Genealogy is more than vital records. It’s about understanding the context of your ancestor’s life. One of my favorite ways to find context is by looking at numbers. Your ancestor had possessions, right? How about a job with a salary? You can find out a lot by analyzing those pieces of information. How much did your ancestor earn compared to the rest of the population? How much was spent, and on what? How much did you ancestor leave behind, and what was it worth? In this blog post, I share one of my favorite tools for figuring all of this out – Edvinsson’s currency converter. It’s a little known tool that, even though it’s not made specifically for genealogists, is extremely useful for creating context. Try it out and let me know what you think!
What is Edvinsson’s Currency Calculator?
Rodney Edvinsson, Associate Professor of Economic History at Stockholm University, runs a website called Historia.se, which presents historical statistics and numbers in an easy-to-read format. Edvinsson is an acclaimed researcher and economist that I admire immensely, and his website includes a wealth of information. The most useful tool on his website is a currency converter that compares the value of different Swedish currencies (starting in 1290) to today’s currency. This is extremely helpful for genealogists who want to know what a particular amount was worth in the historical context. Unfortunately, at the time of writing, this currency converter is only available in Swedish, which is why I have decided to put together this tutorial to help you through using it. If you’ve never tried it, I encourage you to follow along with this blog post and give it a go!
How Use the Currency Converter
Edvinsson’s converter is extremely easy to use, even if you don’t speak Swedish. You just need to know what numbers to plug in where, and that’s where I come in. My tutorial will take you through each part of the currency converter, but I recommend that you try it a few times to see exactly how it works before you get to your “real calculations.”
Step 1: Navigate to Historia.se
The first thing you need to do is to navigate over to Edvinsson’s site to find the converter (use a new tab in your browser to keep this tutorial open at the same time). You can either visit Historia.se directly and click on “Prisomräknare” in the left-hand menu, or you can find it with this direct link. Certain parts of Edvinsson’s site is available in English, but unfortunately not the one we need, so if you click on the English language option on the main page, you will not find this converter. You have to go through the Swedish version of the site. I highly recommend that you bookmark the currency converter page along with this tutorial for future reference because once you understand how to use it, you’ll want to use it often. Trust me on that.
Step 2: Enter Your Number
In the first box of the calculator, enter the number (amount), preferably as a whole number. This can be anything from a salary to a price – basically, any number at all that you want to convert to today’s value.
Step 3: Select Your Currency
In the next box, select the type of currency you’d like to convert from the drop-down menu.
Which Currency Did My Ancestor Use?
In most records, there will be a currency listed, so double check your sources if you don’t know which one to pick. However, if (for any reason) you’re not sure which type of currency your ancestor used, take a closer look at the drop-down menu. Sweden has had many different currencies throughout history, and Edvinsson makes it very easy to find what you’re looking for because he presents the years in brackets directly after the currency, so you know what currency was used when.
You can choose from the following currencies:
Step 4: Enter the Years You’d Like to Reference
To use the calculator, you need to enter two different years. In the first box, you enter the year when the currency was used, and in the second box, you enter the current year (if you’d like to know what the equivalent value is today). For example, if your ancestor used 15 riksdaler in a transaction in 1880, you would enter the number 15 in the first box, select “riksdaler” as the currency, and plug in 1880 in the next box. Now, if you wanted to know how much that amount was worth in 1910, you would enter 1910 in the second box. If you wanted to know how much it was worth today, you would enter 2017 instead. Makes sense, right?
The translation of the entire sentence reads something like this: “What is [Amount] of [Currency] from [Year] valued at in [Year]?
Here’s an Example
Let’s say my ancestor used 15 skilling to buy something in the year 1780. If I’d want to know how much money that would equal today, I would enter the number 15 in box #1, choose “skilling [1777-1881]” in box #2, enter the year 1780 in box #3, and the year 2017 in box #4.
It would look like this:
Step 5: Click the “Calculate” Button
Once you have filled in all the boxes, simply click the “Get answer by clicking here” button.
Step 6: Note Your Answer
When you click the calculate button, a new page will load. The results might look a little intimidating if you don’t speak Swedish, but the general layout will look like this:
Your input will be under the heading “Fråga,” which translates to the word “question.” This sums up what was asked, i.e. how much 15 skilling in 1780 would equal today.
Underneath, you will see the heading “Bakgrund” (or “background,” as you’ve probably figured out). This tells you what information the analysis was built upon, i.e. how the calculator came to that conclusion. In this case, it’s telling me that between the years 1777-1788, there wasn’t any difference between the varieties of skilling, which means that 1 skilling was the equivalent of 1/48 riksdaler specie.
