Swedish Children Born Out of Wedlock

I am so surprised at how many of my Swedish ancestors were born out of wedlock during the 1800’s.  You would expect it to happen once in a while – and I had assumed that it must have been a shameful thing during that time period.  I am starting to think that it might not have been so bad though, because it wasn’t just my ancestors that were having babies without being married.  As I have been searching through the birth records, I’ve seen a surprising number of children whose parents weren’t married.

Here are some examples from various years of Swedish birth records of how the children born out of wedlock were marked on the birth registers:

The father often wasn’t named on the records, which is unfortunate.

Here is one instance from my own family tree, when the child was born out of wedlock, but then it was crossed out since the couple got married.:)  Pig. stood for an unmarried female.  The date given on the second line is when Carin married Per, one month after the baby was born.

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  • Greta Koehl - February 28, 2012 - 6:51 pm

    This sounds like a phenomenon Warren Bittner found in doing research among German Protestant families (“The Bittner Bastards of Bavaria”). There were high illegitimacy rates, but they occurred among young adults in their 20s and even early 30s. They actually wanted to get married, but were prevented from doing so by town councils who had the power to refuse to issue approval for marriage. The phenomena leading up to this were usually something like the following: oldest son can follow father into a trade (for a fee), second son can also (for a much higher fee), third son and later are out of luck. Since they cannot pursue a trade, they end up being in a lower socioeconomic class, one that the town councils did not want to see perpetuated, so they would not approve the marriages. These people would continue to petition for approval, but meanwhile first, second, and even third children were being born…. A lot of these people ended up emigrating to America, for obvious reasons. At least one sibling of one of my husband’s ancestors came to this country with her (not yet) husband and their two oldest children.ReplyCancel

    • Jen - February 28, 2012 - 11:02 pm

      How interesting!! You both have given me a lot to think about – and made me realize that I really need to read up on my Swedish history!!ReplyCancel

  • shaz - February 28, 2012 - 8:23 pm

    This happened a lot in Bavaria in the early 1800s. The man had to prove he had the ability to take care of a family or the town fathers would refuse permission. After two or three children they would relent thinking the couple had a real commitment to each other.ReplyCancel

  • Cynthia Shenette - February 29, 2012 - 7:35 pm

    Hi Jen,

    I don’t research Swedes, but I did read something a while ago that might be of interest to you. I think it was in a biography I read about Jacob Riis. The book mentioned that with many young couples the woman was pregnant before marriage. Riis was Danish, but maybe this was common in Scandinavian countries. The couples were committed, but not married. The key was they intended to marry. Apparently, it was socially acceptable and not something that society looked down on. I can’t remember the exact reason, but it may have had something to do with the young man’s need to establish himself in his chosen line of work before committing to marriage. If you are interested the book is, The Other Half : The Life of Jacob Riis and the World of Immigrant America by Tom Buk-Swienty, New York : W.W. Norton & Co., c2008.

    If you learn more about this I hope you do a post on it!

    CynthiaReplyCancel

    • Jen - March 1, 2012 - 7:52 am

      Thanks Cynthia!! I’ll have to read that!ReplyCancel

  • Lisa Nap - March 8, 2012 - 6:13 am

    Hello Jen,
    Whilst doing some research for an article on my great grandmother, I came across a Swedish researcher by the name of Anne-Sofie
    Kälvemark, she has published several reports on illegitimacy in Sweden. It reminded me of this article, might be worth wile to look into…ReplyCancel

    • Jen - March 8, 2012 - 7:56 am

      Thank you Lisa!!! I will look into that!!ReplyCancel

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