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Vital Records in Scandinavia

Research can be challenging, but it always helps to know where to look for the information you need. Learn where to look for information in Scandinavian vital records here.


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The Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Iceland did not have civil registration as we know it. Instead, the different kingdoms turned the process of recording births, marriages, and deaths over to the parish priests.

This act was quite normal for these nations because they had officially adopted Christianity as their religion by force over a period of about four hundred years that ended around 1000 B.C. Lutheranism was further adopted in the first half of the 16th Century as the Reformation spread to them from Germany.

Shortly after the adoption of Lutheranism, parish priests were given the command to record all rites they carried out in the name of the church. Many priests did not actually begin their records, though, until the early 1600s—the exact year depends on the parish.

The records they kept included christenings, confirmations, marriages, deaths—and later on, moving lists. Their entries make up the very core of vital records for the Scandinavian countries. That makes it important to know what kind of information can be found in each one.


In Scandinavian culture it was imperative for each baby to be christened at the risk of their soul being damned, so if a child was born sickly and not expected to live, its christening was usually performed at home by the family. If the child survived, they were also christened in the church by the priest, and a notation of both christenings was usually made in the records.

Early christening records in most cases give the date of christening, name of the father and child, where they lived, and the witnesses' names and their place of residence. Some also give the birth date, but that did not commonly appear until printed books with space for such were provided to the priests in about 1814. The reason for this was that priests were more concerned with making sure the infant was christened than knowing when it was born. The mother's name was also included in the entry around the same time birth dates were consistently added.


A person's confirmation was important in Scandinavia because it marked their official adoption into the church. It usually occurred around the age of fourteen, but could have been later in life; for a time, confirmation was a requirement for marriage. The youth were required to learn their catechism and answer certain questions posed to them by the priest before the congregation. The priest gave them a rating in the records as to how well they knew their religion.

Early confirmation records, depending on the country and parish, give only the year and then a list of names under it, showing who was confirmed. In 1814 they began recording the date of confirmation, the person's name, who their parents were, the individual's birth date and sometimes place of birth, where they lived, and usually the date they received their vaccination and who administered it to them.


The marriage records included two different types: betrothals and marriages. Couples were required to have their intention to marry read aloud at church for three weeks before they could be married. A record of the first reading was usually kept, as well as the dates of all three weeks. The name of the man and woman were put forth, as well as their ages and whether they were illegitimate or had been married before. The intentions also included the names of two witnesses who were usually relatives.

The actual marriage records included much of the same information in the early records. The 1814 records had the priest record the groom, his age and place of residence, the bride, her age and place of residence, the names of two witnesses and where they were from, and the date of the wedding. Deaths

Early death records included only burial dates because that was the part of death priests handled. The entries commonly told the person's name, or father's name if it were a child, where they lived, and the age of the deceased. The later records kept much of the same information, but also listed the death date and the nearest relative, usually the husband or father.

Moving Lists

Many Scandinavians lived on farms in the 18th and 19th Centuries. There was not always work for them there, so they would often go to a bigger town or city nearby where they could find work. The period of work there was usually a few months' time, as contract dictated. As people moved back and forth, it became necessary for priests to keep track of where their parishioners were going so they would know who was under their care. The actual moving lists were not begun until around 1814 when the printed forms came out. However, Sweden's priests were recording what are called clerical surveys long before that, to keep track of their residents. Some parishes did not begin using the moving lists until later than 1814, so it will depend on the parish. These records include the date of the move; the individual's name; where they were moving to; the purpose of the move; and where they resided, as well as the individual's parent if they were younger.

Scandinavian church records give very important information when it comes to finding families. Thus, they are instrumental in aiding genealogists in their search for ancestors.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2005.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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