One might say that there is a little Viking in all of us. For several hundreds of years, the Men of the North impacted nearly every culture around them. Fast forward 1000 years, and the Scandinavian countries still hold a major presence in modern genealogy research. Today nearly 11 million Americans claim Scandinavian ancestry. Scandinavia includes Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. Together with Finland, Iceland, and Faroe Islands, these territories are known as the Nordic Countries.
With so many of us claiming roots in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, it’s never been a better time to research your Scandinavian ancestors. Several parties are actively digitizing and indexing primary records for these countries. 10 years ago, I thought the online resources for Scandinavia were amazing — but things have improved leaps and bounds in the past few years, and the future looks even better. Yes, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden are all separate countries, but their history and cultures are so intertwined that it simplifies matters to group them together for genealogy purposes.
The most important group of records for Scandinavian research is the church records. I like to say that church records are the backbone of Scandinavian research. You really can do the bulk of your research using only these records — that’s not to say that other sources should be ignored, but without church records, we would be lost as genealogists.
Scandinavia, until recent times, had a State Church — the Lutheran Church. The switch from Catholicism to Lutheranism took place just before 1500, and from that time on, the church was supported by the state. The key point to remember is that the church in Scandinavia worked as an arm of the government. This makes the church records the state vital records.
There are 3 key records included in this type of record: christenings, marriages, and burials.
Christening records document when an infant was formally brought to the church for baptism. This typically took place within weeks of the child’s birth. If there was a fear that the child would not survive long enough to be christened in the church, the infant was sometimes christened at home as a precaution. Christening records always list the date of the christening, the child’s name, and the parents’ names (sometimes only the father’s). Other information that might have been recorded includes the names of witnesses, the father’s occupation, the name of the farm where the family lived, and the actual date of the child’s birth. If the birth date is not given, a christening date works very well as a substitution in your family records.
Marriage records may be recorded as an engagement announcement, as an actual marriage record, or as both. Any form of the marriage record will provide the full name of both the bride and groom. You will learn the date of either the first engagement announcement (the date the banns were read in the church) or the date of the marriage or both. You’ll also have the names of the two bondsmen listed. Sometimes you will learn the fathers’ names for both the bride and the groom, as well as an occupation, place of christening, etc. The marriage records sometimes provide so much detail about the bride and groom that finding the christening records becomes a snap. Other times, you’ll only see the two names, the bondsmen, and the date of the event.
Burial records are very similar in content to the christening records. You will always see the date of the burial and the deceased’s name. Typically the age at death is included. Many records include some type of relationship to the community, such as a father’s or husband’s name, an occupation, a farm name, etc. A date of death and cause of death may be included. Just like the christenings, if a death date is not listed, the burial date will work just fine for your record-keeping.
Searching the Scandinavian records and indexes on MyHeritage
MyHeritage includes church records and indexes for select areas of all three Scandinavian countries. These indexes can be very helpful for getting a quick match to church records. If you don’t find your ancestor listed in the index, do not assume that person was not listed in the records. The indexes are a work in progress. You may need to browse the images for your ancestor.
I searched the MyHeritage Denmark Church Records database for my ancestor, Peder Pedersen.
The index search led me to several interesting matches. One click later, I was looking at the images of the church record books.
MyHeritage indexes exist for portions of Sweden and Norway, as well. These are not linked to images due to agreements with each country’s national archives, but the index information can provide excellent help in finding the desired records for your family. When I looked in the database for Swedish Baptisms, 1611-1920, I found information about Jon Hansson, who lived in Mora.
The growing collection of Scandinavian church records on MyHeritage, and their accompanying indexes, are a great tool for researchers. Having the ability to quickly glimpse potential records for your ancestors in this area has never been a possibility before. Try the indexes today and see what you can learn about your family.