Swedish Research: A Case Study

John Wahlstrom - border

Research into the background of Swedish emigrant John Wahlstrom (pictured) revealed his birth name: Johan Magnus Johansson. 

By James Pylant
Coyright © 2002, 2004—All rights reserved
Do not post or publish without written permission

Photo: Shirley Riley

Sweden ranks as one of the best European countries for genealogical research, a reputation earned because of its excellent record keeping. This system of recording stems from a 1686 church law requiring the clergy to keep detailed records of all ordinances performed in their parish. Yet before researchers can mine the country’s genealogical treasures, an ancestor’s residence must be pinpointed among some 2,500 parishes in Sweden.

Family tradition says Swedish emigrant John Wahlstrom lost his life in an accident at Christmas. He was leaving a church service one night when he was struck by a streetcar near his residence in Rockford, Illinois. The date of his death was unknown, only that it happened sometime before the 1920 federal census enumeration.1 A search of Illinois state death certificates shows one John Wahlstrom died in Winnebago County on 25 December 1916. The cause of death recorded on the certificate supports family tradition: “Shock following internal injuries; accidentally struck down by street car.” He was born on 20 April 1837 in Sweden, but no specific place is indicated nor are the names of his parents recorded.2

One of John Wahlstrom’s daughters, Mathilda Maria (Wahlstrom) Ellison, survived her father by 17 years, dying in Rockford on 2 March 1933. Her son, Reinhold Ellison, supplied a vital clue to his grandfather’s background as informant for Mathilda Wahlstrom Ellison’s death certificate. According to Reinhold Ellison, his mother was born on 20 October 1867 in Freyeled, Sweden, to John Wahlstrom and Inga Johnson.3

“Freyled” is actually Fryele, in Östbo District and Jönköping County. Grandfather Wahlstrom’s first name was likely an Americanization of Johan or Johannes, among other variants, while his wife’s maiden name of Johnson (if correct) was more likely Johannesdotter. Mathilda Maria Wahlstrom’s 1867 birth came seven years after ministers across Sweden were required to send copies of records annually to the Central Bureau of Statistics in Stockholm. These extracts of Sweden’s births, marriages, and deaths were microfilmed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and are now available at the church’s Family History Library in Salt Lake City or through loan at local branch centers.

By entering “Jonkoping” as the place search on the Family History Library Catalog and then clicking on the link for civil registration, a list appears of the 93 rolls of microfilm for Jönköping County. The extracts were not indexed, but arranged by year of the event (birth, marriage, and death), grouped by parish and entries are found by month and day. The microfilm roll of födda (births) in 1867 for Fryele in October, indeed, shows that on the 20th of that month, Tilda Maria was born to Johans Magnus Johansson and Inga Carlsdotter. Hannem is given as the parents’ residence, while the mother’s age is recorded as 31.4

This record reveals that the middle name of John/Johans was Magnus and that his father’s name was also Johans. However, Inga’s surname is shown as Carlsdotter (not Johnson/Johannesdotter) and she was, therefore, the daughter of a man named Carl. The tradition of using patronymic surname (father’s name) began to fade by the decade of Matilda’s birth, when Swedes began to assume permanent family names instead of one based on the father’s first name.

Before becoming “John Wahlstrom,” Johan Magnus Johansson was known by yet another surname deriving from the name of his family farm, which is revealed in another set of records mandated by Swedish church law. Clergymen were required to keep annual registers called husförhörslängd, a house examination roll or what genealogists refer to as clerical surveys. The purpose of the clerical survey was for clergymen to keep a census of parishioners and to examine their knowledge of the Lutheran catechism. The clerical surveys are of special interest to genealogists because they record birth date, birthplace, marriage date, and date arrived. Typically, one page in a pre-printed ledger was used for one address for a three or four year period. Death dates were added in a column on the survey or sometimes the person’s name was simply marked through to indicate death or that they were living elsewhere.

