How to trace your ancestors in Norway
The information gathered here can help you trace your Norwegian ancestors. You may also find it useful if you want to know how to track down relatives who are still living in Norway.
by Yngve Nedrebø (firstname.lastname@example.org)
(based on a manuscript by Jan H. Olstad(†) and Gunvald Bøe(†))
"How to trace your ancestors in Norway" has been published in 9 editions 1958-1996 by the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The 1996 edition is available from the National Library for Norwegian ID-addresses.
Updated: May 10, 2017, based on an edition from October 21, 2001 at the Digital Archives.
What is your goal?
Let's assume that you want to know more about your roots in Norway. Obviously, you won't be able to trace all of your ancestors. You will have to restrict your search and perhaps try to trace back one line of the family first, and then take the others in turn. Or you may want to concentrate on a particular branch of the family that has lived in the same area for generations.
Before you start, you must decide which approach to take and what exactly you want to accomplish.
You must also recognize that it is sometimes difficult to trace the lineage of your ancestors back very far. There are a number of different reasons why this might be the case. The information you start with may be so meager or inaccurate that it is difficult to know where to begin the search. Or your ancestors may have moved about so much that it is impossible to track them down.
Sometimes important sources of information may have been destroyed - by fire, for instance. Even in the most favorable of circumstances, it is often difficult to trace a family farther back than to the second half of the 17th century, because few consecutive records were kept before that time. Also, research frequently comes to a halt long before that.
The occupation of your ancestors can play an important role in assisting your search. It can make a difference whether they were farmers working the same farm for generations, whether they were tenant farmers, laborers or servants, officials or merchants, seamen or fishermen. Certain occupations may make it easier to trace some families than others.
It is worth noting, however, that in the past the inhabitants of Norway basically stayed in one place. Even today, Norwegians are not as much "on the move" as Americans are. In general, conditions vary so much that you should not be surprised if you find only a modest amount of information, even if you spend a great deal of time and money on your search. Above all, a genealogist must learn to be patient.
Special attention should be paid to names. In the old days, Norwegians were identified by their Christian name and their father's name plus the appropriate suffix. For example, Olav Håkonsen meant that this man was the son of Håkon. (The surname might also be spelled "Håkonsson" or "Håkonsøn.") And Sigrid Håkonsdatter was the daughter of Håkon. (The surname might also be spelled "Håkonsdotter").
In addition, a third name was often used. This was usually a farm name. This "surname" did not necessarily identify a family or a relationship; it signified a place of residence. If farmer Ole Olsen Li moved from Li to another farm, such as Dal, he would then be known as Ole Olsen Dal. A farm laborer could be named in the same way, even though he was not related to the farmer.
Sometimes, however, the preposition "på" (meaning "at") was placed between the patronymic and the farm name, indicating that the person in question was employed at that particular farm.
Similarly, a tenant farmer (a cotter or husmann) was often listed in the official registers under the name of the farm to which his little home belonged. Sometimes the preposition "under" was put in front of the place-name. In this way, a cotter connected with the farm Lunde might be called Hans Petersen Lunde, or sometimes Lunde-eie (eie = possession), even if his home locally was called something else.
You should realize, therefore, that a surname in addition to the Christian name and the patronymic is not always the same as a modern family name. Family names in Norway are, in fact, a product of only the last few generations, except among the traditional upper classes (the clergy, military, civil servants, and the wealthy bourgeoisie). In Norway, the use of fixed family names was not made compulsory by law until 1925.
On arrival in the United States, Norwegian immigrants either already had three names or, in many cases, adopted a third one. Usually this third name was the name of the farm they had just come from. Sometimes the immigrants might take the name of another farm where they had once lived. Many Norwegians dropped the old farm names, however, and adopted patronymics as their surname. In the United States, Ole Andersen and his son Anders Olsen would in most cases take the same surname, either Anderson or Olson.
On the whole, the immigrants were not very particular about which surnames they adopted. The most important factor was apparently whether the name could be written and pronounced in English. In America, names such as Nelson and Johnson were already widely known and much easier to pronounce than most Norwegian farm names. Even if the original farm name was retained as a surname, it was often altered and modified so much under the influence of the new language that it is now unrecognizable.
Christian names were also sometimes changed. The first names and patronymics of immigrants were often spelled out phonetically by the immigration officer or the census taker in the United States. For example, Håkonsen might become Hawkinson. Or sometimes English equivalents might be given. For instance, Gulbrand might be changed to Gilbert, Guri to Julia, and so on.
Speaking of names, your search might benefit from a unique Norwegian custom. In Norway, especially in the rural districts, there have long been very strict rules about naming descendants. Some of these rules persist even today. It was customary, for example, for the eldest son to be named after his paternal grandfather and the second son after his maternal grandfather. In a similar fashion, the eldest and second daughters were named after the respective grandmothers.
After the grandparents' names had been used, the great-grandparents' names were the next to be given, although without strict rules as to the order. Special circumstances might interfere with these rules. For example, the name of a deceased spouse was to be used first; and the name of the father or mother was given if the child was baptized after a parent's death.
According to a Norwegian proverb: "The name and the farm must go together." This meant that a child who was intended to be the owner of the farm upon reaching maturity should be given the name of a previous owner, whether a relative or not.
Some knowledge of these naming customs may be useful when you are searching for ancestors. In recent times, the rules have often been modified or even dropped. One type of change has involved using only the first letter of a name instead of the whole name. This has produced names that are considered more fashionable.
Coats of arms / Family crests
The use of family crests has been restricted to relatively few families, in particular the nobility, state officials, and the upper middle class. The so-called bumerker, which were used to mark tools and as signets and signatures, are not coats of arms. Their initials and emblems, however, can sometimes help to solve genealogical problems.
