How to Research Family in Norwegian Records

Lately I have been taking some time to research my husband’s ancestors in Norway to present to his family following a reunion last summer.  I have come across a variety of good resources that I wanted to share (and remember myself) that help when researching family in Norway.

Just a few points for background when researching individuals in Norway in the 1800s and earlier:

  • Norwegian names were made of three parts:
    • Given names
    • Patronymic, the person’s father’s name followed by -sen for males and -sdatter for females; does not change when a woman is married
    • Farm names (except for certain elites) naming the traditional farm name of the family’s residence; often multiple families lived on one traditional farm; the farm named changed if the family moved farms
  • Nearly everyone was a member of the Lutheran church; membership was required in the state Evangelical Lutheran Church between 1536 and 1845, and even after then most people were still members
  • Spelling was not standardized; i and j were interchangeable as were v and w, for example

Because of patronymics, there were many Ole Pedersens and the like, so the search can feel overwhelming.  But we have some great records to work from.

The FamilySearch Wiki has a great overview for Norway Genealogy.

Both Ancestry and FamilySearch have collections of Norwegian baptism, marriage, and death transcriptions.  I prefer to search at FamilySearch, maybe because their search algorithms are more in tune with how I prefer to search, making better use of wildcards and the like.  Be extra cautious with Ancestry hints and searches.  Because most names are so common, I had one hint for a person with the same name in the wrong country in a different century.  Not helpful.  And Ancestry searches (unless using exact) start out unnecessarily broad anyway.  Use those sliders to make it more exact.  When you search for women from your Ancestry tree, Ancestry will add the husband’s surname by default in the search, which isn’t relevant here, so remove it.  The transcribers for the websites generally classified the given names as the first names field and the patronymic as the surname field, leaving off the farm name when it appears in the original record, but in your search you can also try the farm name in the surname field.

After searching at Ancestry or FamilySearch, the next step is to visit the Norwegian Digital Archive.  When I find a reference to a baptism/birth, marriage, or death/burial on Ancestry or FamilySearch, I look there for an image of the original record.  Also come here if searching at Ancestry and FamilySearch isn’t fruitful, since they have their own index.  Start at the search page through its transcribed parish records here.  If you find the record transcription, there is a link to an image of the original record.  Otherwise, look directly through the parish registers on the site here.  Choose a county and optionally the parish and local parish with a date range to find the available registers.  Many register books from the 1800s have duplicates, where to look if a record isn’t in the main book and as a place to double-check a record; also perhaps where it is more legible.  (Just because a record is not in an index, doesn’t mean it’s not there in the parish registers.  I have found baptism, marriage, and burial records that were not in any of the Ancestry, FamilySearch, or Digital Archive indexes by paging through the books.)

You will need to know a little about Norwegian geography.  norwayparishes.com  helps find parishes and also many (but not all) farms on the map.  If you search for a parish or county, on the right of the page will be a link to see a list of all the farm names in that county.

This site has a good overview of parish records.  Near the bottom of the page is a link to see a translation of many of the headings of more recent parish register books.  One set of parish register headings.

If you are looking at parish records, you may need some help understanding the Norwegian script.  This excellent webinar, “Reading Gothic Handwriting for Swedish Genealogy” can help.  The title says it is for Swedish but generally applies to Norwegian as well.  There are many examples of each of the letters.   In particular I was having trouble interpreting a Norwegian S, and this webinar cleared that up for me.  The webinar references a site that will show the script version of a typed word at www.tydatext.se.  I have used it, for example, to enter in different months and check the resulting script against what I see written in the register.

Many helpful Norwegian genealogy words have been compiled here.

Norwegian causes of death.

Also, you may come across a different date system.  Many early records use the ecclesiastical calendar for dates, like Pentacost, instead of months and days.  The kind folks at FamilySearch have made ecclesiastical calendars for hundreds of years.  I have double-checked a number of FamilySearch records against the originals, and the transcribers did a very good job translating the ecclesiastical dates to standard dates.

Some cautions about parish records.  Baptism registers sometimes record the birth date with the baptism date but not always.  Remember when you see just one date that it is the baptism date.  There may be engagement records as well as wedding records.  One engagement register I used had “Despons” (short for Latin desponsationis) for the engagements versus “Copul” for weddings.  One “Wedding” register I consulted had very few weddings covering the time period, while the wedding I was looking for was in the general chronological register.  Also, sometimes for burial records and usually for marriage records there are extra words describing occupation or marital status before the person’s name.  So if you are looking for a certain name in the register, know that you may have to pass over words before the actual name starts.  And words are sometimes Danish instead of Norwegian.

Additional facts you may find in the parish records include: farms of bride and groom, birthplace of groom, occupation of the groom, names including farm locations of best men, cause and age of death, and names including farm locations of baptism sponsors.  Lots of good information.

Also at the Digital Archives are additional records.  The censuses are great. There are every-name searchable censuses from 1801, 1865, 1875 (labeled incomplete), 1885, 1891 (labeled incomplete), 1900, and 1910.  Choose the version that doesn’t say “transcribed” for the search fields.  Some census records include the parish of birth, and I even found some birth dates in a census.  They distinguish whether children are the children of both a man and his wife in the household or just one in case of remarriage.  (Wouldn’t that have been useful in the U.S. Federal census.)  And some years include a list of the farm animals and crops grown on the farm, an interesting detail.  (Select the farm name, not just an individual’s name, to see this information.  Translations for Norwegian words for animals and crops are at the bottom of the page here.)

Also on the site check the emigrant registers.  Emigrants were required to register with names, ages, birth places, destinations, and ship information.  Most were headed to England, then took a steam ship across the Atlantic.  Ship schedule information and many ship pictures are on www.norwayheritage.com with great background on the crossing starting here.

The Digital Archives also has tax lists, probates, and more.

Norwegian occupations are described here with information about the different levels of the farmer hierarchy here.

Information about traditional Norwegian naming patterns, such as first son after the father’s father are here.

Elizabeth Shown Mills’s Evidence Explained blog has a discussion of how to cite those records you find at the Norway Digital Archives here.  An example from the site:

Lier Parish (Lier, Buskerud, Norway), “Ministerial-Bog for Liers Præstegjeld, Askers Provstie … 1 Januar 1875 [to] 31 Desember 1882,” section “C. Ægteviede [Marriage],” p. 318, entry 24; imaged in National Archives of Norway, “Digitized Parish Registers,” database and digital images, Digitalarkivet (http://www.arkivverket.no/URN:kb_read?idx_kildeid=5886&idx_id=5886&uid=ny&idx_side=-268 : accessed 9 February 2015), English language path: Buskerud > Lier > 1875-1882, Parish register (official), image 318; citing Regional State Archives of Kongsberg.

And remember if you come across information in Norwegian on the web, Google translate for the whole site can be useful if the page doesn’t have an English version on the site.

Best of luck in your research!

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