Researching an Orphan in Sweden

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As you followed your ancestor back in the records, perhaps you came across the word Barnhus barn (orphan), Barnhus flicka or gosse (orphan girl, or boy) to indicate this child came from an orphanage. Your research plan will vary according to time, place, and circumstances. There were different situations that led to a child going to the orphanage such as:

  • One or both parents died.
  • The parent (-s) could not provide for the child’s needs.
  • The child was unwanted, perhaps born illegitimate (out of wedlock.)

Step 1, Establish your Ancestor in the parish records.
To search for your ancestor in the Swedish records you have to know what parish they lived in. The time period (early life, mid life, later years) doesn't matter. The important thing is to establish the ancestor in the records of a parish.

Step 2, Follow the Ancestor from one household examination to another for their entire life span.
Whatever the case, your first step should be to exhaust the parish records that the foster home belonged to. Check all household examination records to see when the child 1st appears. Follow the individual in the household examination records until their death.

Check the parish “moving in records” such as the Inflyttningslängder, and the Flyttningsattester if available.

If needed check the parish council minutes Kyrkoråds protokoll or the Sockenstämmoprotokoll to see if the parish assisted with the placement of the orphan.

The goal of checking these sources is to find all variations of the child’s name, when the child arrived in the parish, a birth date, birth place, and perhaps a clue to indicate which orphanage the child came from.

Step 3, Find which orphanage that the ancestor came from.
The next step is to identify which orphanage that the orphan came from. The child may or may not have come from the orphanage that is closest to their home parish. A list of orphanages on the Orphanages in Sweden page can assist with this step. This list can be sorted by the name of the orphanage, the location, or the time period. Click on the name of the orphanage that you are interested in.

Step 4, Search the records of the orphanage.
From here, you will see an article about the orphanage. Look for the Records section on the page for further guidance. The next step is to search the records (or have someone else do it for you depending on availability.) In some cases, certain records or databases are available online.

Step 5, Continue the search for this ancestor in Swedish Lutheran Church Records
With the information from the orphanage records, search the respective Swedish Lutheran Church Records to continue your research.

To see a case study example of this process see: Researching an Orphan in Sweden Case Study


a Prior to 1790 there were more foundlings, and children whose parents had died (with no other support from family) that were brought to the Allmänna Barnhus. After 1790 unwanted illegitimate children became the majority of children taken to the orphanage.
b If you are trying to find the parents of a child in Stockholm City, be aware, that household examination records for Stockholm city were difficult to maintain and keep accurate. By 1878 the practice was discontinued and a new system the Rotemansarkiv was created.
c Information about an orphan can appear among the church books such as the household examination records (husförhörslängder), the moving in and out records (in och utflyttningslistor), and the record of assistance to the poor (fattigvård styrelsen.)
d The payment of admittance to the orphanage can provide clues for the genealogist. Often the father’s name is given as a responsible party for payment.
e It’s common in areas near Stockholm that the mother would assist in finding a foster home for her child (either through association or relations.) If there is a note of this, it may be written in the Barnhusrullor.
f There should be a record of financial assistance from the orphanage to the foster family until the child is 14 years old. Once the child was of age 14 they were expected to find work, usually as a dräng or piga.
g Depending on the circumstances, the orphanage would assign a “given name”, or a “surname” as needed.
h In the Allmänna Barnhus records a note saying “barn utomhus” means the child was in foster care, a “barn inomhus” means the child was at the orphanage.
i In the 1800’s less than 10% of anonymous birth mothers, or parents returned to get their child from the orphanage, or foster care.
j A foster child was exempt from the Mantals tax until they were 18 years old.
k The Order of the Seraphim provided additional funding for the orphanages beginning in 1791. Requests by private individuals or parish councils for additional funding in behalf of a foster child may be in the County archives for each County. These are found under the series GXbb within the Landskontor collections.


Sveriges Släktforskarbörbund, “Att forska om barn på Allmänna barnhuset” Släktforskarnas årsbok ´97. City Tryck Karlstad AB, Karlstad 1997.

Clemmensson, Per and Andersson, Kjell. Släktforskaa vidare. Natur och Kultur, Falköping: 2003

Clemmensson, Per & Andersson, Kjell. Släktforska Steg för Steg. Natur och Kultur, Falköping 2005

Sveriges Släktforskarförbund, ”Barnhusbarn spreds över hela Sverige”. Släkthistorisk Forum 1983, no. 2

Reuterswärd, Elisabeth. ”Oäktingen” Fader Okänd. Sveriges Släktforskarförbund, Falköping 2011