Names for illegitimate children

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Tengene parish 13 Dec 1689:
Döptes Anders, Bengt Linnhars sonh, ett oächta barn.
Anders, the son of Bengt Linnarsson, an illegitimate child, was baptized 13 December 1689.
Tengene C:1 (1688-1743) s. 65 page info at Arkiv Digital

This page is about the names of illegitimate children, rather than about illegitimate children in general.


Swedish children out of wedlock

Birth/baptism records mentioning the name of the father of a child born out of wedlock, while completely neglecting the mother, are not all too uncommon in the oldest Swedish ministerial books. After all, the mothers were not mentioned in the book for children of married couples, either. In the case of Anders Bengtsson, researchers have found out the name of his mother, Anna Ambjörnsdotter, by studying the court records. Anna had taken Bengt to court in order to make him marry her, but he still refused. No doubt they were both fined for extramarital intercourse[1] - the penalties were quite strict.

The records at this time were far from standardized. The vicar in Skinnskatteberg almost never mentions the name of the wife in baptism records, but names the father and the mother, both, for children born out of wedlock.

Skinnskatteberg C:1 (1623-1677) p. 20 page info Arkiv Digital

Skinnskatteberg 1640. Then 31 martij Christnades ett oecta barn, Erichs, Olof Hisings köpsvens, som han åtte mäd Brita Christoffersdotter i Ersboda, heet Christoffer.[2] An illegitimate child, Eric's child that he had with Brita Christoffersdotter in Eriksbo was baptized in Skinnskatteberg 31 March 1640 and named Christoffer. No patronym or family name is given for Eric, the father. Instead it is explained that he worked for Olof Hising as a merchant's assistant.

The default nature of patronyms

Another very common trait of early Swedish baptism records is that they do not record a last name for the children. (There are, of course, exceptions as with everything).

The default for "last names" was the gendered patronymic system, where your last name depended on whose daughter or son you were. So, as we can see, it was important to know who was your father - and your neighbours and the vicar were pretty good at keeping tabs on who had shared a bed with whom. And up to 1777 it was the duty of midwives to pressure unwed mothers towards revealing the name of the father.[3]

Actually, it was your relationship to a head of household that was important, as we can see from the case of Eric <no last name>, Olof Hising's assistant. There are many examples of this in the first ministerial book for Skinnskatteberg. So, it was of importance in the local community to know whose son or daughter you were, but your patronymic did not get into the records until you came into your own, leaving home or forming your own household. After all, there was no compulsory database field for a Last Name at Birth in the books. Your patronym was just assumed as something that "everybody" would know.

This lack of explicit last names for children and young people still living with their parents isn't even just an early phenomenon but continues more or less up to the last publishable parish population records (there's a seventy-year limit).

Acknowledged children

In time, the practice of entering illegitimate children in the birth book as primarily children of their father gave way to entering them as children born out of wedlock to their mothers. It is still common to find an acknowledgement by the father entered in the birth book - or in the household record.

In 1853 a girl named Anna Brita was born in Hamrånge parish to unwed Anna Olsdotter.[4]

Hamrånge AI:17b (1857-1861) s. 161, left, page info at Arkiv Digital

Anna Brita and her mother Anna lived in the household of Anna's father, charcoal maker Olof Jonsson and his second wife. So they are both in the book with only their given names.

Hamrånge AI:17b (1857-1861) s. 161, tigh, page info at Arkiv Digital

However, on the opposite page there is a note saying that Drängen Jöns Berg i Stråtjära, Skog sn, har förbundit sig till barnföda i 12 år från 1854, och således erkänt sig vara barnets fader. (this note slightly overlaps the notes about vaccination). So: the farm hand Jöns Berg in Stråtjära has assumed the obligation of providing for the child economically for twelve years, starting in 1854 and thus acknowledged being the father. Anna Brita is later in the books as Anna Brita Berg.

In this case the parents did not marry - but it is possible that in the majority of cases children noted in the birth book as oäkta (illegitimate) turn out to be pre-marital children. We haven't actually counted, but the impression is that in some parts of Sweden in the 19th century most couples had a child before they married.