Relatives in Norway?
Today in Norway, it is often difficult to track down the possible family connections of the 19th-century emigrants, whose descendants may have lost all contact with the old country. This is partly because it is such time-consuming work to trace all the branches of a family from 100 or 150 years ago down to the present. It is actually much easier to work backwards in time. Another reason for the difficulty of this type of search is that you will need access to a number of different and widespread archival sources. Some of the sources are maintained locally by govern-mental or municipal officials, while others will be found in various central archives. You may also often have to rely on what older people in the parish are able to remember and tell you.
So it may be quite a job to track down any of your relatives who still live in Norway. No public authority is under any obligation to undertake such an investigation for you. Naturally, within reasonable limits, the keepers of archives, local pastors, and others will do what they can to give you information. Nevertheless, you have to realize that the task, first and foremost, must be based on your own efforts - unless, of course, you decide to hire a professional genealogist in Norway to do the work for you.
It should be mentioned, however, that newspapers (especially the smaller local papers) have frequently offered assistance, often with good results. But you cannot take for granted that this type of assistance will be available.
If you fail to trace your present relatives in Norway after consulting the appropriate authorities and having explored all possible avenues, you may be able to get help from the Salvation Army. This worldwide organization has a special branch for inquiries of this kind: The Missing Persons and Inquiry Department. In Norway, the name and address are: Frelsesarmeen, Ettersøkelsesavdelingen, Borggt. 2, 0650 Oslo. It should be noted, however, that the activities of this office do not include ordinary genealogical investigation.
Preparations and procedures
Before you visit or write to Norway for genealogical information, you should make every possible effort to find answers to your questions in your own country.
The answers are often closer at hand than you think. In some cases, information from sources in your own country is required in order to do further research in Norway.
Such information may be obtained primarily from three kinds of sources:
1. Your immediate environment
This may include oral accounts from family members or from friends and acquaintances. Other sources might include written information, such as certificates, naturalization documents, deeds, letters, diaries, notations in old Bibles or on photographs, newspaper clippings (such as obituaries and other biographical articles), inscriptions on tombstones, initials and dates on silverware, etc. You should also write to your relatives in Norway, if you have their names and addresses. They might be able to give you valuable information, and they will probably know whether any history of your family has been written.
2. Printed sources
Hundreds of books have been published, especially in the United States, containing information that may be useful for the genealogist: biographies, family histories, historical accounts of special settlements, and books about Norwegian immigration in general. Books of this kind have also been published in Canada. In the United States, it may prove valuable to consult the publications of the bygdelag (yearbooks, membership rolls, etc.) and the many books published by the Norwegian-American Historical Association.
These publications and other Norwegian and Norwegian-American material can be consulted at major libraries such as the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. and the libraries at the University of Minnesota and Augsburg College (both in Minneapolis, Minnesota) and at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. The Memorial Library of the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wisconsin has the largest collection of Norwegian local histories in America. Its library collection also includes most of the Norwegian genealogical journals and collected works (but not individual family histories). The Preus Library of Luther College in Decorah, Iowa has a remarkable collection of Norwegian-American newspapers, available on microfilm.
3. Archival sources
These include primarily the records of congregations and other church organizations, and the records of official agencies on the federal, state, county, city, and township level. Documents of interest include those papers relating to immigration, naturalization, settlement, employment, and military service, as well as birth, marriage, and death certificates. Some of these documents are kept by the appropriate agencies, while others are transferred to central repositories.
Valuable information and clues for further research may be obtained from passenger arrival lists. These lists give the names and other data about passengers who arrived from abroad at ports on the Atlantic Coast and the Gulf of Mexico, as well as at a few inland ports. Passenger lists (beginning with 1820) are now on file in the National Archives in Washington, D.C.
Also of interest are the applications for naturalization (on file in county courthouses), the federal and state census records, and other archival material. There was a federal census every tenth year in the United States from 1790 to 1920. The census returns are now housed in the National Archives. In addition, there are a large number of special censuses for certain territories, states, and counties, among them the 1857 records for Minnesota. Some of these records, including index material, are in the custody of state historical societies or libraries of states such as Illinois, North Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.
You can obtain more details about these and other archival sources, including where to find them, from the Guide to Genealogical Records in the National Archives and a number of general information leaflets from that institution. Other useful leaflets are Where to Write for Birth and Death Records, Where to Write for Marriage Records, and Where to Write for Divorce Records. These publications can be purchased from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C.
Note that the National Archives and Records Service (which is a branch of the General Services Administration) operates a nation-wide system of depositories, including eleven regional archives branches (located in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago, Kansas City, Fort Worth, Denver, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle). The regional archives branches not only house original archival material created by federal agencies in that particular area, but they also make microfilm copies from other depositories. Microfilms from the National Archives may be borrowed through more than 6,000 libraries and research institutions nationwide, or through the National Archives Microfilm Rental Program. [Outdated]
In addition to federal records, documents also exist from agencies on lower levels, kept by state archives, state historical societies, or similar institutions.
Church and parish registers are usually still in the possession of their respective parishes. But a great many of the registers pertaining to the former Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America have been microfilmed, and the film reels are available at the Archives of the Evangelical Church in America (ELCA), Chicago, Illinois. There are also important Norwegian-American collections at the ELCA colleges in Tacoma, Washington; Moorhead, Minnesota and Sioux Falls, North Dakota.
Anyone may use the films on-site or, for a fee, the archive staff can research the microfilm for you. For those who need to make extensive use of a film, it may be more cost-effective to purchase copies. To purchase microfilm copies of active congregations, written permission from the congregation is required.
