The Short Hard Life of Judit Svensdotter, Sweden 1790-1829

Article Covers
Jönköping, Sweden
Jönköping County, Sweden
Norrahammar, Sweden
Year range
1775 - 1849


In 1814 — about the time Napoleon was plotting his return from exile — 24-year-old Judith Svensdotter made a big decision for herself, and for her descendants. She left her rural home parish of Sandseryd in south central Sweden for the city of Jönköping a few miles away. (1)

Judith probably didn’t make her move because times were good. Her father Sven Bengtsson had been a “cottager” – a country dweller “whose cottage usually stood on a diminutive smallholding, which he was only free to cultivate when his services were not required by the farmer from whom he received it.” Records show that Sven was an unusually literate man, and he may have been enterprising as well. In 1775 he apparently owned a share in a mining claim of some sort. But he seems to have left little for his family to live on after his death in 1800, and they didn’t fare well. In 1810-1813, Sven’s widow Katarina Månsdotter and youngest child Johanna — Judith’s mother and sister – appear to have been lodged in the local poorhouse. Presumably Judith was working elsewhere in the area before moving north. (2)

Arriving in Jönköping, Judith went to work as a maid in the household of shoemaker Carl Ekedahl and Catharina Markstedt. Perhaps they were relatives of hers, but in any case it seems likely that her duties included helping to care for their two-year-old daughter Eva Charlotta. Baby Eva grew up to marry apprentice shoemaker Karl Gustav Österberg in 1836, by which time her young nursemaid was already dead. (3)

Judith knew her Lutheran catechism, but she may not have known how to read. (Universal elementary education did not become law in Sweden until 1844.) The records that tell us where people lived and worked are handwritten accounts of “Household Examinations” conducted more or less yearly by ministers of the Lutheran state church. As part of the examination, the minister ascertained the literacy level of the household members. In Jönköping county at this time, there were a total of ten boxes that could be checked under the heading “Laser” (reads). Judith has only two checked, those entitled “Uti Bok” (in the book) and “Luth. Catech.” Other maids and apprentices were recorded as considerably more literate than she was. (4)

Soon Judith moved on to the larger household of court official Johan Peter Brandt and Johana Elisabeth Dahlgren and their five children. In 1817, she joined the household of another shoemaker, Carl Magnus Ekelund and Sara Maria Melin. There she surely met a journeyman from Göteborg named Anders Svensson. Johannes Ekelund, another apprentice in the household, also came from Göteborg. She didn’t stay there long, moving to the household of woodturner Peter Frisk and Lisa Beata Lindberg through 1818. (5)

Judging from the other hired help in these households, Judith was by no means the only young countrywoman leaving home, living single in the city, and working as a “piga” or maid. This pattern will seem familiar to those who have learned how young unmarried women led the Swedish emigration to the United States in the later 1800s. Even then, domestic labor in Sweden was said to involve harder work for less pay than that available in the United States. We have no evidence whether Judith received cash wages or just room and board. (6)

Around the middle of 1818, she became pregnant and on 17 March 1819 gave birth to a daughter, Johana Christina. Having children out of wedlock doesn’t seem to have been all that unusual in Sweden 200 years ago – we have two other Swedish ancestors from this period who did the same. But we have no information on social attitudes in that time and place. (7)

The following month, on 12 April 1819, she married Anders Svensson, who was no longer a journeyman shoemaker but worked as a postal sorting clerk. Signing the marriage documents as near relatives or witnesses were two of Judith’s former employers, Carl Ekedahl and C.M. Ek(e)lund. Also signing was J. Ekelund, perhaps the Johannes Ekelund who’d been an apprentice at the house where she and Anders met. (8)

Their idyll, if any, was short. A week after the wedding, on April 19, one-month-old Johana Christina died of “slag.” “Slag” is sometimes translated as “apoplexy” or “stroke.” But it seems to refer to any sudden death, as it is frequently listed as a cause of death among young children. The couple lost little time in producing a second daughter, Albertina Sofia, born 22 April 1820. (9)

Their third child, Lovisa Christina, was born 16 September 1822. She grew up and married a local barrelmaker, Anders Magnus Andersson, on 7 October 1849. They became the parents of our great-grandfather August Philip Andersson / Boring. (10)

Anders and Judith’s fourth child, Carl Albert, was born 15 February 1825 but lived only six months. Their fifth child, named Carl Gustaf, was born 20 June 1826. (11)

It’s not clear what last name these children bore. In the on-line transcriptions of parish death records, Johana Christina is called “Andersdotter,” and Carl Albert “Andersson,” suggesting that they were identified as children of Anders. But Lovisa Christina is known as Svensson at the time of her marriage and after, suggesting that she was identified as a child of the Svensson family. Evidently this was the generation in which this family switched from patronymic surnames to family surnames. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Lovisa Christina and her siblings were the first in this line to be born in town. (12)

