Sweden Probate Records
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In Sweden, the Act of 1734 made it mandatory to conduct an inventory of the estate of the deceased. This legal proceeding is called in Swedish “bouppteckning”.
Soon after a death, the heirs assembled at the home of the deceased along with the court-appointed appraisers called “värderingsmän” who were experienced in the required procedures and legalities. All household items, as well as personal effects of the deceased were recorded and assigned a monetary value so that they could be properly divided between the heirs. At the conclusion of the inventory, the appraisers turned the probate (inventory) over to the court for probate, which took place at the next court session.
Between two and four court sessions were held each year. Each session took its name from the season of the year in which the court was held:
- Vintertinget – winter court (December, January, & February)
- Vårtinget – spring court (March, April, & May)
- Sommartinget – summer court (June, July, & August)
- Hösttinget – autumn court (September, October, & November)
All probating was done by the district court (häradstinget) for rural parishes or by the city court (rådhusrätten) for those living in a city. Nobility had the privilege of having their probate processed by the court of appeals (hovrätten) between the years 1737 and 1916.
The "bouppteckning" was to be performed within a year of death but it was not uncommon that it would drag out for a year or two. However, most were within 3 months.
Although a probate was obligated with death, often it was made only for the wife or husband which ever died first. Other factors could also decrease the odds of finding a probate such as being unmarried, poverty, youth. Some probates have been lost due to poor storage or the destruction of the records. Odds of finding a probate are increased for married persons, especially if leaving minor children. Also if the person had significant assets and/or a high social status they are more likely to have had a probate. In any event it is always worthwhile to check to see if a probate exists.
The probate is usually made up of two main parts, the preamble and the list of inventory. To that may be added a closing statement with the signatures of the heirs or just their initials. Sometimes, but usually not, the probate record is followed by a record of the division and distribution of the property among the heirs called “arvskifte” in Swedish.
Some important insights to remember about probates:
- Male heirs became of age at marriage or if not married, at age 25 years
- Female heirs became of age at marriage, of if not married, they remain minor regardless of their age
- Make it a practice to scan the debts/assets sections of the probate. As it is true today, so it was then, money was often loaned/borrowed by relatives
- Half of the value of the estate went to the surviving spouse
- Male heirs received a double portion to the inheritance female heirs received
- A surviving spouse could petition the court for a special status called “utskifte bo”, which means that for as long as the widow remained unmarried and had one minor heir in the household, the probate could be held up indefinitely. Note: a stepmother could delay the probate for stepchildren by petitioning for “utskifte bo” status
- based upon which spouse predeceased the other, guardians were usually chosen from the paternal side of the deceased according to the following order: grandfather, brother, uncle, male cousin
- Only between 1/4 and 1/3 of the Swedish population was ever probated. There needed to be adequate holdings to justify the holding of a probate inventory
- At the end of the probate document, the following persons normally signed: (a signature infers that each heir is in agreement with the inventory) surviving spouse, sons, sons-in-law, appraisers. Note: most of the population of the late
1700s and early 1800s could not write. Therefore, one of the appraisers guided the heir’s hand while he held the pen. Often signatures were simply initials. For example, Jöns Andersson might write his name as J (öns) A (nders) S (on)
Finding a Probate
In order to find a Swedish probate record, you must know the name of the court district (härad) to which the parish belonged at the time of the ancestor’s death. Most härads consisted of between 3 to 8 parishes.
To find a probate record, go to the Family History Library Catalog (www.familysearch.org) and do a “place” search. In the space for the name of the place, type in the name of the härad, including the Swedish word “härad” after the name of the court district. For example, Vintrosa parish is located in Örebro härad. If you want to find probate records for Vintrosa parish, you would do a place search for Örebro härad, and then look for the subject heading of “Probate Records”.
Once you have found the catalog entry for your particular härad, note whether or not you see the word “register” in the body of the catalog citation. "Register" is Swedish for index and so indicates an index to the persons whose probates are found in this härad. By the person’s name, you should find a volume number and a page number indicating where the probate can be found. Check the catalog entry again; determine if the year of the person’s death corresponds with the probate year indicated by the volume number in the register. Then it merely is a matter of turning to the correct page number to find the desired probate.
As is generally the case, if the husband pre-deceases the wife, there is usually a probate done for the husband. If the wife remains a widow and never remarries, then the possibility that there will be a probate taken at her time of death is greatly diminished. On the other hand, should the widow remarry and have additional offspring by a subsequent spouse, the chances are enhanced that a probate exists for her.
There are certain life circumstances which suggest to the researcher that there is a strong likelihood that a probate exists and therefore, should be looked for. Some of these circumstances are:
- Before a surviving spouse could remarry it was required by law that a probate be completed.
- If the deceased is survived by minor children and these children are under the age of 25.
- If the deceased is unmarried.
- At the time of the first spouse’s death, the probability of a probate is greater than at the time of the surviving spouse’s death, providing that the surviving spouse did not ever remarry.
- If the deceased leaves behind a large estate of property and personal effects
Availability of Probates
- The original probate records are kept in the Provincial archives in Sweden.
- Nearly all of the probate records from their beginning to about 1860 are available at the Family History Library and its centers on microfilm. The probate records are listed in the Family History Library Catalog under SWEDEN, name of COUNTY, name of DISTRICT (Härad), PROBATE RECORDS. The probate records for individuals who lived in a city would be found in the FHL catalog by going to SWEDEN, name of COUNTY, name of CITY, PROBATE RECORDS.
- Arkiv Digital (http://www.arkivdigital.se/ ) offers a digitized view of probate records on their subscription website. Not all are available at present but soon will be.
- Indexes are available for many districts. These are noted in the FHL catalog by “register”.
- Districts (Härad) with probate indexes are listed with FHL Film Call numbers in the book by Carl-Erik Johansson, “Cradled in Sweden”, Chapter 18.
- Halland County: A person and place index for wills for Halland county has been created and is available on a CD-ROM. It contains only a sampling for the cities of Halland county but also includes some wills from Älvsborg and Jönköping Counties. It is available to purchase through Hallands Genealogiska Förening on line at http://hgf.e-butik.se/ . It may be viewed at the Family History Library as CD-ROM no. 1069.
- Östergötland County: Mari-Anne Olsson of Rönninge, Sweden has made indexes for the districts in Östergötland county. She also includes abbreviated preambles to the probate records of Östergötland. Her work has been microfilmed and is available at the Family History Library and its Centers. It is found in the FHL Catalog under name of Härad, Probate records – Indexes.