Valuable information can also be obtained from the library of the Genealogical Society of Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah. This library, operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, houses microfilm copies of the principal genealogical records in Norway and other countries. It also has American immigration records, as well as millions of family group genealogies and other information stored on computers, and microfiche containing names and other data. On the internet you will find lots of information on the website www.ancestry.com More than 1,800 branches of the library of the Genealogical Society are located all over the United States and in 51 other countries. They are open to all readers, not just to members of the Mormon church. This library also has a large collection of Norwegian bygdebøker.
In addition to all the printed, written, or microfilmed material mentioned above, as well as public records in general, there are also several large collections concerning immigrants from Norway, including those of the various State and County Historical Societies. Of particular interest is the collection of the Norwegian-American Historical Association (housed in the Rølvåg Library of St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota), including the voluminous collections prepared by Andrew A. Rowberg and Carl G. O. Hansen.
The National Archives, state archives and other institutions and societies will be able to tell you more about the various types of records and where to find them. First, however, you should read a textbook about genealogy and the special research techniques used for this kind of work. A large number of books on the subject have been published, including guides to research in foreign countries.
For information about how to proceed in your work, you might also contact the Sons of Norway in Minneapolis, Minnesota, or one of the more than 30 Norwegian-American bygdelag. These are groups of emigrant descendants from a particular area of Norway, now living in North America. At their annual gatherings, members display Norwegian arts and crafts, and each bygdelag has its own genealogist.
Although there are many societies in the United States that do research work in Norwegian-American genealogy, the best existent clearing-house for such research is the Vesterheim Genealogical Center, 415 W. Main St., Madison, Wisconsin 53703-3116..
With regard to Canada, you will find passenger arrival lists (from 1865 onward) on file in the National Archives of Canada, Ottawa. Various materials are also available in provincial archives. As in the United States, church papers (at least the Lutheran records) are usually kept by the individual congregations and only to a lesser extent are collected by the various synods.
There are other things that you can do before you consult the primary sources in the old country. As mentioned earlier, you may be able to find out whether your family lineage has already been more or less charted in Norway. There are numerous printed family histories, either entire books or articles in periodicals. Some of the North American libraries mentioned above may be able to give you information about this literature, but you can also write to one of the principal libraries in Norway, such as the university libraries in Oslo, Bergen, Trondheim, or Tromsø, or the Deichmanske bibliotek in Oslo, or you could search the Norwegian BibSys database on the Internet
Good information about typical farming families in Norway can often be found in the rural chronicles called bygdebøker. (Bygd is a topographical and usually also an administrative unit, like a township.) Many of these chronicles devote most of their pages to farm and family histories. The contents, however, are often confined to the immediate family of the farmers and to civil servants and other members of the "upper" classes. The husmann and other social classes are, in some cases, left out, and not all parishes have acquired their bygdebok yet.
Much general information, as well as treatises on particular families, are found in the main genealogical magazine in Norway, Norsk slektshistorisk tidsskrift. There are also many local genealogical periodicals.
Administratively, Norway is divided into districts that correspond roughly to the British and American counties. Such a district is called a fylke (before 1919 it was called an amt). There are currently 19 fylker (some of the old amt names are given below in parentheses): Østfold (Smaalenene), Akershus, Oslo (before 1925 the capital was known as Christiania or Kristiania), Buskerud, Vestfold (Jarlsberg and Larvik), Telemark (Bratsberg), Aust-Agder (Nedenes), VestAgder (Lista and Mandal), Rogaland (Ryfylke, also Stavanger), Hordaland (Søndre Bergenhus, including the city of Bergen), Sogn og Fjordane (Nordre Bergenhus), Møre og Romsdal, SørTrøndelag (Søndre Trondhjem), Nord-Trøndelag (Nordre Trondhjem), Nordland, Troms (Tromsø), and Finnmark.
There are also many other administrative subdivisions, for instance kommuner (municipalities) and prestegjeld and sokn (parishes).
You should realize that in the rural districts of Norway, from time immemorial, the usual unit of settlement was the farm (gard or gård), including the main farm and a number of husmann's homes. Villages, in the ordinary sense of the word, were few and far between.
The central public archives in Norway
After you have assembled all the information you can find in your own country, as well as information from relatives in Norway and from printed sources, it is time to consult the primary sources. These include the many kinds of records which have been kept throughout the centuries, chiefly by official institutions, and which now form part of the official archives. Over the last years quite a few important Norwegian archival records have been computerized and they are now available on the Internet, allowing you to trace your relatives from your own computer.
The agencies concerned now hold only relatively recent records. Approximately 25 years after the date of origin, old records are usually transferred to one of the official central repositories or public record offices. Parish registers, however, are an exception; they are kept by the parish ministers until 80 years after the last entry. The National Archives preserve the non-current records of government ministries and other central offices, while the various regional archives preserve documents from the regional and local branches of the state administration in their districts.
The National Archives:
Statsarkivet i Oslo, for Østfold, Akershus and Oslo fylker.
Statsarkivet i Kongsberg, for Buskerud, Vestfold and Telemark fylker.
Statsarkivet i Hamar, for Hedmark and Oppland fylker.
Statsarkivet i Kristiansand, for Aust-Agder and Vest-Agder fylker.
Statsarkivet i Stavanger, for Rogaland fylke.
Statsarkivet i Bergen, for Hordaland (including the city of Bergen) and Sogn og Fjordane fylker
Statsarkivet i Trondheim, for Møre og Romsdal, Sør-Trondelag, Nord-Trøndelag and Nordland fylker.
Statsarkivet i Tromsø, for Tromsø and Finnmark fylker.