Look for your answer under the heading “Svar” (“answer”). In 1780, 15 skilling could buy as much goods or services as SEK 125.1 (Swedish Kronor) buys today, according to the Consumer Price Index for Sweden. Awesome, right? No more guessing!
The converter also shows me an alternate answer that may be of interest under the heading “Alternativa beräkningar” (“alternate calculations”): 15 skilling was the equivalent salary of 3,143 Swedish Kronor today. If I were trying to figure out how much my ancestor was making in 1780, this would the answer. Depending on the context of your numbers, you may find this more or less applicable.
If there isn’t an exact equivalent for your imput, you might get a results page that looks a little different. In most cases, it will include an explanation as to why the value couldn’t be calculated, plus a general guide for how you can estimate it on your own. You can use Google translate or a similar service to decipher the text, but if you need more help, you’re welcome to post a screenshot in the Scandinavian Genealogy Facebook group!
Step 7: Cite Your Answer
As always, don’t forget to cite where you found this information, so you (and others) can come back to it again. Edvinsson has already provided the citation for the work the converter is referencing (Edvinsson, Rodney, och Söderberg, Johan, 2011, A Consumer Price Index for Sweden 1290-2008, Review of Income and Wealth, vol. 57 (2), sid. 270-292), but since this tool is available on a website, you will also want to include (at minimum) the name of the website, the URL, and the date you accessed it. For those of you citing in English, you can replace the abbreviation “sid.” with “p.” It’s short for “sida” (“page number”).
Where Do You Find These Facts about an Ancestor?
If you’re new to genealogy, you may not have found any of these types of numbers for your ancestor just yet, and that’s OK. Eventually, you will. Estate inventories is my go-to source for details like this. If you’re lucky enough to find an estate inventory for your ancestor, pause and translate the document using this currency calculator. It’s a real eye-opener to see not only how much money was in the estate, but also how much money was owed to others.
Land records are also great sources for information like this, as are many other types of financial transaction records. I have used this calculator to figure out how much my ancestors paid for land, how much the yearly salary was for the type of work they did, and how much they donated to their church on a regular basics. It’s this type of context that tells you more of the real story and let’s you better understand the life of your ancestors.
Is there a Converter Available for Norway or Denmark?
At this time, I’m not aware of one. However, Edvinsson also has an international currency calculator that may be of help. It includes both Norske krone (Norwegian Krone) and Danske Krone (Danish Krone), but it’s based on the financial statistics for Sweden and is therefore much more limited in its function.
For those of you researching emigrants to the United States, MeasuringWorth.com has a calculator that estimates the purchasing power of money in the United States for the years 1774 to present time.
Suggested Further Reading
Money is always a fascinating topic, and there’s no end to the many resources you can find both online and offline. Here are a few of the ones I’ve come across, and that I have found useful. Many are available as downloadable PDF files online, and I have highlighted the chapters that are of particular interest to genealogists. Even though there isn’t an official converter available for Norway and Denmark, you can still find plenty of great information through these sources.
- The Historical Monetary and Financial Statistics for Sweden: Exchange rates, prices, and wages, 1277–2008 (by Rodney Edvinsson, Tor Jacobson and Daniel Waldenström; ISBN 978-91-7092-124-7).
- Historical Monetary and Financial Statistics for Sweden, Volume II: House Prices, Stock Returns, National Accounts, and the Riksbank Balance Sheet, 1620–2012 (by Rodney Edvinsson, Tor Jacobson and Daniel Waldenström; ISBN 978-91-87391-29-3)
Vad kostade det? Priser och löner från medeltid till våra dagar (by Lars O. Lagerqvist; ISBN 978-91-86297-52-7; This book is available in Swedish only)
- The Royal Coin Cabinet of Sweden has a great reference page of equivalencies.
- Wikipedia have some really good information on the history of Swedish money, so be sure to also look at the following pages if you’re not familiar with the different currencies:
- Historical Monetary Statistics for Norway 1819-2003 (by Øyvind Eitrheim, Jan T. Klovland and Jan F. Qvigstad (eds.))
- Historical Monetary Statistics for Norway 1819-2003, Part 2 (by Øyvind Eitrheim, Jan T. Klovland and Jan F. Qvigstad (eds.))
- Quantitative Studies on the Monetary and Financial History of Denmark (by Kim Abildgren) – includes notes on Consumer Prices in Denmark 1502-2007!
- Dansk Pengehistorie (by Knud Erik Svendsen, Svend Aage Hansen, Erling Olsen, and Erik Hoffmeyer)