When starting family history research, it is usually a good idea to gather all the family stories and legends to see if there is any truth at their core. Molly Ringwald shared with us the story that her father told about being descended from Swedish royalty. That sounded pretty intriguing, so the search quickly focused on her father’s maternal grandfather, Edwin Gustav Jenson, whom she had known only as “the Swede.” Luckily for Molly and her search, compared to many other European countries, Sweden kept remarkably good records throughout the 1800s.
Parish records of baptisms, marriages, and burials are a main genealogical resource for many European countries in the 1800s. Some countries also have census records, but the availability can be somewhat limited. Sweden has both: an extensive collection of parish records, as well as consistent census records that are mostly available online.
Some of the most useful records in Swedish research are the “moving in” (Inflyttning) and “moving out” (Utflyttning) records. These were kept by local parish priests and recorded the movements of families from one parish to another. If a family moved from their ancestral parish, these records can be useful in identifying where they went and when.
While parish records typically give you the skeletal makeup of a family, historical context can really help you understand how your ancestors lived and under what circumstances. The parish records revealed that several of Molly’s male ancestors died young in mining accidents so we turned to local archives and historians who helped us locate Swedish mining records that filled in the gaps. The records showed not only just how common it was for a man to die young in the mines, but also provided details about what happened to his family following his death. This led us to the widows’ home where Molly’s 3x great-grandmother ended up living twice following the deaths of two husbands.
This is where the story became personal for Molly, when it moved off the pages and into the mine and the widows’ home. She found herself in her ancestors’ world, and while it wasn’t a palace, she felt, even from more than a century away, what it might have been like to walk in their shoes.
Tips from Ancestry ProGenealogists:
- Naming customs in Sweden were changing during the time when most immigrants left for America (mid- to late 1800s), so if you can’t find an immigrant in Swedish indexes or records, try searching by just the first name and birthdate. Don’t get too hung up on the surname they used in America, as they often changed surnames and spellings from how they were known in Swedish records prior to emigrating.
- When searching for your ancestor, use geography as well as patronymics. You can often be led down the wrong path simply because you find someone with the same name as the ancestor you are looking for. Because of patronymics, there are lots of people with the same name throughout all of Scandinavia. If you find someone with the same name, but living in a different part of Sweden or in Norway or Denmark, be wary about this being your relative. Stay within an area where you know your ancestor lived.
- Ancestry has an amazing database of Swedish birth records for 1860-1941. Try searching it by the names of the parents without the child’s name, birthdate, or birthplace listed to get names of siblings in a family. If you don’t find an ancestor, try spelling variations.
- The Swedish National Archives website has indexes for census records for all of Sweden for the years 1880, 1890, 1900, and 1910. They are adding the 1860, 1870, and 1930 census record indexes to the database. These can often be used together with the birth index to find families in Sweden.
Learn more about Molly’s journey or watch episode recaps from previous seasons on TLC.com. Watch more celebrities discover their family history on all-new episodes of Who Do You Think You Are? Sundays 9|8c on TLC.