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The Lutheran church records are the primary source for genealogical research in Norway. Church records [kirkebøker] provide excellent information on names, dates, and places of births, marriages, and deaths. Almost everyone who lived in Norway was recorded in a church record.
Records of births, marriages, and deaths are commonly called vital records because critical events in a person's life are recorded in them. Church records are vital records made by the pastor or his assistant. They are often referred to as parish registers or church books and include records of christenings, marriages, and burials. In addition, church records may include lists of members, confirmations, marriage banns, and accounts of people moving in and out of the parish.
Church records are crucial for Norwegian research. The Evangelical Lutheran Church became the state church (Statskirken) or national church (Den Norske Kirke, lit. The Norwegian Church), after the Reformation in 1536. As such, it is an arm of the national government. The church keeps the vital records for the government.
General Historical Background
Christianity came to Norway around 1152 to 1153 in the form of the Catholic church. The church was organized with an archbishop in Nidaros (now Trondheim), with ten bishop seats under him: four in Norway, two in Iceland, one in Greenland, one in the Faeore Islands, one in the Orkney Islands, and one in the Hebrides Islands and Isle of Man.
From the time of the Reformation in 1536, Norway became a Lutheran nation. From then until 1843 it was against the law to practice the Roman Catholic religion in Norway. Notable exceptions include Catholic congregations in Fredrikstad (since 1682), Kristiansand (since 1686), and Oslo (Kristiania) (since 1843). A few Quakers were also allowed to live near Stavanger in 1826, provided that they did not move out of the area.
The Norwegian government recognized only the state church prior to 1845, when it became legal to organize churches of other denominations. St. Olav's Catholic congregation in Oslo was organized that year. Its church building was completed in 1856, the same year Catholic missionary work was started in Northern Norway, with Alta as its seat. This work, also called the North Pole Mission (Nordpolmisjon), was abolished in 1869, and resumed its seat in Oslo.
There are no church records from the pre-Reformation times in Norway. Therefore, the earliest church records available are the Lutheran church records.
At a Congress of Deans held in April 1668, a resolution was adopted to introduce keeping parish records in Norway. However, it was not until 1688 that record keeping was required by law. Some pastors began keeping records much earlier. The earliest parish record dates from 1623. Church records for the state church are available in most areas beginning about 1700.
In 1845, the Nonconformist Act recognized Christian dissenter churches; however, the act required that everyone from all denominations notify the pastor of their local Lutheran parish of all births and marriages. The Nonconformist Act did not apply to Jews until 1851, when a constitutional provision repealed the exclusion. Few Norwegians belong to nonconformist religions. In 1989, only six percent of the population listed their religion as other than Lutheran.
A uniform system for keeping church records was introduced by royal ordinance in December 1812. The use of a standard form began during the winter of 1814. This form was replaced by a new one in 1820, and another in 1870. The form adopted in 1870 is basically the same one still in use today.
Because of concerns over possible destruction of church books by fire or loss, the Ordinance of 1812 required that a duplicate register be kept in a separate place. These records, called klokker bøker (clerk books), were kept by the parish clerk. The clerk books are designated as such in the Family History Library Catalog by the use of "kl" to the left of the volume and time period of the record.
History of the Church Records
Den Norske Kirke (The Norwegian Church), or Statskirken (the State Church) was separated from the state May 21st 2012. Prior to this date there was no separation of church and state. From this date the Norwegian Lutheran Church is not an arm of the state and does not have any more power than any other church (religion) in Norway.
After the Reformation in 1536 the Evangelical Lutheran Church became the state or national church of Norway, and as such was an arm of the national government. The head of the church was a cabinet member, Kirke- og Undervisningsminister (Secretary of Church and Education). There was no ordinary civil registration organized and in earlier times all registration was entrusted to the ministers of the Evangelical Church, and up to May of 2012 it was the clergy who by entries in the church registers were responsible for the greatest part of this work. Most of these records are available online at Digitalarkivet (Digital Archives) of Norway; as well as on microfilm at the Family History Library.
You may also be able to find more recent family by contacting the Folkeregister (Register of Vital Statistics) but only if you are a direct line ancestor.
