A lot has changed since 1850
The Swedish emigration started 170 years ago. A lot has changed in the world since 1850. Sweden may be one of the countries that have changed the most. When you think about Sweden today, it’s not obvious what life was like for our ancestors.
Many things are different now. In this post we will have a look at some of these changes.
Poverty and famine
Nearly half of all Swedes were poor in the year 1850. You can read more about that in this blog post: Why every other Swede was poor in 1850.
Sweden had its last great famine as late as 1867 to 1869.1 The spring of 1867 was exceptionally cold in the whole country. For all weather sations in use at the time, May of 1867 is the coldest May ever recorded. This is reported by the Swedish Meterological and Hydroligcal Institute.
The frost came early that year. In some places in the north it started as early as mid July in 1867. Large parts of northern Sweden had frost in early September.
The next summer was warm. The summer of 1868 is still the hottest summer ever recorded in some areas in the south.2
It’s likely that the actions of the state of Sweden added to the emigration that followed. The state offered aid to counties, but only as loans.3 About 27,000 died from the famine and its consequences.4
Today, Sweden is a wealthy country. It ranks around number 16 for GDP per capita for the year 2020. A famine is not likely to happen any time soon.5
The punishments in 19th century Sweden were harsh. Execution was still practiced. Sometimes it was combined with mutilation. Gibbeting, the practice of nailing body parts to a pole, was forbidden as late as the year 1841.6 Pillory and whipping were also practiced until 1855, although the latter was forbidden in prisons in 1938.7 Imprisonment on bread and water was abolished in 1884.8
Swedes did not have freedom of religion in the 19th century. Being a member of the Church of Sweden was obligatory.
We can see the traces in the records we use in family history. The most useful tool in Swedish genealogy is the household records. All Swedes were in them. They have notes on each person’s skills in reading and reciting religious works. The notes are based on examinations that were held until 1888.9
The right to form other churches was granted in 1858. Only in 1952 could Swedes leave the church without joining another congregation. The Church of Sweden was a part of the state until the year 1999. Over half of the population was a member in 2019.10
It’s still notable that Swedes are quite secular. The World Value Survey compares attitudes in countries around the world. Sweden is among the least religious countries.11
- Wikipedia, Swedish famine of 1867–1869 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swedish_famine_of_1867%E2%80%931869 : accessed 6 April 2021).
- SMHI Blogg: Väderleken, Nödåren 1867-1868 (https://www.smhi.se/bloggar/vaderleken-2-3336/nodaren-1867-1868-1.120293 : accessed 6 April 2021).
- Populär historia, Magnus Västerbro, Nödåren 1867–69 (https://popularhistoria.se/sveriges-historia/1800-tal/nodaren-1867-69 : accessed 6 April 2021).
- Historia Nu, Urban Lindstedt, Sveriges sista svältkatastrof (https://historia.nu/historia-nu/sveriges-sista-svaltkatastrof/ : accessed 6 April 2021).
- Wikipedia, List of countries by GDP (PPP) per capita (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(PPP)_per_capita : accessed 6 April 2021).
- Wikipedia, Stegling (https://sv.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stegling : accessed 6 April 2021).
- Wikipedia, Kropsstraff (https://sv.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kroppsstraff : accessed 6 April 2021).
- Wikipedia, Vatten och bröd (https://sv.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vatten_och_br%C3%B6d: accessed 6 April 2021).
- Wikipedia, Religionsfrihet Religionsfrihet i Sverige (https://sv.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religionsfrihet#Religionsfrihet_i_Sverige : accessed 6 April 2021).
- Wikipedia, Religion i Sverige (https://sv.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_i_Sverige : accessed 6 April 2021).
- World Values Survey, Joint EVS/WVS 2017-2020 data-set release Inglehart-Welzel Cultural Map (https://www.worldvaluessurvey.org/WVSContents.jsp2021-03-31 : accessed 31 March 2021).