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Organization Helps Swedish Families Find Lost Relatives Through An Unexpected Source

Meade conducts a genealogical lecture.

As immigrants flooded North America in times past, they left behind families in which some had lost contact. However, an ongoing program at the Swedish American Museum at 5211 N. Clark is helping those relatives find out about their past which may facilitate to a reunion.

The program’s newest seminar to be held at the Museum from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Saturday, January 27 will explore an unusual but standard way of finding Swedish ancestry through the use of church books. The event is called “Overcoming Research Obstacles in the Swedish Church Books” and is promising to help people unlock the mysteries of these religious documents to aid in the discovery of ancestral details.

Kathy Meade, North American representative for ArkivDigital (A Swedish company that provides high quality images of Swedish record collections through the internet) will be conducting the program. She will be helping people navigate through church books as sources for records of births, marriages, deaths and other household data while pointing out the typical stumbling blocks in those searches.

Through these church books and what was a type of census in Sweden called the Household Examination Books in which people were tested yearly on their religious understanding, a families’ information was collected. Since the late 1600s these documents were usually collected by the minister of a parish and he would gather an inventory of each household including all family members, their birth dates, marriages, deaths, and anyone who recently moved out or into the home.

“Through the combination of these vital house records, you could actually trace a person from birth to death or birth to immigration almost all the time,” said Meade. “There are some exceptions but that is part of the challenges.”

The lectures on the genealogical services are held once a month at the museum on Saturday mornings.  However, people can make appointments for a more in depth, one-on-one meeting usually held on the following Wednesday afternoon to dive deeper into their lineage. People provide the team with information (birthdates, immigration dates, etc.) on a person they think could help link them to their past.

“Once we helped them identify a Swedish name, good birth date and/or immigration year – we have several tools and databases to help begin the search,” Meade added. “We show them how to use the church books so they can do it on their own. However, many people return for additional help.”

According to Meade, the success rate is quite high. She is usually able to help anyone that has some type of documentation but admits the goal of ArkivDigital is to add more tools to aid in the search and make it easier for people to access the records.

“I really enjoy helping people,” Meade pointed out. “Each search is a little bit different and requires some detective work but I like the challenge. There is a satisfaction because you are helping people in something that is very personal. It is surprising to see how many individuals are looking to get information on their family and if you can help them break down some of those brick walls it opens up possibilities for them. Many people get this information and end up going to Sweden to connect with living relatives which opens up a new line for them.”

According to The Swedish American Museum, they have made genealogy an essential initiative for scholars, historians and families that seek information about ancestors and the places they lived in Sweden. A Nordic Family Research Center preceded the present society. Residents of Illinois comprise the majority of attendees, but some have come from other states and other countries such as Belgium, England and Sweden to obtain information.


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