Hunting Your Swedish Roots – Searching for Clues in the Swedish Census Records

This article is the fourth in a series describing the hunt for one’s Swedish roots. In the previous articles, we discovered how clues can be uncovered by interviewing one’s family, searching public records such as census records and looking at emigration records.
Here we look at Swedish census records and see how they can help a person identify where in Sweden their ancestors came from. There are complete census records for the years 1880, 1890 and 1900, and partial ones for 1860, 1870 and 1910. While they are called census records, these records are extracts from the household examination or clerical survey records that were sent by parish ministers to the government agency SCB (Statistic Sweden). These census records are accessible on the subscription Swedish National Archives site: In addition, the 1880, 1890, 1900 censuses can be purchased as a CD from the Swedish National Archives.
The 1880, 1890 and 1900 Swedish censuses are very helpful in finding emigrants who emigrated after 1880. The 1880 census was published a couple years ago, and this particular database has been extremely helpful since the peak of Swedish emigration was in the 1880s.


Recently, I have been helping Annette in Illinois, who asked me to find out where in Sweden her grandmother, Alma Anderson, and grandfather, Bertel Johnson, emigrated from. I have a copy of the couple’s marriage certificate that showed they married in Chicago on July 18, 1908, and we know they moved to Darien, Wisconsin.
While I had been successful in locating Bertel’s place of origin in Sweden on the Emibas database—which has the names of 1.2 million emigrants who left Sweden between 1840 and 1930—I was not successful in finding any information about Alma on this database. At this time, Annette told me Alma’s birth date was December 3, 1880 and she emigrated with two brothers, Alfred and Andrew. I searched for information about Alma on the Emibas database using various criteria such as birth date only, first name and birth date and various other combinations with no success.

I decided to do some more research to see if I could find an obituary for Alma. Often the obituary will give information such as the place in Sweden where the person came from, names of living relatives and other information. I did find the obituary and while it stated that Alma was born in Sweden, there was a new piece of information which stated she was born in 1879—not 1880. While one can’t be certain this information is correct, I decided to look for births in 1879.
The census records are searchable by various criteria including first name, last name, birth year and parish. While the online and CD versions are both very easy to navigate, the CD has the additional child search feature, where one can search a child’s first name, birth year, siblings' names and combinations of the parents’ names.
I decided to search for Alma on the 1890 Swedish census and clicked on child search to look for an Alma born in 1879, with a brother Alfred. There were 129 cases. That's a lot, so I decided to take the chance that the father’s surname was Andersson and entered that information. I was reduced to 19 hits. This was more manageable, and I quickly found a family with three children: Alfred, Alma and Johan Anders, living in Istorp (Älvsborgs län, Västergötland). Alfred’s birth year was 1877 and Johan Anders' birth year was 1881. Even though one of the brothers found on the census was Johan Anders and not Andrew, many emigrants used their middle names instead of their first names, and Anders was often Americanized to Andrew. The census record shows the parish where Alma was born, and in this particular search where she lived in 1890. A note of caution: The census records are secondary sources and not 100 percent accurate, but mostly the records are correct.

With the information in the census records, we can go directly to the church records and locate her birth record and also the household examination record showing where she was living in 1890 and do further research to verify if we have found the correct person. In this case, we were successful. With further research, the birth dates in the church books for Alma and her brothers matched the birth dates in the U.S. records. Now, we can continue to trace Alma’s family backwards in time and also look to see if there are any living relatives in Sweden.