Late in 1828, Judith became pregnant for the sixth time in ten years, and this time something went wrong. She died in childbirth 15 May 1829 and was buried a week later. Judith was said to be 42 years old, but it’s likely that she was only 39. (13)

There is no record in Jönköping city of Anders’ remarrying, even though he was left with at least one and perhaps as many as three children under the age of eight. Possibly family members helped out, or the children may have been placed in other households to work for their keep. Anders himself perished five years later, in the cholera epidemic that hit Jönköping in 1834. (14)



Person:Judit Svensdotter (2)

born 1790 married Anders Svensson 12 April 1819 died 15 May 1829

ANCESTORS: We know only her parents, maternal grandparents, and two of eight great-grandparents.

COUSINS: Judith had two siblings and seven half-siblings. We have yet to trace their descendants.

DESCENDANTS: Some of her great-granddaughter’s letters are here.


(1) In 1814 . . . Household Examinations for Jönköping City Parish 1813-, (Förhörs-Bok For Jönköpings Stadsförsamling 1813-), Volume 2, page 71, line 8 identifies her as coming from Sandseryd but does not explicitly say when. Family History Library international microfilm #135627. Hereafter cited as Households Jönköping 1813f. V2. There are two different books covering the period 1813-1827, paginated separately and divided by geography, not chronology. I have arbitrarily labeled them as Volume 1 (microfilm #135626) and Volume 2 (microfilm #135627). Each book contains about 600 pages.

Judith last appears in Sandseryd in the 1802-1803 household examination for her family of birth; we still need to fill in this gap by searching the Sandseryd and Jönköping city household examinations for the 1803-1813 decade. Household examinations for Sandseryd Parish, 1788-1820 (Jönköpings Län Sandseryd Husförhörslängd Kommunionlängd 1788-99 1800-20 Utflyttningslängd 1796-97), page 312-313, line 4. Family History Library international microfilm #136132. Hereafter cited as Households Sandseryd 1788-1820.

24-year-old . . . In the course of her life, Judith’s birth date was given or implied to be as early as 1786 and as late as 1795. We have yet to find an actual birth or baptism record. Early 1790s household examinations in Sandseryd — the earliest records we have of her — give her birth as 1790. Households Sandseryd 1788-1820, pages 24, line 6; 108, line 7; 312, line 4.

Sandseryd . . . Called Norrahammar since 1943, according to introduction to

(2) “Cottager” . . . T. K. Derry, A History of Scandinavia: Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, & Iceland (Minnesota, 1979), page 170. According to Hans Högman, “Farmers or crofters/tenants (‘torpare’) on ‘frälsejord’ owned the farmhouse but they paid rent for the land to the landowner in form of a certain amount of days worked per year. ‘Days worked’ or daily labor meant that the tenant had to do a certain number of a full days’ work per year on the landowner’s land or estate as a payment for the tenancy.” Posted at .

unusually literate man . . . Households Sandseryd, 1788-1820, pages 24, line 1; 180, line 4; 312, line 1. Nine of a possible ten boxes were checked on the first two occasions (early and late 1790s), six out of ten in 1800. Katrina usually had six out of ten.

a mining claim . . . Sandseryd parish births, transcribed at, 17750523, gives father Sven’s occupation as “Bergsman,” which is defined as “farmer who was a joint owner of a mine and/or a blast furnace” in Pladsen’s Swedish

Genealogical Dictionary (Pladsen Sveria, 2000, 4th ed.), page 7.

Sven’s death in 1800 . . . Sandseryd parish deaths, transcribed at, 18000308.

the local poorhouse . . . Households Sandseryd 1788-1820, pages 728-729, third line from the bottom.

(3) Household of the shoemaker . . . Households Jönköping V2, page 71, lines 1-2.

Two-year-old Eva . . . Ibid., line 3.

Eva’s 1836 marriage . . . Kristina Parish marriages, transcribed at, 18360508.

(4) Universal elementary education . . . History of Scandinavia, p. 229.

“Household Examinations” . . . Households Jönköping V1, page 147, line 12. Households Jönköping V2, page 6, line 6; page 53, line 6 from the bottom; page 71, line 8 (in this instance, her first appearance in Jönköping records, Judith may have one or two additional boxes checked); page 72, line 8 from the bottom.

(5) Brandt . . . Households Jönköping 1813f. V1, page 147, line 12. Also Kristina parish births transcribed at, 18121110. Also Households Jönköping V2, page 53, line 6 from the bottom. The Brandts evidently moved while Judith was there. The handwriting in these entries is very bad, and in this and some other cases I have “cribbed” from the native transcriptions. The father’s occupation is transcribed as “Hovrättsvakt”; according to Prisma’s Modern Swedish-English Dictionary (Minnesota, 1976), p. 182, “hovrätts” refers to a court of appeal. As the word “vakt” means watch or guard, he may have been in charge of keeping order in the court.

