Internal passports in Sweden

In Sweden, internal passports were used for many hundred years. The oldest document stating the existence of passports (then called "our letter") actually dates as far back as 1279, when "our letter" had to be carried by men serving the king. With this letter they had the legal right to demand food and lodging for the night when travelling in the errands of the king.

In the 16th century the word "pass" (passport) was used for the first time. The people now being controlled were primarily the merchants. But soon after that, when the statesman Axel Oxenstierna in 1634 laid the foundations for the modern central administrative structure of the state, it became possible for the ruler of the country to actually controll every single citizen.

In Axel Oxenstiernas structure counties were created, and the head over every county – landshövdingen – was directly responsible for carrying out the kings orders. Simply put, he was the kings stand-in in the county over which he ruled.

The administration grew and also needed some time to become really efficient. From the end of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th century we can here and there in swedich archives find documents from this period mirroring how well (or poor!) the passport administration was functioning.

The largest bulk of passport documents that have been saved dates from the period 1812 -1860. In 1812 there was political unstability in Europe, a situation that triggered the state to inflict on its people the most strict rules for internal passports that the country has ever seen.

After almost fifty years of peace, and during a time when travelling and communication increased tremendously, the need to control where and when people travelled, and even to forbid them to do so, deminished. A vicar spoke in the Swedish parliament in 1858 and said that he had travelled in Sweden, Norway and Denmark and not one official had asked to see his passport. Following a decision in the parliament on September 21st 1860 passports were no longer needed. One amazing fact is that this decision not only applied to the internal passports but also to the international! However, if someone was travelling to another country, and if that country demanded a passport for entering the country, of course a passport could be issued.

The picture shows page two of a passport that has belonged to the tailors apprentice Carl Lundberg, and that was issued by the mayor of Mariestad (in western Sweden) in year 1834.

The documents that have been saved in our archives are interesting for a number of reasons. It's quite clear that this was seen solely as a "working material" and that the documents many times were sorted out at one point or another. The ones that have been saved are many times unfortunately in bad shape. Still, there are quite a number of documents left to work with regarding internal passports. For the genealogist maybe the most fascinating aspect is that finding your relative in this material is worse than looking for a needle in a haystack! However – today we have the internet and we have the possibility to actually register every single person we find i the documents.

The Genealogical Society of Sweden (Genealogiska Föreningen – GF) initiated a long running project just a few years ago, in 2010. The goal is to register all people we can find in this fascinating material.

What documents have been saved?

First we think of the passport in itself. Well, they were carried around by the person travelling, and so we cannot expect to find a big number of them, even though some were handed in when a person reached his och her destination or when the passport was worn-out (like the one in the picture above). Today, some actually are hidden or forgotten in family chests in peoples houses.

Lists – "passjournaler" – were created when passports were issued. Many of them have been saved and every one page contains valuable information on a number of people. In the project these are the first priority to digitalize. As soon as the digitalized pages appear on GFs website we have people that start working on them, building up the records that we can search in and hopefully find our relatives.

Swedish citizens emigrating

Many swedish people who left for the United States before 1860 can hopefully be found in the material. Today we have a record containing almost 182 000 names, 216 of these have the destination "Amerika". The period that has been our main focus so far is 1812-1860. Most of the people in the early part of that period, 1813-1816, have been registred, and as the our work progresses we move ahead in time. Please se the bottom graph on this page for amount of registrations for each year.

American citizens visiting

There were also american citizens visiting Sweden. If you do a search for people with "Amerika" as their home (hemort) you find over 140 americans. Most US citizens however (as most people in these lists) do not have their home noted, so of course the exakt amount is more then 140.

Quite a number of these were sailors. As they arrived at one Swedish port, when they travelled on they would receive a Swedish passport, either for the trip to another Swedish port or to a port abroad. On January 8th, 1813, sailor Samuel Francis was issued a passport from Gothenburg to Copenhagen. We know very little about him, but we know he was 24 years at the time (i.e. born around 1789) and afro-american. Every person travelling that did not have a business or an employment were described in their looks, usually age, hair colour, eye colour and length. Samuel Francis is described simply with the Swedish word for negroe – "neger".

We find also US citizens working with merchandise in these lists. On July 17th, 1813, an american merchants assistant Stephen Field received a passport for travelling from Gothenburg to America. At the time Stephen Field was 40 years old, i.e. possibly born in 1773, had dark hair, blue eyes and a body of "ordinary" build. On the same date we find Mr Robert Peele, possibly a friend or business collegue, also destined for America. Mr. Peele was seven years older than Stephen Field, i.e. born around 1766, and has the same description for his looks as Stephen Field.

A piece of American history reflected in the passport lists

Yes, indeed, we find high and low in these lists. Everyone travelling had to have a passport. Even a minister who later became a US president. When the peace treaty was signed in Ghent in december 1814 to end the war between Canada (Britiain) and the US five US ministers and diplomats negotiated and eventually signed the treaty – John Quincy Adams, James A. Bayard Sr., Henry Clay, Albert Gallatin and Jonathan Russel.

In this painting by Amédée Forestier we see the five american delegates. Adams is shaking hands, on his right hand side we see Gallatin, Hughes (secretary), Bayard, Clay and Russell (one of the men on the far right is a not identified person).

In The Papers of Henry Clay, volume 1, some interesting information about these negotiations are to be found. An early plan was actually to hold the negotiations in Gothenburg, Sweden. For this, Clay and Russell arrived in Gothenburg on April 14th, 1814. 

Jonathan Russell was the US ambassador in Stockholm and Sweden during the years 1814-1818. On April 18, 1814, he was issued a passport for a trip from Gothenburg to Stockholm. Joining him on his trip was  "Mr Lawrence and Mr Russell as well as servants".

In a letter written by James Bayard in London on April 22nd he writes that the negotiations now were relocated to "a city" in Holland.

On April 23rd Henry Clay was issued a passport in Gothenburg for a trip up the Göta älv river to the city of Trollhättan, approximately 76 kilometers northeast och Gothenburg: "His Excellency The United American States Minister Plenipotontiatire at the Peace Congress here with Great Britain Mr Henry Clay with servants to Trollhättan and back". 

On June 2nd, Henry Clay was issued a passport in Gothenburg for travelling with a servant over Denmark to Holland.

John Quincy Adams had been the first US ambassador in Russia, situated in St. Petersburg. When leaving Russia he travelled over Stockholm and Gothenburg. He first appears in the passport lists in Gothenburg on June 9th, as the Swedish 19 year old servant Nils Ericsson who followed him from Stockholm to Gothenburg was issued a passport for his trip back to Stockholm. "Servant Nils Ericsson, that has come here with the American Minister John Quincy Adams, back to Stockholm."

On June 11th, passports were issued in Gothenburg for both Russell and Adams for travelling to Holland.

The negotiations in Ghent began in August 1814.

The future of the passport project

The project of digitalizing these documents and also indexing all the names is a huge project. Jokingly we have said it will probably not take more time than 90 years or so. Still, every month new interesting people are added and new searches can be made in the material.

Please feel free to contact the group working with this on the email address If you want more extensive research done on this material, please contact our research services. Just klick on "Roots in Sweden?" on the right hand side of our web page.

Hans Hanner, June 20, 2017