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June Pelo

The Swedish Church Law of 1686 required the ministers of the parishes to keep a record of everyone who attended the annual examinations. The parish ministers kept records of everyone, house by house, farm by farm, including their knowledge of the Catechism (Martin Luther's Little Catechism) and their progress with assigned sections. The ministers admonished children, farm workers and servant maids to read the book and see what God bids and commands in His Holy Word.

The Swedish word for this annual event is "husförhör" which is translated as house examination or clerical survey. The Family History Library of the LDS uses the latter term. About 1894 the record keeping changed. The examinations slowly faded away in the last half of the 19th century, and the emphasis changed from an ecclesiastical one to a more civil one. The name of the record was also changed from "husförhörsrulla" (clerical survey record) to "församlingsbok" (parish record), which is still in use.

The idea behind the record was that the ministers would check on and control the parishioners' ecclesiastical activities and knowledge of the State religion which was Lutheran Protestantism since the Reformation of the 1500's. Every adult member of the parish was required to take Holy Communion at least once a year. This started when the person was confirmed at around age 15. Often people of the highest social class - the nobility - were not entered into this roll because they were considered above the communion control. The nobility enjoyed certain privileges that the clergy (präster), burghers (borgare), and farmers (bonder) did not, and this was one privilege.

From the middle of the 1700's when the church records were made the foundation of the State record keeping of people, it was ordered that all people should be entered on the clerical survey record. At the annual examination of the religious knowledge of the parishioners, the minister would also check on their ability to read. He had to see that certain information about the civil status of each individual was recorded so that at the end of the year it could be submitted in statistical form to the Bureau of Statistics. This made the personal attendance at the annual examination very important, and prior to 1889 one could be fined for not attending.

In the beginning there were no set forms for the records. Each minister made up his own, but toward the end of the 1700's printed forms began to appear. The same information appeared on all the different forms during the 1800's, so it is not difficult to make sense out of them.

The clerical survey record is organized topographically by villages and farms in the countryside, and blocks and houses in the city. On the top of the page is listed the head of the household and below, line by line, the wife, children and other relatives. The children are usually listed in order of birth, but sometimes all the boys were listed first and the girls listed below. At the bottom of the page are found the names and date about the servants. Next to the names of each person would be listed the birth date and birth place. Sometimes the birth date would be replaced with the age of the person when the record was started. Added to this would be information about the date of marriage, dissolved marriages, reading ability, religious knowledge and attendance at examinations and Holy Communion. The notes about the reading ability and Catechism are usually in some kind of code, either personal for the minister or common for the whole area such as diocese. The keys to the codes were often recorded in the book on the inside cover, but many do not contain a key.

The clerical survey records were continually kept; whenever the status of a person changed, it would be entered in the record. Such changes were: moving in and out of the parish, moving from one place to another within the parish, or the death of a person, vaccination, etc. The minister also recorded personal notes about an individual such as receiving a Bible, being sick, of weak mind, having two thumbs on one hand, etc.

Not all parishes have clerical survey records back to 1688, when the law took effect. The books were often rewritten every five to ten years and sometimes the old book was thrown away when the new one was ready to use.

(Based on notes kept from various sources).

© June Pelo

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