Have you, like so many other descendants of Swedes, asked online about your Andersson line? And crickets. Perhaps someone replied that Andersson used to be a common last name, but that doesn’t really help, does it? Here I will show you why that is. And best of all, how to get around it.
Why are there different last names in the same family?
Regular family names were not the norm in Sweden before the twentieth century. They existed and many had personal last names. These could be changed by simply reporting the new name to the local church. But the majority went by their patronymics.
Most Swedes had last names that ended with -son. Andersson, Johansson or Eriksson were typical. Just as common were Andersdotter, Johansdotter and Eriksdotter. These are not family names, they are patronymics – last names based on the father’s name. (Patronymic: “via Late Latin from Greek patronumikos, from patēr father + onoma name” .)
Swedish patronymics were constructed like this:
The extra ‘s’ is for genitive. Dotter means daughter and son is the same as in English.
This is why you will often find several last names in a Swedish nineteenth century family. One for the father, one for the mother, one for the daughters, and one for the sons.
Exceptions to the patronymic standard
Of course, for every rule there are exceptions.
- The first name of the father might have been written slightly different when used in a patronymic. You might find that the children of Johannes were named Johansdotter or Johansson.
- When the father’s name ended with an s, the genitive s was skipped. Thus the children of Nils were named Nilsdotter or Nilsson.
- Sometimes when the father’s name ended with -us, you will find that his children used the Latin i to denote genitive. The daughter of Magnus often had the patronymic Magnidotter. The son of Olaus might have used the name Olaison.
Patronymics as family names
Family names became compulsory in Sweden in the year 1901. (In the records you might find that the shift of names is not always that sharp.) Many families assumed the patronymic that belonged to the father of the family.
In the year 2018 the name Andersson, Anders’ son, was still the most common family name in Sweden. This according to the government agency Statistics Sweden. In fact, the top sixteen last names ended with -son .
Top sixteen names in Sweden 2018
How to research without a family name
So what do you do when you can’t follow the Andersson line? You keep track of the location. The best way to sort your ancestors in Sweden, if just in your mind, is to consider the area where they lived. Many moved away from their birthplace, but you will find patterns in where they lived. A family line often stayed for centuries within a few parishes, or within a couple of hundreds.
This was true for the father of the Andersson family above, whose family mostly lived in Ås Hundred. His wife on the other hand, had parents from a different county. And her twin sister Alma had emigrated to New Hampshire.
1: patronymic. (n.d.) Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged, 12th Edition 2014. (1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2014). Retrieved 4 August 2019 from https://www.thefreedictionary.com/patronymic
2: Efternamn, topp 100 Retrieved 4 August 2019 from https://www.scb.se/hitta-statistik/statistik-efter-amne/befolkning/amnesovergripande-statistik/namnstatistik/pong/tabell-och-diagram/samtliga-folkbokforda–efternamn-topplistor/efternamn-topp-100/
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