Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Learning from Swedish parish records: The lives of Gustaf Elg and Maria Sophia Bork

In 1892, like many Swedes at the time, my great-grandfather’s uncle Gustaf Elg brought his family to Minnesota. The family’s history in Minnesota has been well documented by great-grandson Todd Lindahl but I wanted to see how much light Swedish parish records could shed on their early life in Sweden.

Gustaf Elg spent his whole life in Sweden in the ironmaking industry. He was a third generation master blacksmith, and his sons also learned the trade before emigrating to America. For more about the blacksmith trade, see my previous blogpost.

Online sources for Swedish parish records

The main source of information for genealogists in Sweden are the parish records of the Swedish Church. The Swedish Church (Lutheran) was a state church and retained the responsibility for keeping the official population records until 1 July 1991. Most records, from the late 17th century until the early 20th century are now available online. There are three competing fee-based services offering slightly different coverage and quality:

Genline ( ) (just acquired by

SVAR ( )

Arkiv Digital ( )

Genline and SVAR are based on scanning the old black and white microfilms once produced by LDS church volunteers. However, Arkiv Digital has undertaken to rescan the original records in full color and higher quality (SVAR has recently started to do this also). All examples in this post are taken from Arkiv Digital (with their permission).

Background: History of the parish records

As part of the church law of 1686, the parish minister was to “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.”

The actual process was carried out by organizing the parish into “examination groups” that would meet at a designated time and place annually. Once everyone was gathered the minister would go through a planned protocol. The examination results were recorded in a book, along with other information which can vary according to the minister. Although the Household Examination was an annual event, the minister would use the same book for about 5 to 10 years before starting a new one.

In addition to the Household examination book, separate chronological records were kept of births, deaths and marriages, as well as of individuals moving in or out of a parish. Usually these records reference the relevant page of the household examination book, which was organized by household, not by date.

Gustaf Elg spent his whole life in Sweden in the ironmaking industry. He was a third generation master blacksmith, and his sons also learned the trade before emigrating to America. To learn more about their trade, see my previous blogpost "The role of blacksmiths in ironmaking".

Learning from the parish records

The birth and baptismal records list not only the parents but also witnesses at the baptismal, i.e. godparents ("faddrar"). These will give you a glimpse of social life as they will show you social ties outside the immediate family: Sometimes relatives, sometimes neighbors or colleagues.

The household examination rolls list not only the immediate family but everyone in the household, including hired hands. In a small rural community there were often social ties connecting these to their employer. In my case, many of my male ancestors were craftsmen, master blacksmiths in the iron making industry. Here I can see how the young men start out as apprentices, learning the trade with an older brother or in another blacksmith family, and also moving between employers to learn new aspects of the trade. In the same way, young women learned to run a large household, necessary as in addition to a growing brood of children, a master blacksmith would hire his own helpers, and also provide room and board.

Since the household examination rolls cover a period of time you also get a sense of the mobility, as maids or hired hands move in and out of the household.

An example: Tracing the lives of Gustaf Elg and Maria Sophia Bork

Birth record of Gustaf Elg1834
(source Arkiv Digital )

Gustaf Elg was born on April 1, 1834, the youngest son of Lars Elg (b 1789) and Lisa Gråberg (b 1792). I am descended from their oldest son, Petter Elg, so this is where we are related.

Gustaf Hellsing, who is listed with his wife as godparents, was a nephew of Lars Elg’s stepmother Kristina Berg, and also a fellow blacksmith. I have not been able to identify the third person, but Engelborg Elg is Lars Elg’s half sister.

Lars Elg family 1825-1834
(source Arkiv Digital )

This record shows the family Gustaf Elg was born into. At this time, my ancestor Peter Elg, who is 20 years older, has already left home (his name is crossed over). Another record shows that Peter is now an apprentice with blacksmith Peter Hellsing – father of the Gustaf Hellsing mentioned above.

Birth record of Maria Sophia Bork, 1838
(source Arkiv Digital )

Godparents, master blacksmith Johan Geschwind and his wife Eva Liljman are next door neighbours of the Peter Bork family. Nils Bork is a cousin of Peter. Anna Maria Bork is most likely another cousin.

