Scandinavian Genealogy Cheat Sheet

By Diana Crisman Smith Premium

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Scandinavian genealogy tips resources cheat sheet fast facts

Aerial Panorama of Lofoten in Summer, Norway – Getty Images


To help you get inspired to find your Scandinavian ancestors, we’re sharing Scandinavian Genealogy Cheat Sheet!

Peak Scandinavian Immigration to the United States

• Denmark: 1870-1905
• Norway: 1836-1920
• Sweden: 1850-1920


Patronymic Surname Suffixes

Each Scandinavian country’s residents used different suffixes to form their patronymic surnames. Norway followed the pattern of the ruling country. After gaining independence from Sweden in 1905, Norwegians usually used the Norwegian suffixes -søn and –dotter.

This chart of patronymic surname suffixes holds true through most of the 18th and 19th centuries. Then as countries began requiring fixed surnames, families slowly began adopting them. Late in the 19th century, many families, especially in Denmark, began using the male extension for both sons and daughters.

Sometimes a record will show a female’s surname ending with -dtr. That’s just an abbreviation for the full extension, not the actual surname.



American Swedish Historical Museum
Arkiv Digital
Nordstjernan: A newspaper first published in 1872 in New York City with news from Sweden, and from Swedish communities abroad.
Swedish Feast Day Calendar
Swedish State Archives
Swenson Swedish Immigration Research Center


Scandinavian Parish Records Language Terms

 Event(s)   Sweden Denmark Norway
 birth  födde  født  fødte
 christening dop   døbt  døpte
confirmation  konfirmation  konfirmation  konfirmasjon
 vaccination (for smallpox) vaccination (from 1816)  vaccination (from 1810)   vaksinasjon (from 1810)
 marriage  vigda or förbindelse  copulerede, viede or ægteskab  copulerede or viede or vigde
 banns  lysning or trolovning  lysning or forlovelse  lysingen or forlovelse
 betrothal/engagement  trolovning  forlovelse  forlovelse
 death   död  døde  død
 burial  begravning  begravelse  begravede
 incoming list  inflyttningsbok  tilganglister  tilganglister or innflyttede
 outgoing list  utflyttningsbok   afgangslister  afgangslister or uttflyttdede
 index (when available)  fösamlingsböken register   Hovedsiden
 clerical survey (or household examination roll)  husförhörslängd  not used not used


We’ve given you each Scandinavian language’s terms for the sections in church record books. Most Scandinavian countries’ parishes keep records for the events listed in this chart, though not all church books include records for marriages, banns and betrothals.

Note that ministers may have recorded when an event happened by the religious feast day, based on the liturgical calendar rather than the fixed Julian or Gregorian calendar. See the resources box for calendars that will help you translate the feast day into a date.


Scandinavian Alphabets

 Language Lower Case Upper Case PC Keyboatd Shortcut Mac Keyboard Shortcut
 Danish and Norwegian  æ Æ
 Ctl + & then
Ctl + & then Shift + A
Opt + ’
Opt + Shift + ’
 Danish and Norwegian  ø  Ø  Ctl + / then O Opt + / then Shift + O

Opt + Shift + O

 Danish, Norwegian and Swedish  å  Å Ctl + @ then A

Ctl + @ then Shift + A

Opt + A

Opt + Shift + A

 Swedish  ä  ä Ctl + : then A

Ctl + : then Shift + A

Opt + U then Shift + A

Opt + U then A

 Swedish   ö  Ö Ctl + : then O

Ctl + : then Shift + O

Opt + U then Shift + O

Opt + U then O

Scandinavian languages use the Latin alphabet with additional letters that follow Z. Danish and Norwegian use the same additional letters, alphabetized æ, ø, å. Swedish uses the å plus two other letters, alphabetized å, ä, ö.

Before about 1814, the letter Å/å may be written as AA/aa, and alphabetized either before A or after all the other letters. Check both places in alphabetized lists.

This chart shows PC and Mac keyboard shortcuts for typing these letters. Some shortcuts are two-step: For Å on a PC, you’d first press the Control key and the @ key simultaneously, then Shift and A simultaneously. If these shortcuts don’t work on your computer, look for the Character Map or Insert Symbol menu item and then choose the character you need.


Patronymics Timeline

1526 | Danish law requires fixed surnames for nobility
1771 | Law requires fixed surnames in Duchy of Schleswig (part of Denmark)
1828 | Law requiring fixed surnames for all of Denmark is largely ignored, especially in rural areas
1856 | Danish law “freezes” family names
1900 | Most Danes use fixed surnames
1901 | Swedish Name Adoption Act requires children to take a fixed surname
1904 | Danish law again requires fixed family names, establishing practices for selecting surnames
1923 | Norway requires all families to have a single, heritable surname
1966 | Sweden abolishes the patronymic system
2006 | Denmark reintroduces patronymics as an optional method of selecting a child’s surname


A version of this article appeared in the September 2013 issue of Family Tree Magazine.