How the archives can help you
If you know where your family came from, you should approach the statsarkiv for that district. In most cases, the regional archives are the best places to start your investigation.
You should realize, however, that the primary responsibility of these institutions is to preserve the records and to make them available for research use. The archives are not obligated to make extensive searches for the public, nor are they staffed to do so. But the staff will always be willing to offer you help, or they will forward your inquiry to the appropriate agency. As a rule, the archives will try to find a record about a person if they are given the facts necessary to search in the relevant series - for example: the person's name, place name, and time period. If possible, the archive staff will also offer you advice on how you can proceed in your work.
Lengthy genealogical inquiries, the tracing of family lineages, or the construction of family trees must be pursued independently by a private genealogist. Researchers who are willing to accept private commissions are often difficult to find, but the archive staff will do what they can to help individuals with this problem. Payment for private research is nearly always by the hour. Since such work is generally quite time-consuming, it is difficult to predict exactly how much time the research will take. It is not possible to pay a fixed price per person or generation or to make other arrangements of this kind. If you decide to commission such inquiries, you should specify at the outset the maximum amount you are willing to pay.
In addition to answering written inquiries, the archives can supply copies of baptismal, marriage, and death certificates, for specific fees, as well as photographic copies. If you are interested in obtaining these types of certificates, you must supply accurate information about the person(s) concerned. It is not sufficient, for example, to write that a person was "born in Telemark, around 1860." You must provide the name of the parish and, if possible, the exact year of birth. This is even more imperative when you want a record from one of the bigger cities, particularly Oslo. The archives are not licensed to issue certificates in foreign languages.
If you visit Norway, you are welcome to study the documents in the archive office yourself. The staff will help and advise you as much as they can, within reason. Since you will have to do the research yourself, you must be able to read Norwegian (or Danish, if you are interested in older records). In most cases, you must also be able to decipher the old "Gothic" (German) style of lettering, which was used in Norway until the late 19th century.
If you need relatively recent information - for instance about possible relatives now living in Norway - the archives will not always be able to help you, because of their lack of records from recent decades. Norwegian law also restricts the distribution of recent information about individuals in Norway. You may write directly to the authority concerned, such as the parish minister, the local police, or the registrar of vital statistics, but these authorities are also subject to the same restrictions regarding recent material.
The list of sources given below will help you decide which authority to contact. If you are in doubt, you can send your inquiry through a Norwegian embassy or consulate.
Geographical data about Norway can be obtained from the embassies and consulates, as well as from Norwegian and Scandinavian travel bureaus. More general information may be obtained from the Norwegian Information Service of the Royal Norwegian Consulate General in New York.
The National Library of Norway has one divison in Rana, administration and an another division in Oslo. The National Library of Norway offers a broad range of services, including internet-services, library-services as well as laboratory-services. They have the national Norwegian collections of newspapers as well as other publications, and they are microfilming Norwegian newspapers.
On Internet they present indexes to newspapers and other publications, a photographic database Galleri NOR , and a Sami bibliography has been made accessible via the Internet through a cooperative effort with the University Library in Oslo. They also presents a list of Norwegian electronic publications that are available via the Internet.
Nordmanns-Forbundet (The Norsemen's Federation, Oslo 1, can give you useful advice about how to proceed in your search. If you become a member of the organization, they may even give you direct assistance in your research or put you in contact with a professional genealogist. The membership fee includes a subscription to The Norseman, published six times a year.
Registreringssentralen for Historiske Data/The Norwegian Historical Data Center (NHDC) is a national institution under the Faculty of Social Science at the University of Tromsø. The main aim is to computerize the Norwegian censuses, parish registers and other sources from the 18th and 19th centuries. Products include printed editions with alphabetical indexes, digital versions on diskettes and statistical tabulations via the Internet. The alphabetical indexes can be of great help to both the professional and amateur researcher, for a person can be traced through them in a matter of seconds. Also, wear and tear on the original sources is minimized. As can be expected, the labor involved in registering all these sources is extensive and time-consuming.
The census records and other historical sources are available on internet in searchable databases. The internet address to NHDC is: http://www.rhd.uit.no/indexeng.html
NHDC consists of two departments: the department of administration and research at the University campus in Tromsø, and the department of registration in the municipality of Målselv.
The Document Center of Utvandrermuseet (The Norwegian Emigrant Museum in Hamar includes a research library, a collection of letters written by Norwegian emigrants to their relatives back home, several private archives, a collection of photographs, microfilms of parish registers of 2,000 Norwegian Lutheran congregations in the United States, and lists of emigrants from various districts in Norway. The museum's Genealogical Society (NUSU) accepts genealogical inquiries concerning roots in Norway.
One of the main tasks of Det norske utvandrersenteret (The Norwegian Emigration Center is to trace the ancestors and locate living relatives of individuals of Norwegian descent. The institution has a library specializing in local history, and a collection of primary sources (copies) from all over Norway, which includes parish registers, censuses, emigration files, etc. The Norwegian Emigration Center will answer your letters of inquiry concerning genealogy. The Center is computerizing the emigration records, and its ultimate goal is to create a national database containing all Norwegians found in the official records who emigrated during the 19th and 20th centuries.
Fylkesarkivet i Sogn og Fjordane (the County Archives of Sogn og Fjordan is computerizing and indexing church records and censuses for the whole county of Sogn og Fjordane. The archive also keeps records of extensive local archives for all 26 municipalities of Sogn og Fjordane. The archives include collections of letters from America, family books, and a few photographs. A library on emigration is being created, and a reading room is available to visitors.
