Swedish Judicial Jurisdictions for Family History Research

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Why Judicial Jurisdictions?

There are many reasons why you might want to search the Swedish court records for information about your ancestors. The courts were responsible for the processing of criminal and civil cases, but also for the recording of property transactions, the division of estates (probates and wills), and even death lists that were sent in by the parishes. Plus there is often a wealth of supporting documents for the cases. It is generally believed that most of the population can be found in the court records for one reason or another. But to search the court records, you have to know what judicial jurisdiction that your ancestor lived in. This article will help you find the right court, and its records for your search. First let's look at how the Swedish judicial jurisdictions were formed.

Medieval - Mid 1600's

The oldest judicial jurisdiction in Sweden is the härad which predates written history, although some parts of the country use the term tingslag instead. Either way, each härad (or tinglag) used a place of judgement (a tingplats) to process criminal offenses and civil disputes. Before 1634 the kingdom was still divided into provinces (the Landskap) and every province had their own set of laws. In 1350 King Magnus Eriksson created a set of laws that were generally based on the provincial laws, but would be effective kingdomwide. There was one set of laws for the cities, and another set of laws for rural areas.

In the 1400's every Landskap had an appointed underlagman. Before that the lagmännen would travel around to the different Landskap. In 1442 the Landslag were revised during the reign of Christopher of Bayern. The Landslag was ratified with additions by Karl IX in 1608 and was used up until the 1734 Law was issued.

Mid 1600's - early 1900's

In 1670 the position of underlagsman was abolished kingdomwide.

Administration Levels Definition Records
Kunglig Majestät i Riksrådet The Council of the Realm and the Monarchy up to 1789 See the Records Page
Högsta domstolen The Supreme Court after 1789 See the Records Page
Nedre justitierevisionen Before cases could be presented to a higher court, the case and its documents had to be evaluated and prepared. This office accomplished that. See the Records Page
Hovrätter High Regional Appellate Courts beginning in 1614 See the Records Page
Rådhusrätter and magistrater City courts and Magistrates See the Records Page
Kämnärsrätter A lower court in a town up to 1849 See the Records Page
Lagmansrätter A court jurisdiction dating back to the medieval “lagsaga”, generally for an entire Landskap. After 1614 it became a first appellate court for civil and minor criminal cases. Serious criminal cases were appealed directly to the Hovrätt. Eventually most cases bypassed the lagmansrätt and the court jurisdiction was disbanded in 1849. See the Records Page
Häradsrätter The häradsrätt was the first level of court for civil and criminal cases from medieval times up to 1970 when it was replaced by the tingsrätter. The area the jurisdiction covered was called a tingslag. The courts head was the häradshövding, who could also be over a domsaga (multiple härads.) The häradsrätten included twelve men called nämndemän, or tolvmän. The häradsrätt was also responsible to oversee taxation. See the Records Page

To print a copy of this chart with the definitions see: File:Swedish Judicial Admin mid 1600s-early 1900s.pdf.

References

Asker, Björn, Hur riket styrdes, Förvaltning , politik och arkiv 1520 – 1920, Edita, Stockholm 2007 (further reading on p.103

Clemmensson, Per & Kjell Andersson. Släktforska vidare. Natur och Kultur/LTs förlag, Falköping 2003