banns, marriages, confirmations and people moving in or out of the parish. Learn more about using these records here.

Breaking the Language Barrier

Swedish records were written in Swedish, which can be a big hurdle. Handwriting may also be problematic, particularly when a priest used German writing. You’ll find a list of key Swedish terms with their translations here.


Information for this article was extracted from Beginning Swedish Genealogy by Kjell Andersson, Ancestry magazine July/August 2005 and other sources at Ancestry.com.

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