Norsk Slektshistorisk Forening (The Norwegian Genealogical Society in Oslo, which publishes the Norsk slektshistorisk tidsskrift, does not normally provide direct assistance but may be able to put you in contact with private genealogists. However, some of the local genealogical societies, as well as museums, local historical societies, and even private individuals, are in possession of adequate collections, indexes, and personal resources and may be able to provide assistance. If you are interested, you can obtain names and addresses from, for example, the regional archives of the appropriate district.
Slekt og Data (The Genealogy Society of Norway-DIS, which was established in 1990, is an organization interested in disseminating knowledge about the use of computers in genealogy research and as a tool for communication between researchers. There are members all over Norway, and as of 1992 there were three local branches in Bergen, Trøndelag, and Bodø. DIS publishes a quarterly magazine, Slekt og Data.
Bureaus of vital statistics (Folkeregister)
A population register is maintained by all municipalities. These registers are primarily intended to be administrative aids, and the bureaus of vital statistics can only provide limited assistance regarding inquiries from the public. For this reason, you cannot rely on the population registers for information in connection with your genealogical search.
The Central Bureau of Statistics (Statistisk Sentralbyrå) in Oslo is the central agency for all official statistics. Since the bureau is also responsible for the supervision of civic registration, it receives large amounts of personal data. If parish registers, for example, are destroyed by fire, the extracts held by the bureau are invaluable.
Generally, however, the material held by the Central Bureau of Statistics is not relevant for genealogical research. Since the use of material relating to individuals is restricted, the bureau is not one of the institutions which should be consulted for genealogical purposes.
Municipal archives (Kommunearkiver)
These archives may contain interesting information. The school registers, for instance, list the names of children and their dates of birth, as well as the status and names of their parents. The municipal records are almost never transferred to the regional archives, and will have to be studied on location, or at the municipal archive reading rooms. The municipal authorities cannot be expected to do genealogical research work for the public. During the last decade the administration of the municipal archives has been reorganized in parts of Norway. In cities such as Oslo and Bergen, visitors may use reading rooms at the municipal archives.
Note that mail for any public institution in Norway should be addressed to the institution itself. The same applies to individual office holders, such as parish ministers. The name of a specific person is not needed for your purposes and therefore should not be used.
No matter who you decide to contact, there are two things you should remember:
Decide exactly what you want to know, and make your inquiry specific.
It is better to supply too much information rather than too little. If you can provide enough details, and also indicate how (from what sources) you obtained these details, then there is a good chance that your inquiry will be successful.
A final note: When you have decided that a specific authority or archive repository seems to be the appropriate one in your case, start by writing to that address alone. Do not send out many identical inquiries to various addresses. This is both pointless and inconsiderate, as public agencies in Norway are obligated to reply to all written inquiries, regardless of the answer.
Using the World Wide Web
The Internet has radically changed the transport of information, and our access to information from different parts of the world. To be able to use the Internet you will need a computer, a telephone line, a modem to connect to the telephone line and to convert the signals, and have access to the service from an Internet Provider.
The World Wide Web (www) allows you to use information stored by computers all over the world. Some words, underlined on the screen (in hypertext), can link you to other pages, which may be on any computer anywhere. The internet may also be used for sending or receiving electronic mail (email), to send requests, and it may allow you to participate in conferences or discussion forums or newsgroups.
To start using the www you will have to enter an address, known as a Uniform Resource Locator (URL). After asking for the address, the requested page will be sent to your computer, and the first screenful be displayed there. From that page you may advance to other pages, or you may disconnect, but still keep the current page in your computer, or print it out.
The URL for a Hypertext page starts with http (HyperText Transfer Protocol). There are millions of internet addresses, and by the assistance of a search engine you may search the internet for indexed information.
On the www there will be a lot of information on genealogical subjects. Many pages will tell you what you can find, where to go, and how to proceed. But some pages will give you the opportunity to trace and collect the requested information in itself from the computer.
Here is a survey of some of the Norwegian databases available for genealogists. Remember that internet changes very fast, addresses and systems will be altered, and a lot of new services and opportunities will be introduced.
Digitalarkivet (the Digital Archives presents the digital services of the National Archives of Norway. Here you will find computerized versions of the national Norwegian censuses of 1801, 1865, 1900 and 1910, emigrant lists, many parish registers, parts of the male censuses of the 1660-s and 1701, and lots of other records. The Digital Archives has two registration units, at present computerizing the remaining parts of the Norwegian census of 1865 and the Norwegian emigration lists.
Registreringssentralen for Historiske Data/The Norwegian Historical Data Center (NHDC) has many of its census records and other historical sources available on internet in searchable databases. The NHDC has as its ultimate goal a national population register for the 18th and 19th centuries, primarily for research purposes, but also for the benefit of schools, genealogists, local historians, etc.
If you would like to search for Norwegian firstnames or surnames, you could use one of the services offered by the Statistisk Sentralbyrå (SSB), It will tell you how many living Norwegians use a certain name, but will not give addresses or other links to the persons themselves.
If you are looking for information about the Norwegian government, you should consult Government.no, the central web-server for the Norwegian Government, the Office of the Prime Minister and the ministries.
Sources of information
Listed below are descriptions of some of the principal sources of genealogical information and where they are housed.
To use these records effectively, a genealogist must know what kind of information they contain and also, in most cases, how that information is arranged. You should bear in mind that records were not originally made for genealogical purposes. The fact that they are of genealogical interest and value is merely incidental. The records were created to satisfy legal requirements or to meet the administrative, ecclesiastical, or other needs of the originating authorities.
Most records are still kept in the order and according to the system that best served the needs of the creating agency. Thus, the records are often not arranged in ways that would best suit the requirements of a genealogist. Like all nations, Norway does not have a complete register of everyone who has ever lived within her borders. Registers of the present population, prepared for computer use, are maintained by the Central Bureau of Statistics, but they are not accessible to genealogical researchers.
