Scandinavia Jurisdictions

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It is necessary to find the name of the small record-keeping jurisdiction where your Scandinavian ancestors were born (christened), confirmed, married, or died (buried) in order to find them in the records. Without eventually finding some kind of smaller locality name for your ancestor's place of origin other than the country, you cannot go further with your Scandinavian ancestry.

The vital records, or their equivalent, of all your Scandinavian ancestors are locality-based. This is because the state church was the first official vital record keeping body of the country. Since your ancestors were living in, and jurisdictionally belonged to, small villages, towns, and farms before written records began, it was only natural that when rulers of the various countries ordered life event records to be kept of everyone, including your ancestors, those same locality boundaries were used and referred to in the records.

King Christian's Law of 1686-7, was applicable to all the Scandinavian countries. This law ordered all ministers in all parishes in every Scandinavian country to record the life events of everyone who lived within their parish boundaries, no matter what their class status. Some ministers had already begun doing this on their own long before the law was given — others still did not start until some years after the law was ordained.

After the reformation all the people in Scandinavia were Lutheran. Even after 1850, when dissenter groups were allowed, the basics of the records worked the same way. The vital records (births, marriages, deaths, or their equivalent) of your ancestors were recorded in the records of that small jurisdictional locality where the event took place. It is generically called a parish and was the record keeping arm of the state church.

Jurisdictional Levels[edit | edit source]

In terms of research the Scandinavian countries broken down into the following levels of jurisdiction within that country:

  • County
    • Amt in Denmark and Iceland
    • Fylke in Norway
    • Län in Sweden and Finland
  • District, which usually contained two or more parishes
    • Herred in Denmark and Iceland
    • Prestegjeld in Norway
    • Härad in Sweden and Finland
  • Parish, which is the local, ecclesiastical record-keeping unit for vital records
    • Sogn in Denmark and Iceland
    • Sokn in Norway
    • Socken in Sweden and Finland

  • Note: The district is also the jurisdiction where land, tax, probate, and other types of records are created.
    • Herred in Denmark and Iceland
    • Sorenskriveri in Norway
    • Härad in Sweden and Finland