Peter Bork family 1838-1844
(source Arkiv Digital )

Peter is listed as “hammarsmedsmästare” which means he was in charge of a team operating a hammer mill. (Large waterpowered hammers were used not only to shape the metal but also to alter its metallurgical structure). As a master, Peter employed his own assistants, as well as providing room and board for them. This explains the number of helpers (“drängar”) listed in the record. And with such a large household to run, Lisa also need a number of helpers (“pigor”) to run the household. Note that one of these is Johanna Liljman, no doubt an unmarried sister – or cousin – of godmother Eva Liljman.

Lars Elg family 1845-1854
(source Arkiv Digital )

During this period, the last children are moving out. At age 15, Gustaf moves to Liljendal. His older brother Lars Elg (jr) has moved back with his family, apparently preparing to take over the family business ( Lars sr dies in 1851). There is a long list of helpers, but the mobility is high (column “Ankom” lists year of arrival and place of origin, column “Bortflyttad” lists year of moving out, as well as destination).

Johan Elg family 1845-51
(source Arkiv Digital )

Here we can see that when Gustaf moved to Liljendal at age 15, it was to live with his older brother Johan Elg (b 1817) who is already established as a blacksmith, with a large family. This was Gustaf’s first step in learning the trade and following in the footsteps of a number of ancestors.

He is living close to his future wife: The Bork family are on page 130, and the Johan Elg family on page 134 of the same volume.

Note that another Gustaf Elg (b. 1825) has preceded him in the household as a helper, between 1842 and 1845. This Gustaf was a cousin of Johan and “our” Gustaf Elg.

Peter (or Petter) Bork family 1847-1851
(source Arkiv Digital )

In a serious blow to the family, master blacksmith Peter Bork dies in 1851, aged only 39 years. Maria Sophia is only 13 at the time. We can also see that two younger brother have died in childhood, Carl Johan (age 7) and Anders Fredrik (age 1).

Johan Elg family 1852-57
(source Arkiv Digital )

After three years with his older brother, in 1852 Gustaf Elg moves to Gåsborn parish.

We can also see that the following year, Johan Elg’s wife Cajsa Håkandotter passes away, in December 1853. Johan eventually married again, to Anna Stina Olsdotter, in Jan. 1857. An interesting point here is that there is no mention of this marriage in this volume, but the first child, Reinhold, is listed, born in June 1857. In total there were seven children from Johan’s second marriage. Only the youngest daughter stayed in Sweden. One daughter died in infancy, four emigrated to Butte, Montana, where they were involved in gold mining. The oldest, Reinhold, moved to Oslo, Norway. This was a popular departure point for emigrants from their part of Sweden, and it is possible that Reinhold was planning to join his siblings in Montana. However, his first wife died in Norway. Eventually he marries a Norwegian girl, and the last record I have found shows in as a day labourer, doing construction work in Oslo.

Peter Elg family 1846-55
(source Arkiv Digital )

When Gustaf Elg left Liljendal for Gåsborn parish, he becomes an apprentice with his older brother Peter/Petter Elg (b. 1814), who is then a master blacksmith at Gustavsström, Gåsborn parish. Petter is my paternal great-great-grandfather, and when Gustaf arrives, my great-grandfather Karl Gustaf Elg is a nine year old boy. This is the closest direct connection I have found between the two family lines. Gustaf stays two years with his brother, and then returns to Liljendal.

Marriage record Gustaf Elg & Maria Sophia Bork 1856
(source Arkiv Digital )

Two years after his return to Liljendal, Gustaf is ready to marry Maria Sophia Bork. Gustaf is only 22 at the time and Maria Sophia is 18. In order to marry, Gustaf needed to be able to provide for a family, and their young ages indicate that he was well on his way to establish himself as a blacksmith. At the time, most men were not able to marry until in their thirties.

Gustaf Elg family 1857
(source Arkiv Digital )

In the next household examination record, Gustaf is listed as “mästersven” or assistant master blacksmith, already at 23. The first child, Emma Elisabet is born in 1857.

Apparently, Gustaf has taken over this post from Maria Sophia’s stepfather. The listing at the top of the page shows Maria Sophia’s mother Lisa Stålberg, and her siblings. Lisa is now remarried to assistant master blacksmith Olof Jonsson Rot, but they moved out in 1856, the year of Gustaf’s and Maria Sophia’s marriage.


The family of Gustaf Elg and Maria Sophia Bork is now established, and Gustaf is well on his way to become a master blacksmith. In a following article, I will continue this story, until their emigration to Minnesota in 1892.

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