Parish registers (Kirkebøker)
These are records kept by parish clergymen - usually by the pastor or parish minister (sokneprest) or sometimes by his curate (kapellan). These records provide information about, among other things, baptism (birth), confirmation, marriage, and burial (death). Since the beginning of the 19th century they have also recorded movement into and out of the parish (including emigration to America). These migration lists, however, are often very incomplete, and the individual entries are sometimes made many years after the actual migration occurred.
Some parish registers date from the 1600s, but most begin after 1700. Parish registers did not take on a standardized form until about 1800. Before that date, the records were kept in a rather haphazard way; all ecclesiastical business was often simply entered in consecutive order, without any kind of classification.
The parish registers are transferred to the regional archives 80 years after the last entry. More recent registers are in the care of the parish ministers.
In many parishes, duplicates of the parish registers (klokkerbøker) were made by the sacristans (klokkere) as late as the 1970s. They were sent to the regional archives on completion. Registers less than 60 years old, however, are usually not accessible to genealogical researchers.
Abstracts of the parish registers since 1866 are held by the Central Bureau of Statistics. Most of the abstracts for the years prior to 1921 have been deposited in the National Archives.
Registers with details of church proceedings are also kept by the leaders of recognized nonconformist churches. With only a few exceptions, these books have not yet been transferred to the regional archives.
Up to the late 19th century, however, practically all Norwegians were members of the Lutheran state church.
According to official statistics, even today only 4% of the Norwegian population are members of other religious communities, while 3% have no religious affiliation.
Census returns (Folketellinger)
National censuses were taken in 1769, 1801, and every tenth year from 1815, up to and including 1875. From 1890 (1891) a population census has been taken every tenth year. All census returns from 1900 and earlier are available for inspection. They are all located in the National Archives, except for the 1875 and 1900 returns, which are kept in the regional archives.
From a genealogical point of view, the best census is from 1801, because it lists the individual's name, age, occupation, and family status. The census returns from 1865 onward are also useful because they provide information about each person's place of birth, etc. Some of the figures given (in particular those regarding age or year of birth) can be rather inaccurate. The other records provide mostly statistical data. The 1769 census, however, includes some name lists, mostly from northern Norway, and the 1815-45 returns give lists of persons in a few scattered parishes.
For 1870 and 1885 there are census returns only for towns. These records are kept partly in the National Archives and partly in the regional archives.
Municipal census returns for some towns and cities in the 20th century can be found in some of the regional archives, or else in the municipal archives. These records cannot be opened for research until 60 years after origin.
The 1801 census returns have been processed by computer by the Department of History at the University of Bergen. You can obtain copies that are either printed out or on microfiche. The Genealogical Society of Utah in Salt Lake City and the Vesterheim Genealogical Center in Madison, Wisconsin, have the computer version of the 1801 census returns. The computerverized version is available at Digitalarkivet.
During the last decade, parts of the returns of the 1865, 1875, 1891, 1900, and 1910 censuses have been computerized. A report on the status of this work was published by RHD in 1996. The computerized versions of the 1865, 1875, 1891, 1900 and 1910 censuses are available at Digitalarkivet.
Older census returns (Manntall)
The National Archives have preserved a number of records dating from before the introduction of the national census. The most important of these records are the population rolls for 1664-66, which cover only the rural districts. They are entered in two parallel series, one filled in by the parish clergymen, the other by the local law officers. Women engaged in farming are listed, but otherwise only men and boys over a certain age are included. A computer version of the male census returns from 1664-66 has been prepared by the History Department at the University of Bergen.
The population rolls of 1701 list only males in rural districts. Records covering large parts of eastern and southern Norway are missing. (For other population records in the National Archives, see below under county and bailiwick accounts.)
The regional archives also possess, although only in a few cases, a number of complete population records, such as the so-called sjeleregistre (the "registers of souls"), which were deposited partly in the ecclesiastical files, partly in the civil files.
Probate registers (Skifteprotokoller)
These records show the registration, value, and division of real estate and property of all kinds left by deceased individuals. They also list the names of heirs and guardians and a great deal of other family information. The registers also contain interesting data of an economic and cultural nature.
The oldest registers date back to about 1660. They were kept by the probate court (skifterett or skifteforvalter), that is to say by the chief magistrate (district court judge or sorenskriver) in the rural districts and by the corresponding official (magistrat, byfogd, or byskriver) in the towns. These registers are now preserved in the regional archives. They are usually quite voluminous, and only some were originally indexed. Lately, however, quite a number have been indexed on cards, and some have even been processed by computer.
The probate registers do not cover the estates of all deceased individuals. An estate was administrated officially only in certain cases; for instance, when there were heirs who had not yet come of age.
The National Archives and the regional archives also house a number of special clerical and military probate registers. In addition, there are lists and extracts of the probate registers (skiftedesignasjoner) as well as obituaries (dødsfallsmeldinger) and records of all deaths.
The sources mentioned so far are the most important ones for genealogists. They should be used in conjunction with each other. Since they are not concentrated in one place, you will have to "commute" between the National Archives and the regional archives, for example, as your research progresses. However, some of the repositories do have microfilm copies or written abstracts of records in other archives, and quite a few appear on the internett.
You will have to use other sources as well, however, if you want to discover more detailed information, if you are hunting for "missing links," or if you want to trace your ancestors farther back in time. These additional sources include the following:
Registers of conveyances and mortgages (Skjøte- og pantebøker; panteregistre)
These books provide information about real estate conveyances, mortgages and other encumbrances on property, agreements and contracts, etc. A great deal of biographical material is often included. They rarely go farther back than to about 1720. Deeds from the last few decades are held by the local magistrate or town council clerk (sorenskriver or byskriver).