Fryele’s 1867 clerical survey shows Johan Magnus had taken the name of the farm, Hane as his surname, for the surname Johannesson is crossed through. Johan Magnus Hane’s birth date and place is recorded as 20 April 1837 in Fryele. Wife Inga Carlsdotter, whom he married on 9 July 1859, was born on 2 June 1836 in Kärda. She arrived in Fryele the year of her marriage. The children—all born in Fryele—are named as Frans Oscar, born 12 January 1860; Anna Elise, born 10 July 1862; Ida Carolina, born 3 August 1865; and Thilda Maria, born 20 October 1867. But the first name found on this page is that of Lisa Månsdotter, born 6 March 1803 in Värnamo, who was possibly Johan’s mother.5

The birth date of Johan Magnus Hane matches that given on the death certificate of John Wahlstrom in Rockford, Illinois, nearly 50 years later. The 1900 federal census for Winnebago County, Illinois, shows John Wahlstrom’s wife, Inga, was born in Sweden in June of 1836.6 Again, this is consistent with the birth date of Inga Carlsdotter as found on the 1867 clerical survey.

Since Johan Magnus’s birthplace is identified in the clerical survey, this should lead to an entry in the födde och döpte (birth and christening) records. But finding this source in the Family History Catalogue differs from the search for the 1867 birth because it predates civil registration. Instead of looking by the county (Jönköping), the parish—Fryele—is entered in the search box, which reveals 36 microfilm rolls of documents starting in 1645. Indeed, the Fryele register for 1837 shows the 20 April birth of Johan Magnus, son of Johannes Hane and Lisa Månsdotter. The parents were residents of Malmbroen, and the mother’s age was 34.7 This also confirms the identity of the older woman found in Johans Magnus’s house when the church survey was enumerated in 1867.

In Malmbroen—the year of Johann’s birth—we find the family on the clerical survey. Blacksmith Johannes Hane, born 28 February 1778 in Värnamo; wife Lisa Månsdotter, born 3 June 1803 (birthplace illegible), and son Johann Magnus, born on 20 April 1837.8 Surveys for 1830 to 1834 shows Johannes Hane, Stina Johannesdotter (born 28 November 1773 in Fryele), Lisa Månsdotter, son Johan Magnus, and son Carl August (born on 12 June 1839 and died on 12 July of that same year). Stina Johannesdotter was probably Johannes’s first wife. Her death date, 27 September 1835, was added to the survey. A few lines later a name has been marked through making it illegible, followed by a repeat of Lisa Månsdotter’s name, and then Johanna Jakobsdotter, whose name is marked through.9

Lisa probably gave her son the middle name of Magnus in honor of her father, for Måns is a shortened version of Magnus. Unfortunately, Johannes and Lisa’s birth records were destroyed in a church fire in Värnamo (also in Jönköping County) in 1869.

While in-depth research is expected to answer more questions about Johans Magnus Johannesson Hane (a.k.a. John Wahlstrom) and his family, Sweden’s outstanding system of record keeping — even in this brief search—yields treasured information on an immigrant ancestor. Millions of pages of Swedish documents are available on microfilm through the Family History Library. For an excellent guide to Swedish genealogical research, consult Carl-Erik Johansson’s Cradled in Sweden.

  1. Database of Illinois Department of Health Death Certificates, Illinois State Archives, online (http://www.cyberdriveillinois.com/departments/archives/idphdeathindex.html), accessed 20 January 2002.
  2. John Wahlstrom, Illinois death certificate no. 444174; Family History Library (Salt Lake City, Utah) microfilm no. 1530923. Hereafter, Family History Library is designated as FHL.
  3. Matilda Wahlstrom Ellison, death certificate, microfilm roll D-33, image 7080, Winnebago County Clerk’s Office, Rockford, Illinois.
  4. Entry 48, 1867 Födelsebok, Fryele, Jönköping; FHL microfilm no. 0196853.
  5. Husförhörslängd (1861—1875), Fryele, Jönköping; FHL microfilm 0502722.
  6. John Walstrom [sic] household, 1900 U.S. census, Winnebago County, Illinois, population schedule, city of Rockford, enumeration district 133, supervisor’s district 3, p. 206B, sheet 21, dwelling 319, family 472; National Archives microfilm T623, roll 355.
  7. Entry 4, April, 1837 Födelsbok, Fryele, Jönköping; FHL microfilm 135945.
  8. Husförhörslängd (1814—1841), Malmbroen, Jönköping; FHL microfilm 0135943.
  9. Ibid.