Too Many Nils

Olof Nilsson and Anna Nilsdotter were my seventh great grandparents.  They were from Ramsberg parish in Örebro county.  When it came time to look for Anna’s ancestors, I applied the usual method of looking in the Husförhörslängder (HFL) for an Anna who was born at about the right time and whose father’s first name was Nils.  Now these records are pretty old, and in those days the level of detail was pretty slim.  On the other hand each parish had only a small number of families so the odds of success are good.  I found a match with no dates at all, but the time frame (based on the period covered by the HFL I was looking at) was about right so I continued the process.

Next step is to follow the family in both directions.  When I moved forward Anna kind of disappeared!  In fact, when I looked at it very carefully with total fairness and a powerful magnifying glass, I was not even sure the Anna I found belonged to the family I was tracing.  So – back to step one.

This time I looked in the birth records.  I found another Anna born at about the right time with a father named Nils Olsson and a mother named Elin Erichsdotter.  Armed with that data I went back to the HFL and traced that family backwards and forwards.  Everything matched including the time Anna left home to get married.  Voila!

In getting all the facts about Anna’s family I noticed that she had a brother named Oloff Nilsson.  Surely she didn’t marry her brother?  I looked back at the “phantom” Anna’s family and she too had a brother named Olof.  Could it be?

I traced the first family of Nils Jonsson and Kerstin and sure enough, this is the Olof Nilsson who married Anna Nilsdotter!

See how easy this is?  All you need is HFL films covering all of history, birth, marriage and death films, immigration and emigration films, a soupçon of imagination, and LOTS of time and patience.

I know you have plenty of questions about this, and I probably can’t anticipate all of them, but I’ll try to hit some of them.

In Sweden in the early days the government (the monarchy) and the church were virtually one and the same.  The church was assigned the job of keeping track of people.  To do this they did a “clerical survey” every year and recorded the information in Husförhörslängder (HFL).  In the beginning the data recorded was minimal – first name of each person in the household with wife, son or daughter relationship to the head of household noted, and a few notes regarding religious proficiency.  Ramsberg records start in 1664.

The only aspect of date present in these early HFL records was an indication of the year in which the survey took place.  Every parish is different, but in Ramsberg records exist for a survey in 1664, 1666, 1669, and then every year from 1682 through 1696.  Then from 1699 on it is continuous.  Starting with about 1700 most entries contain an “age”.  The age was approximate, best guess, estimated, and/or computed from birth year to the first year recorded in the book.  Each book covered a period that varied from 3 to 7 years.  Starting 1734 most entries contain “year of birth” instead of age.  Dates tend to be pretty good for children, but again they are approximate for adults.

Data were extracted from the HFL to compute taxation.  Every person between 15 and 63 had to pay a yearly tax.  I mention this because it was valuable to fudge a bit on the ages of children and seniors to keep them out of this bracket as long as possible (not that OUR relatives would ever do such a thing).

In 1664 records some heads of household were listed with their patronymic names (e.g., Nils Nilsson – Nils, son of Nils), some were listed with occupation (e.g., Harald Skräddare – Harald the tailor), and some were listed by farm name (e.g., Anders i Kloten – Anders from Kloten farm).  From 1699 forward nearly all persons were listed with their patronymic names.

As time went on, HFL records contained more information and the facts seem to be more accurate.  Birth, marriage, and death dates eventually were complete with year, month and day.  Complete dates were indicated for entering and exiting the parish, and destination and origin were included.  Penmanship improved and became more standard.  Facts about physical condition and financial status were included (e.g., lame, weak, deaf, blind and poor).  Relationships included in-laws, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers (all based on the "head of household").  Although HFL were kept for a longer period, the LDS only filmed those through the late 1800s (1894 in the case of Ramsberg).