Earlier deeds are in the custody of the regional archives.
Real estate books (Matrikler)
Real estate books called matrikler will give you the names of owners and cultivators of farms. The volumes from 1665 and 1723 (in the National Archives) are particularly important. More recent matrikler (from 1838 onward) have been printed. There are also quite a number of so-called jordebøker, records which largely provide the same kind of information. The oldest ones, from the Middle Ages, have been printed. Special mention should be made of Statholderarkivets jordebøker 1661, now in the National Archives.
Emigrant lists (Emigrantprotokoller)
Since 1867, the police in a number of districts have kept lists of emigrants with their names, home address, date of departure, destination, and - in some cases - name of ship.
These lists may often prove to be the best starting point for your inquiries. They are usually kept at the local police station, but the oldest lists of Oslo, Kristiansand S., Bergen, Ålesund, Molde, Kristiansund N., and Trondheim have been transferred to the regional archives. The regional archives in Oslo also contain emigrant lists from the White Star Line's agent for the period 1883-1923. The Stavanger emigrant lists were destroyed by fire, but copies of the lists 1903-1929 are found in Riksarkivet, and they are being computerized by the Digital Archives.
It should also be noted that "domicile" is frequently not identical with "place of birth." Since many emigrants moved to a town some time before they left Norway, their domicile may be listed as, for example, Christiania, Bergen, or Stavanger even though they were not actually born there.
If you want to examine the lists of the larger ports, such as Oslo, you will need to know rather precisely the date of emigration. It is not sufficient to say "the 1880s," for example.
Some emigrant lists have indexes, either on cards or in separate volumes. The Bergen emigrant lists for 1874-1924 have been processed by computer. At the Emigration Center in Stavanger the process of computerizing the emigrant lists of other towns is underway.
Since 1810, lists of passports (passprotokoller) have been kept by the police, and the oldest ones are now in the regional archives. Such lists do not contain as much information about emigrants as the emigrant lists normally do, but they can often provide the birthplace, the age, and the destination of the emigrant. In Norway, the requirement to have a passport was abolished in 1860, making the post-1860 lists of passports less important to researchers.
Migration records (Flytteprotokoller)
For internal migration, see above under "Parish registers." After 1900 and up to 1915 (in many cases until 1943), migration was registered by the local police; in towns and cities usually by the politimester, in the countryside by the lensmann. Most of these registers are now on file in the regional archives.
Since 1946, migration in Norway has been registered by the local bureaus of vital statistics. In quite a few cities and towns, these bureaus date back to 1910 and they have kept migration records since then.
Court records (Rettsprotokoller)
The court records are among the sources which can provide you with additional information. Most of these records - the assize records of proceedings (tingbøker), in particular - are deposited in the regional archives. A few (from the higher courts of appeal) are found in the National Archives. The court records contain reports of civil and criminal cases, including the so-called odelssaker (referring to allodial property rights). Sometimes you can find information in these records about entire families through several generations. Some of the books go back to the early 17th century. They usually have no indexes, however, so you will need to allow ample time to study them.
Various accounts are also among the archival documents, and it may be useful for you to consult them. Of greatest importance are probably the county and bailiwick accounts (lens- og fogderegnskaper), which are now deposited in the National Archives. These accounts go back to the 16th century and include tax lists, real estate registers, and other material which may help you trace the owners and cultivators of farms from year to year.
Information of a more detailed character about individuals can be found in various supplementary tax rolls (ekstraskattmanntall). The most important of these tax rolls date from 1645, 1647 ("Skattematrikkelen" printed in 17 volumes), 1710 ff., 1762 ff., and 1816 ff. The accounts of the bailiffs cover rural districts only, but there are also corresponding town accounts (byregnskaper).
The regional archives contain numerous cash books in which the magistrates have entered fees and other payments that people have made. A few cash books are also deposited in the National Archives.
Rolls, meaning lists of officers and other ranks for each military unit, are preserved from about 1650. The oldest rolls are very sketchy. In the rolls from the 18th and 19th centuries, however, much detailed personal information is given. In fact, sometimes there is so much information that its equivalent cannot be found in any other source. The preservation of the rolls, however, has been very much a matter of chance, and for certain districts or units the rolls may be missing entirely. The rolls that have been preserved are kept partly in the National Archives, partly in the regional archives (especially Bergen and Trondheim).
Rolls may be found not only in the strictly military archives, but in civil archives as well, for instance among the amt or fylke (county) records.
Useful biographical and genealogical information can be found in the military probate and trustee administration records, in the archives concerning the military administration of justice, and in various accounts. Most of these records are kept in the National Archives.
Lists of seamen (annotasjonsruller or hovedruller), including information about emigrating "deserters," are found in the archives of the enlistment officers (innrulleringssjefen), which are now kept in the regional archives. Of course, these runaway seamen are not registered in the emigration lists.
Useful information can also be found in the archives of the town magistrates, the town council clerks, and the clerks of the aldermen's court, now in the custody of the regional archives. Some of the material includes citizenship registers (borgerskapsprotokoller) and other books with similar contents. These records indicate, for instance, when a craftsman, a merchant, or a skipper was given his civic rights. More detailed information can be found in the attached bundles of testimonials, etc. In a number of towns, the oldest of the citizenship registers have been printed.
Registrations of civil marriage (permitted since 1845) are on file at the office of the registrar (usually the notary public), although a number of the records have been transferred to the regional archives.
