Can you imagine being forced by law to leave the farm your family has lived on for generations? That was the reality for many Europeans in previous centuries. Sweden implemented land reforms in the 1700s and the 1800s. The last one was laga skifte. If you haven’t stumbled upon the term before, it provides a good tool for Swedish genealogy. More on that later.
The land reforms are also useful to know about if you want to understand the life of your Swedish ancestors. Again, imagine having to start over on the land of old forests outside your now destroyed village.
The goal of the reforms was to steer away from the medieval traditions of farming. Each farmer in a village owned narrow plots scattered over the land of the village. Since all the plots were small and connected, the villagers farmed the land together.
In the 1700s, the harvests fluctuated. Sometimes leading to famine and death. The land reforms that followed let regions and individual farmers specialize their production. The new national market made the access to food more stable. It gave farmers reason to produce more than they could use and means to hire more staff. At the same time, the tools and techniques were improved.
In the mid 19th century 90% of all Swedes lived in the country. Any changes made in farming obviously affected everyone. Some say the rise in population in the 19th century came from the modernization of farming at the time.
Parallel to the reforms, new land was being cultivated. The growing population built new crofts and backstugor.
The first land reform, Storskiftet (The Great Partition), started in 1749. It left the villages intact, but the land was divided between farmers.
Eventually the land reforms were driven further. Landowners in Scania (Skåne) in the south divided the farmland into squares with a house in the middle. Each farmer had one single plot of land. The inspiration came from the UK. The practice spread to the whole country through Enskiftet (en: one) in 1807. It was the end of the medieval villages. Farmers had to move their houses closer to their farmland.
The last large reform was Laga skifte (laga: in accordance with the law) starting in 1827. It was easier to implement than the previous partitions in regions with farmland of shifting quality. The land was split into small pieces and scored. The land was then divided based on the value, not based on the area.
Read the documents online
And here’s how the land reforms can help you in your family history research. The documents from the partitions, especially laga skifte, are often available online. If you’re lucky, you can read descriptions of the houses where your ancestors lived and the land they farmed. The documents have maps of both the old villages and the new farms.
The service is Historical Maps at Lantmäteriet. It is free to use! (The copyright is expired for maps older than 70 years.)
How to find maps
In the advanced search, select “Regional Archive” and the historic county of interest. Then you want to search for a parish, and select it in the list. Next, choose the village. For “Measures” you want to look at “Laga skifte” for best the chance of hits. You can also filter for “Enskiftet” and “Storskiftet”.
How to save maps
- For “File format for displaying maps/act” select PNG.
- Click the arrow in the upper right corner.
- Select “Download image”.
So, to sum it up, Sweden changed a lot in the 19th century. The medieval villages were split up. Farmers gained control of their own land, and the farming became more effective. And you can get a glimpse of it for free.
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Schön, Lennart, En modern svensk ekonomisk historia Tillväxt och omvandling under två sekel. SNS Förlag 2009.
- Thorin, Johan Emanuel, NMA.0063355 1898, Nordiska Museet PDM.
- Storskifte, Village Vegby, Södra Säm Parish O171-13:2 1766, Älvsborg County PDM.
- Laga skifte, Village Hov, Växjö Parish 07-väj-47, Kronoberg County PDM.