Unacknowledged children with locally known father

After the times when the fathers of illegitimate children were routinely entered into the birth book, it was still quite common for children born out of wedlock to have a last name that was a patronym, based on the name of their father. This can be a bit of a puzzle for the researcher, since, as usual, the first time their Last Name is mentioned is about the time they are leaving home.

The six children of Anna Lisa Jansdotter (1835-1922), all born in Råstock, Ljusnarsberg and all born out of wedlock, provide an interesting illustration:

None of the children have a patronym after Anna Lisa's father, Jan. The first two boys had a father named Per. The next son had a father by name Carl, as had the first daughter. The boy between these two died at the age of nine, without ever having a last name in the books. He is named Carl August, and may have the name Carl after his father. The last girl had a father by name Anders - who may and may not be the Anders Jansson whom Anna Lisa married more than twenty years later. Their last names only show up in the records when they are about to leave home, and there is no mention of any acknowledgment by their fathers. The point being, that although it will hardly be possible to identify the fathers, their names were known (at least to Anna Lisa) and used as the basis for the surnames of the children.

Father unknown

When the father was entirely unknown, it was usual in most of Sweden for the child to have the last name of the mother - either a family name, like Anders Brodin had or a patronymic name based on the maternal grandfather, like Anna Elisabeth Kristiansson or Anna Stina Eriksson had.

It is difficult to find good examples of this - most of the time it turns out that there was a known father, after all. Even when there is no acknowledgement noted in the birth book, there is often a patronym based on a name not carried by anybody in the family of the mother, the first time a young person born out of wedlock is in the books with a last name.

In some parts of the country, notably Norrbotten/Västerbotten and Bohuslän metronyms - last names based on the name of the mother - were used for children with an unknown father.

In WikiTree terms it is inconvenient when a child with unknown father shows up with a last name for the first time and this name is one they got from a stepfather or foster father.

Parents unknown

This is the real brick wall, of course.

Before 1778 the midwife was under obligation to ask for the name of the father when an unwed woman gave birth. However, it happened that women gave birth without the aid of a midwife and suffocated the child. In order to prevent this, the Infanticide act of Gustav III introduced an option for mothers to give birth anonymously (far away from your home parish, usually in a town) and forbade the midwife to ask for the name of the father. This law was in force until 1917, so there is a long period of time where children may be born with both parents unknown. You may also find cases where the mother remains unknown, while the father acknowledges the child.[13]


  1. Fädernegårdarna, Christina Högmark Bergman (1993)
  2. Skinnskatteberg C:1 (1623-1677) Bild 24 / sid 20
    Arkiv Digital page info v74049.b24.s20 | To page (paywall) | Riksarkivet
  3. Fader okänd Elisabeth Reuterswärd, Sveriges släktforskarförbund, Stockholm, 2011
  4. Hamrånge AI:17b (1857-1861) Bild 166 / sid 161
    Arkiv Digital page info v135123.b166.s161 | To page (paywall) | Riksarkivet
  5. Ljusnarsberg C:14 (1849-1861) Bild 112 (AID: v53563.b112, NAD: SE/ULA/10860)
  6. Ljusnarsberg C:14 (1849-1861) Bild 143 (AID: v53563.b143, NAD: SE/ULA/10860)
  7. Ljusnarsberg C:14 (1849-1861) Bild 219 (AID: v53563.b219, NAD: SE/ULA/10860)
  8. Ljusnarsberg C:15 (1862-1870) Bild 57 (AID: v53564.b57, NAD: SE/ULA/10860)
  9. Ljusnarsberg F:9 (1863-1877) Bild 163 (AID: v53585.b163, NAD: SE/ULA/10860)
  10. Ljusnarsberg C:15 (1862-1870) Bild 173 (AID: v53564.b173, NAD: SE/ULA/10860)
  11. Ljusnarsberg C:15 (1862-1870) Bild 300 (AID: v53564.b300, NAD: SE/ULA/10860)
  12. Ljusnarsberg B:9 (1890-1894) Bild 7 (AID: v53549.b7, NAD: SE/ULA/10860)
  13. Infanticide Act, Sweden Ekeblad-7 09:18, 16 April 2018 (UTC)


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Categories: Swedish Names