Five-Star Censuses: Swedish Clerical Surveys
by Nathan W. Murphy, MA, AG®
The Lutheran Church’s faithful vigilance over its Swedish membership produced the best 19th-century censuses in the world. Husförhörslängd, translated to English as either clerical survey record or household examination roll, track vital information on all Swedes, from birth to death, identify migrations, and provide interesting glimpses into individual’s lives.
Lutheran ministers began compiling religious registers in Sweden in 1686. They not only started keeping parish registers, but also clerical surveys. Because the Lutheran faith is the State Church of Sweden, these records document the entire population. As quoted in Carl-Erik Johansson’s Cradled in Sweden,
According to the church law of 1686 regulating the order within the parish, minister should ‘keep certain rolls of all their listeners, house to house, farm to farm, and know their progress and knowledge of the assigned sections of the catechism, and diligently admonish children, farm helpers and servant maids to read in book and with their own eyes see what God bids and commands in his Holy Word.’ (p. 125)
As ministers annually gathered members’ information, they recorded it in clerical survey books. Each clerical survey register commonly covers a parish for about a five-year period. In the 19th century, they usually contain the following genealogical information: names of every person in the household, exact birth dates, places, relationships, death dates, marriage dates, migrations into the parish by date and location, migrations out of the parish by date and location, and farm or village name. As the minister interviewed members each year, he updated the previous entries. This means that one family’s entry in a five-year book has passed through five revisions. Clerical surveys provide a continuous year-by-year account and can be used as an index to quickly identify dates to search for baptisms, marriages, and burials in the parish registers. As an example of their value, I’ll reference the entry for my ancestor Maria Sophia (Lind) Peterson’s sister, Anna Charlotta (Lind) Anderson. I had been attempting to prove that two sisters in Sweden were identical with two sisters who emigrated to “Amerika,” but had not found definite proof that they were the same individuals. The clerical survey record stated that Anna emigrated to New York and there married Alfred Anderson in 1884, definitively proving my theory.
In addition to recording vital information, the minister learned of members’ progress in the Lutheran catechism and examined each person’s spiritual well-being. The cleric made sure to note any infringements of church law committed by interviewees. For example, the note beside my ancestor Olof Larson’s entry in Hova Parish, Skaraborg, Sweden, states that on a specified date Olof maliciously injured another man at a nearby canal. The church required Olof to visit the other man’s parish and show penitence before the congregation as punishment.
There are usually no name indexes to Swedish clerical survey books, so to use them effectively requires identification of the ancestral farm or village name. Parish register entries provide this information. Next, refer to the table of contents, usually found at the beginning of a clerical survey book, to identify the matching farm or village name. Sometimes these lists are at the end of the record. Search each household in the village until you spot your ancestral family.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has made accessing Swedish clerical surveys a simple procedure. According to Carl-Erik Johansson, “The clerical survey records from their beginning to their end, around 1895, have been microfilmed for all parishes in Sweden.” Lutheran ministers maintained these records on the parish level. They are written in Swedish, with a sprinkle of Latin. To locate the clerical surveys of interest to your family, search the Family History Library Catalog under: SWEDEN > [COUNTY] > [PARISH] > CHURCH RECORDS > Husförhörslängd.
For those with Swedish ancestry, clerical surveys are a must. They save time compared to the traditional entry-to-entry reading of a parish register, lead to other significant sources, and provide the 19th century’s most comprehensive censuses.
Originally published by GenWeekly. Republished by permission.