Top 5 Tips For Discovering Your Scandinavian Roots

A map of Scandinavian countries

Did your DNA test reveal some Scandinavian heritage? Well, that’s a real possibility since Scandinavians were some of the earliest American settlers. However, many also crossed the ocean in the 19th and 20th centuries, so your ancestors may have  been part of those groups as well!

Needless to say, if you have Scandinavian roots, you must explore them! Here’s how you can go about it.

Start On This Side of The Ocean First

In genealogy research, it’s always better to work your way backward. This means that to research your Scandinavian roots, you have to start with yourself, at home, here in the US.

Taking a DNA test will only tell you that you have Scandinavian ethnicity, but it’s going to take some digging to find out which one of your ancestors was the first to arrive in this country as an immigrant.  . Once you’ve identified these important ancestors, go through everything from family photographs to letters, the family bible, and other documents at home to find clues and leads.

Trace The Immigration Routes

There were different waves of immigration that brought many Scandinavian immigrants to US soil. Try and find out if your ancestor was part of one of these waves and which one exactly.

You’ll find more details about immigration in naturalization records or passenger lists that are easily available online. Look through these to find out the period of immigration, their complete names, and other details.

Take Time to Understand the Scandinavian Naming Practices

We can’t emphasize enough how important it is to understand the naming customs of the time in Scandinavia. These were very different from what we use today, or even the ones used in the US at the time.

Scandinavian populations used a patronymic system (and occasionally matronymic names). This practice continued well into the 19th century and even into the early 20th century. This essentially meant people didn’t really have fixed surnames like we do today.

Additionally, unlike the rest of Europe, Scandinavian women didn’t give up their maiden names; they were named exactly the same way across records, including birth, marriage, and death.

That said, there were some exceptions to this since some women did start using their husband’s surnames in the late 1800s. Others included the husband’s surname in their name when they arrived in America since it was the common practice here.

Look Into Parish Records

The Nidaros Cathedral in Norway


In most of Scandinavia, the Lutheran church was largely the official state church. This implies that the church may have  handled many of the official records you’re looking for, i.e., they may not be found in government archives.

So, you need to know not only your ancestors’ towns or villages, but their parishes, as well. Depending on what region of Scandinavia your ancestor was from, there may be various records that document their births, deaths, and everything in between. These are centuries worth of records that can give you an incredible insight into your ancestors’ lives and offer important clues for you to use in the research ahead of you.

Side Note: You don’t necessarily have to cross the ocean to access these records; many of these are available in digitized databases.

Explore Some Other Records and Resources

If you’ve been conducting family research for a while now, you’ll feel like you’ve hit the jackpot with your Scandinavian ancestry. When it comes to record-keeping, nobody does it better than Scandinavians.

Here are some of our favorite research hubs for Scandinavian genealogy research:


Excited to discover your Scandinavian roots but think you’ll need some help? We’ve got you!

At DavisDNA And Family Research, we offer traditional and genetic genealogy services to help you build your family tree and dig deeper into your ancestry. Learn more!