There are many other useful documents - too many to describe within the scope of this booklet. The staff at the various archives will be glad to give you advice. You should note that all archives have a number of collections of genealogical and personal histories of various kinds in manuscript form, as well as a great many farm and family records, applications for official posts, and large quantities of personal letters.
The oldest of these, the so-called "diplomas" which were often written on parchment, go far back into the Middle Ages and are the primary source of information about that period. To use these documents properly, however, you need a great deal of historical knowledge and philological experience; that is why they are mostly studied by specialists.
Collections such as those mentioned are also found in certain libraries, museums, and other institutions. The collections at the Aust-Agderarkivet in Arendal are of particular interest for Aust-Agder fylke.
Institutions with photographic portrait collections of significance include: Universitetsbiblioteket, Oslo, Riksantikvaren, Oslo, Norsk Folkemuseum, Bygdøy, and Videnskabsselskapets bibliotek, Trondheim.
Within a few years, central repositories for photographic material, or at least detailed indexes of where to find such material, will probably be available in all counties.
The newspapers contain a great deal of personal and family information of a historical nature. Most newspapers are filed at Universitetsbiblioteket in Oslo. Many central and local libraries have collections of news-paper clippings that are of biographical value. Especially noteworthy are the collections of the Deichmanske bibliotek in Oslo.
Address books, telephone directories, and trade indexes are other possible sources of information which you can consult yourself. Some of these records are even available in public libraries in America.
You should have a good small-scale map of Norway and more detailed topographic maps of the region from which your family came. We particularly recommend maps of the Topographic Main Map Series, Scale 1:50,000 (Series M711).
The map sheets include: place names, buildings, churches, farms, administrative boundaries, roads, railroads, etc. Each sheet covers approximately 650 sq. km. A total of 727 sheets would be needed to cover the whole country.
The official maps are published by Statens Kartverk (SK)
SK also publishes other Norwegian maps, such as:
Hiking maps on scales of 1:25,000-1:250,000.
Topographic Map (Joint Operations Graphic) on scale of 1:250,000;
Topographic Map on scale of 1:500,000; Aeronautical charts (ICAO) on scales of 1:500,000 and 1:1,000,000; and Population Distribution Maps (Population Census 1970 and 1980) on scales of 1:250,000 and 1:1,000,000.
In addition, SK can provide information concerning the Map Series on scales of 1:5,000 and 1:10,000 published by the County Mapping Offices in Norway. These maps cover the most important parts of the country and contain property information in addition to topographic features.
SK also has a comprehensive collection of early (historical) maps.
You can obtain a recent map catalog and more information concerning geographic maps by writing to Statens Kartverk, N-3500 Hønefoss, Norway. SK has map retailers in many countries. In Norway, maps are sold in larger bookshops.
Literature and bibliographies
You will find a thorough and useful guide to the contents of the National Archives in Norway in Håndbok Riksarkivet (Oslo 1992). Arkivkunnskap. Statsarkiva by Alf Kiil (Oslo 1969) provides an excellent overview of the contents of the regional archives.
Norske Arkivkatalogar (second edition, 1992) by Egil Nysaeter provides useful information about the indexes to the material in the regional archives, as well as in the National Archives. It also lists published primary sources.
The contents of the municipal archives are described in the book Administrasjonshistorie og arkivkunnskap. Kommunene (1987) by Liv Mykland and Kjell Olav Masdalen.
In 1996, the Norwegian Historical Data Archives (RHD) published Historiske persondata i Norge. This publication lists the location of computer versions of historical source material.
The best overview of the main publications in the genealogical field can be found in the bibliography Norske Slektsbøker (Norwegian Family Books) by Morten Hansen (Oslo 1965), with supplementary information in Norsk Slektshistorisk Bibliografi 1963-1984 by Jan Fredrik Anker Solem (Statens Bibliotekhøgskole 1985).
Våre Røtter (1992) by Nils Johan Stoa and Per-Øivind Sandberg gives an excellent account of how to proceed with genealogical research in Norway, and of many Norwegian genealogical records.
Norsk lokalhistorie. En bibliografi by Harald Andresen (Oslo 1969) provides a survey of the rural chronicles. An appendix, Lokalhistorisk litteratur 1969-1984 (Oslo 1985), has been published by Norsk Lokalhistorisk Institutt. You will also find annual lists in the magazine Heimen.
The largest collections in Norway of publications about Norwegian emigration and Norwegian emigrants in America are housed at Universitetsbiblioteket in Oslo (Norsk-amerikansk samling). A survey of the collections have been published by Johanna Barstad in Litteratur om utvandringen fra Norge til Nord-Amerika (Oslo 1975).
Norwegian farm names are listed and analyzed in a monumental work by Oluf Rygh: Norske Gaardnavne (Kristiania/Oslo 1897-1924). There is one volume for each fylke and a joint index volume, which was published in 1936. Norsk Stedsfortegnelse, published by Postdirektoratet (1972), lists farm names as well as other geographical names.
Most of the diplomas prior to 1570 have been printed and published in Diplomatarium Norwegicum (Christiania/Oslo 1847-1992). This work consists of 22 volumes, with Norske Gaardnavne serving as a useful index for farm names for the first 20 volumes, and Regesta Norvegica (seven volumes, Oslo 1978-1997), offering chronological listings and excellent indexes.
Professor Gerhard B. Naeseth (1913-1994) of Madison, Wisconsin in 1993 published the first volume (1825-1843) of Norwegian immigrants to the United States. A biographical directory, 1825-1850, and his staff at Vesterheim Genealogical Center and Naeseth Library published volume two, covering the years 1844-1846, in 1997. Another three volumes are in preparation. There are indexes on given names and on last residence.