Swedish Civil Jurisdictions for Family History Research

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Why Civil Jurisdictions?

Knowing what civil jurisdictions existed when your ancestors were living in Sweden can help you find more evidence to build the family tree. This is especially true when the church records are inadequate. This article will help you understand how the national government worked with with the county authorities who in turn worked with the local authorities in civil matters (such as taxation, travel papers, law enforcement, etc.) To start, let's look at the evolution of civil jurisdictions in Sweden.

Medieval - 1630's

By about 1,000 a.d. the Svear and Götar began to form the foundation of a Swedish kingdom. In the 1200's the land that would become modern Sweden was still divided into provinces (Landskap) that predate written history. At this time there were also smaller kingdoms ruled by “folkungar” families (families of strong political and military power.) The folkungar families would elect a king to be the head of the kingdom. During the second half of the 1200's, the King created a governing council that could work with the folkungar families. This council was called the Riksrådet and was made up of bishops and leading manorial lords. Three additional high offices were created, the Marsken, Drotsen, and Kanslern. At this time the kingdoms political center shifted towards Mälardalen and Stockholm quickly grew in importance. Other small cities grew and became meaningful places for trade and crafts. At the core of the kingdom, the borgare (official city members) consolidated and secured points of support for the strengthening of royal power.

During this time the financing of the Swedish government was enlarged when the old Ledungen tax system was replaced by a tax system based upon farming and agriculture. By 1280 there were a lot of tax exemptions granted to the nobles the church and some private individuals. Private individuals tax exemption was based upon the conditions of armored service as knights.  This "rusttjänst" was the foundation for increased numbers of nobility. Taxes on the land were paid to the repective fortress or castle (called Borg) where part of the taxes went to the support of garrisons. The appointed slottsfogden managed both the borg and the slottslän. 

In 1389 the Swedish King Albrekt was defeated by the Danish –Norwegian Queen Margareta in Falköping. As a consequence the Danish-Norwegian and Swedish union was formed in Kalmar in 1397. This was called the union of Kalmar. This union continued until Gustav Vasa broke away with the Swedish powers in 1523, but in practice the union rarely functioned. After the breakup of the union of Kalmar and the election of Gustav Vasa as King (called Gustav I) the Vasa dynasty was established and the practice of electing Kings was replaced by heir succession. 
Gustav I laid the foundation for the modern Swedish state. He increased a centralized national power with an effective bureaucracy. By the 1600's many civil jurisdictions were created mostly for the purpose of taxation or military assessment.

1630's - early 1900's

By the 1630's the aministrative levels of government were organized as outlined in the chart below. These levels remained the same up to the beginning of the 1900's.

The terms are:

Kunglig Majestät the Swedish Government with monarchy
Riksrådet National Council (Privy Council) up to 1789
Centrala ämbetsverk(Kollegierna) The kollegierna are made up of top government officials including: a constable of the realm, leading military officials, national treasurer, and a chancellor over a cabinet.
Länstyrelser: Landkansli and Landskontor The Landkansli was responsible for commissions related to permissions and appointments. The Landskontor was responsible for all economic matters such as tax collection.
Rådhusrätter and Magistrater City Councils and Magistrates (in the cities)
Fögderier: Kronofogde and Häradsskrivare (in rural areas) A Fögderi was an administrative geographical area that often matched the boundaries of the härads. The primary purpose was tax collection and law enforcement. Historically the läns were divided into fögderier, with a Kronofogden as the chairman (or head officer) over the fögderi.
Länsmansdistrikt The länsmansdistrikt (or landsfiskalsdistrikt) is a geographical area that is patrolled by a police force. The länsman answered to the Kronofogden. Since 1998 the police districts have been under the county organization.
Fjärdingsmansdistrikt The länsman had appointed constables in every parish called Fjärdingsmän.

To learn more about each jurisdiction click on the image below or scroll down the Jurisdictions and Records table. To print your own copy of this chart with some explanations click here. For a description of each government office with a list of the records they kept, see the the table below

Insert Jurisdiction and Records Table

By 1634 it was decided to reform the provincial structure into a county structure kingdom wide. The kingdom was organized into counties and the civil authority of the provinces was tuned over to the county authorities. When the county boundaries were created, some counties matched the old province, other provinces were divided into multiple counties, and some provinces were combined to create a county. During the centuries that followed the number of counties fluctuated. By 1810 there were 24 counties which generally remained the same up until 1997. For more information about the evolution of counties see History of Swedish Counties.

Each county was led by a county administration board (Länstyrelsen.) Within the Länstyrelsen there were 2 supporting organizations, the Landkansli and the Landskontor.The Landkansli was responsible for comissions related to permissions and appointments. The Landskontor was responsible for all economic matters such as tax collection within the county. The Director of the Länstyrelsen was the Konungens befallningshavande (the county governor), later called the Landshövdingen (also meaning governor.)

The counties were divided into smaller areas called Fögderi which often matched the boundaries of the Härad. Each Fögderi had an appointed High Bailiff (Kronofogde) and a Deputy Clerk (Häradsskrivare.) The Kronofogde was responsible for gathering funds for the government by collecting taxes, fines, and fees. The Häradsskrivaren was subordinate to the Kronofogden. His responsibilities included creating the mantals tax record and the real estate tax record (jordebok) for the Fögderi. These taxes were the foundation to the national tax base. Given this, it is really important to know what Fögderi your ancestors lived in to find them in the tax records.