Another shoemaker . . . Households Jönköping V2, page 72, lines 1-2 and line 8 from the bottom.

Anders Svensson . . . Ibid., line 7 from the bottom.

From Göteborg . . . Ibid., line 11 from the bottom.

Woodturner Peter Frisk . . . Households Jönköping V2, page 6, lines 1-2, 6. Also Kristina parish births, transcribed at, 18141124.

(6) Harder work for less pay . . . “Single, Swedish, and Female,” by Joy K. Lintelman, pp. 89-99 in Swedish-American Life in Chicago: Cultural and Urban Aspects of an Immigrant People, 1850-1930, edited by Philip J. Anderson and Dag Blanck (1992, University of Illinois Press).

(7) Johana Christina . . . Kristina parish birth records, 1819, #16, Family History Library international microfilm

  1. 135638. No father is listed; instead the initials “O. d.”

are written, which I believe stand for “oäkta dotter” (illegitimate daughter). Pladsen’s Swedish Genealogical Dictionary (Pladsen Sveria, 2000, 4th ed.) gives “o.ä.d.” as the abbreviation, p. 108. Kristina parish births, transcribed at, 18190317, list the father as “ökand” [unknown], a word which does not appear in the original record.

(8) Married Anders Svensson . . . Kristina parish marriage records 1819, Family History Library Microfilm #135640.

(9) Died of “slag” . . . Kristina parish deaths, transcribed at, 18190419. The baby is given the last name “Andersdotter” in this transcription. If the original death record also uses this name, — it may not, see note 12 below– that might indicate that her father was Anders Svensson, or only that he was married to her mother.

Albertina Sofia . . . Kristina parish birth records, 1820,

  1. 27, Family History Library international microfilm
  2. 135638. (Also Kristina parish births, transcribed at, 18200422.)

(10) Lovisa Christina . . . Kristina parish birth records, 1822, #75, Family History Library international microfilm

  1. 135638. (Also Kristina parish births, transcribed at, 18220916.)

Anders Magnus Andersson . . . Kristina parish marriage records, 1849, #27, page 12. (Also Kristina parish marriages, transcribed at, 18491007.)

August Philip Andersson . . . Kristina parish birth records, 1856, Family History Library international microfilm #135639.

(11) Carl Albert . . . Kristina parish birth records, 1825,

  1. 22, Family History Library international microfilm
  2. 135638. (Also Kristina parish births, transcribed at, 18250215.) Kristina parish death records, 1825, 23 August, Family History Library international microfilm

  1. 135641. (Also Kristina parish deaths, transcribed at, 18250823.)

Carl Gustaf . . . Kristina parish birth records, 1826, #53, Family History Library international microfilm #135638. (Also Kristina parish births, transcribed at, 18260620.)

(12) Andersson . . . Kristina parish deaths, transcribed at, 18250823. He is Karl Albert Andersson in this online transcription. But this appears to be an artifact introduced in the transcription process. In the original death record – Kristina parish death records 23 August 1825, Family History Library International microfilm #135641 — no last name is given.

Svensson . . . Kristina parish marriage records, 1849, #27, page 12. (Also Kristina parish marriages, transcribed at, 18491007.)

Patronymics . . . “By the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th, other Swedes [i.e., nonsoldiers] began adopting surnames. . . . [in] rural areas, . . . patronymics were the rule rather than the exception.” Nils William Olson, “Naming Patterns Among Swedish-Americans,” Swedish American Genealogist 14(2): 86, 87, June 1994. Hans Högman: “Patronymic surnames were in constant use in rural Sweden and among day laborers in urban centers until the 1860’s. At that time it became popular among those groups to adopt a family surname carried from one generation to the next. A lot of families then adopted a name connected to their home village or a name connected to nature. However, the majority just ‘froze’ their patronymic surname as their family name,” as Lovisa Christina did. Posted at .htm.

(13) Died in childbirth . . . Pregnancy deduced from cause of death — “barnsbörd” (childbirth) — given in Kristina parish death records, 1829, May 15, Family History Library international film #135641. (Also Kristina parish deaths, transcribed at, 18290515.)

Only 39 . . . The earliest household examinations (1791-3) in which she is mentioned give her birth date as 1790. See note 1 above.

(14) Remarrying . . . I checked Kristina parish marriages, transcribed at, 1813-1837, and Sofia parish marriages, transcribed at, 1807-1855.

Perished in 1834 . . . Kristina parish death records, 1834, 18 August, Family History Library international microfilm

  1. 135641. (Also Kristina parish deaths, transcribed at, 18340818.)

--Hh219 08:16, 29 April 2007 (MDT)