History Hans Högman
Copyright © Hans Högman 2019-05-21

Seeking information about Swedish ancestors by

their last name

Introduction

In Swedish genealogy news groups you often see postings by English-speaking genealogists like “Seeking information about the Johnson family from Sweden”. In many cases a query such as this is utterly meaningless. The reason is simple: most people in Sweden had patronymic names in former days, especially those living in the countryside. A patronymic last name is not the same as a surname (family name).

Patronymics

All “-son” names prior to the 1860’s are patronymic names. With a patronymic system, the last names are different also within a family. For example the last name for the husband, his wife and their children are different. So, for ancestors with patronymic names you can’t seek information about families by their last names because last names are not family names. Patronymic names were used in Sweden until around the 1860's when many individuals started to adopt family names. It soon became fashionable to adopt a family name but not everyone changed at this time. However, most people just "froze" their patronymic name as their family name. That’s why we still today have so many “-son” names in Sweden. Many also chose to adopt a new name. When the patronymic names were abolished the woman simply adopted her husband’s family name when they got married. In some areas certain family names were more popular then others. However the fact that many families in the same area adopted the same family name does not mean that they were related. Also, be aware that brothers could adopt different family names. For example my great grandfather and his brothers adopted different family names. This can be confusing when you are tracing your family history. Just the fact that an individual has adopted a family name, i.e. a new last name, is something to look out for in your research. Finally, in 1901 a law, The Names Adoption Act, was passed concerning the adoption of family names. The most important thing about the law was that the patronymic naming practice was abolished. From 1901 everyone had to have a family name, a family name that was passed down to the next generation.

Posting Queries in News Groups

When you post in a newsgroup, be specific; add as much information as you know about the person you are looking for. It’s a waste of time to write “I'm seeking information about the Andersson family from Småland”. Firstly, if the posting refers to the era when the patronymic system was in use it simply is meaningless to seek information about a family with the help of one family member’s last name. The only exception to this rule is your family was one of the relatively few that had already adopted a true surname. Nobility, clergy, tradesmen, and smiths are examples of people who often had family names. Secondly, if it is the era after the patronymic system, seeking information about a person with a common family name (Most “–son” names, like Andersson, are a very common family names in Sweden) in a large area is like asking information about a John Smith from Texas. It won't give you much. You have to be more specific than that! Always give the name of the parish if you know it or at least a name of a place together with the name of the county or the province. And always give a time period when your ancestor lived at that place. Add date of birth if you know it and information about wife, children, date of emigration etc. Also bear in mind that persons with a common family name are not necessarily related even if they lived in the same area. However, if you are looking for information about a specific individual you should of course use his or her patronymic name. For example “I'm seeking information about my great grandfather, Karl Andersson (1780 – 1850) from Markaryd socken, Småland.” In other words, give as much details as you can and the chance of getting feedback to your posting will greatly increase. In the above example we have entered the person’s name, year of birth, year of death, socken (parish) and province. Also remember that the Swedish "-son" names are spelt with two "ss", like Karlsson. In the patronymic system a last name like Karlsson meant Karl's son, i.e. Karls-son è Karlsson. For more information about the patronymic naming system, see Swedish naming practices in earlier times, surnames.

Related Links

Swedish naming practices in earlier times, surnames About First and Middle Names in Sweden Top of page
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History Hans Högman
Copyright © Hans Högman 2019-05-21

Seeking information about

Swedish ancestors by their

last name

Introduction

In Swedish genealogy news groups you often see postings by English-speaking genealogists like Seeking information about the Johnson family from Sweden”. In many cases a query such as this is utterly meaningless. The reason is simple: most people in Sweden had patronymic names in former days, especially those living in the countryside. A patronymic last name is not the same as a surname (family name).

Patronymics

All “-son” names prior to the 1860’s are patronymic names. With a patronymic system, the last names are different also within a family. For example the last name for the husband, his wife and their children are different. So, for ancestors with patronymic names you can’t seek information about families by their last names because last names are not family names. Patronymic names were used in Sweden until around the 1860's when many individuals started to adopt family names. It soon became fashionable to adopt a family name but not everyone changed at this time. However, most people just "froze" their patronymic name as their family name. That’s why we still today have so many “-son” names in Sweden. Many also chose to adopt a new name. When the patronymic names were abolished the woman simply adopted her husband’s family name when they got married. In some areas certain family names were more popular then others. However the fact that many families in the same area adopted the same family name does not mean that they were related. Also, be aware that brothers could adopt different family names. For example my great grandfather and his brothers adopted different family names. This can be confusing when you are tracing your family history. Just the fact that an individual has adopted a family name, i.e. a new last name, is something to look out for in your research. Finally, in 1901 a law, The Names Adoption Act, was passed concerning the adoption of family names. The most important thing about the law was that the patronymic naming practice was abolished. From 1901 everyone had to have a family name, a family name that was passed down to the next generation.

Posting Queries in News Groups

When you post in a newsgroup, be specific; add as much information as you know about the person you are looking for. It’s a waste of time to write “I'm seeking information about the Andersson family from Småland”. Firstly, if the posting refers to the era when the patronymic system was in use it simply is meaningless to seek information about a family with the help of one family member’s last name. The only exception to this rule is your family was one of the relatively few that had already adopted a true surname. Nobility, clergy, tradesmen, and smiths are examples of people who often had family names. Secondly, if it is the era after the patronymic system, seeking information about a person with a common family name (Most “–son” names, like Andersson, are a very common family names in Sweden) in a large area is like asking information about a John Smith from Texas. It won't give you much. You have to be more specific than that! Always give the name of the parish if you know it or at least a name of a place together with the name of the county or the province. And always give a time period when your ancestor lived at that place. Add date of birth if you know it and information about wife, children, date of emigration etc. Also bear in mind that persons with a common family name are not necessarily related even if they lived in the same area. However, if you are looking for information about a specific individual you should of course use his or her patronymic name. For example “I'm seeking information about my great grandfather, Karl Andersson (1780 – 1850) from Markaryd socken, Småland.” In other words, give as much details as you can and the chance of getting feedback to your posting will greatly increase. In the above example we have entered the person’s name, year of birth, year of death, socken (parish) and province. Also remember that the Swedish "-son" names are spelt with two "ss", like Karlsson. In the patronymic system a last name like Karlsson meant Karl's son, i.e. Karls-son è Karlsson. For more information about the patronymic naming system, see Swedish naming practices in earlier times, surnames.

Related Links

Swedish naming practices in earlier times, surnames About First and Middle Names in Sweden Top of page