There was no civil registration organized in earlier times when all registration was entrusted to the minister of the Evangelical Church, and for the purpose of this class these are the records we will learn about.
Many people have the misconception that there always were records kept, and that something has happened to the earlier ones. One common belief is that when the Catholic Church was outlawed, and the Lutheran Church took over after the Reformation, the Catholic priests took the records with them when they left. This is not so, there were no records. In many cases the last Catholic minister was the first Lutheran minister.
Before 1876 there was no form of civil registration, but that year a law was passed to send all information about births, death, and marriage to Statistsk Sentralbyrå (Bureau of Central Statistics) for statistical purposes, and in 1905 a law was passed that a copy of the ministers records of birth, death, and marriages should be sent to the bureau, but this information is not available for public use.
In 1915 the government established Folkeregistre (Register of Vital Statistics) on a community/city level, but the information there is not available to the public.
Language of the records
The language used in the early church records was the accepted written Norwegian, which was at that time closer to Danish than many of the different spoken Norwegian dialects. Most ministers were educated in Copenhagen. The German influence on education was strong throughout Europe, and the script used in the church records in many countries was Gothic. This was also the case in Norway, until the middle of the 19th century.
See Norwegian Word List: https://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/Norway_Word_List
Many Latin phrases were used as well. Some of these you will need to become familiar with.
Dates in the records
Dates, in a great number of parish registers, will be recorded according to the church calendar, with Latin names on Sunday and Feast days. Often the Latin name for a Sunday would indicate to the priest what scripture was to be the topic of his sermon of the day. It will be helpful to learn how to look up the feat days in the calendar that translates these dates to modern dates. See Movable Feast Day Calendar for Norway in the FamilySearch wiki:
See also Fixed and Moveable calendar in the FamilySearch wiki for Norway:
Quality of records
The quality of the records depends on the person who kept them, and the conditions where the records were kept. Some are very good, even early on, some are more difficult to use because of the handwriting, the recording habits of the recorder, or because they were damaged by moisture or heat.
Responsibility of records keeping
The highest level of ecclesiastical jurisdiction is the bidpedømme (diocese), and the next level down is the prosti (deanery). These are of little importance in regards to genealogical research. The next level is the prestegjeld (clerical district), then the sogn (parish). The clerical district and the parish are the ones we will use in searching the church records for Norway. A clerical district may contain one or more parishes.
Record keeping varies from one clerical district to the next. Thus in some, all parishes within the clerical district were kept in the same book, while in others, the records of the different parishes were kept in separate books. The sogneprest (parish priest) was the head of the clerical district. Sometimes he had a residerende kappelan (curate) serving with him in the annex parish. A klokker (sexton) – literally translated this means “bell ringer” resided in each parish. He was also the gravedigger, and sometimes the record keeper, teacher and general assistant to the minister. From 1814 a second set of books was kept by the sexton. This was discontinued in 1820, but in many clerical districts the duplicate recordkeeping was continued, and then it became compulsory again in 1870.
A set recorded which was recorded by the parish priest, may not have been sent to the archives for filing until 80 years after the last entry was made. If a set of records (usually post 1880) was not sent to the archive, you may contact the parish priest directly. The duplicate set of records, kept by the parish clerk should have been deposited in the archives as soon as they were completed.
There was not a legally recognized dissenter church in Norway until 1845. The law simply did not allow anyone to dissent from the Lutheran Church. After dissenter churches were accepted in 1845, these congregations still had to report births and deaths to the local parish priest of the Lutheran Church within one month of the event. Sometimes we find that children of dissenters were not recorded as the law stated. Often a pastor would make this a very difficult visit, trying to persuade or even threaten people to “come back” to the Lutheran Church. If dissenters lived in a city where they could avoid being known by the church personnel, they sometimes did not comply with this law.
A new act in 1891 gave some dissenter groups permission to solemnize marriages, and from this time until 1919, the different groups were required to report births, deaths and marriages to the local Lutheran Church once a year. After 1919 they had to report to the local folkeregister (vital statistic office).
The law did not require a dissenter church to deposit their records in the state archives unless a congregation was dissolved. The percentage in 1875 was 0.4%, and in 1950 it was 3.76%.
Information Recorded in Church Records
At first, the record-keeping requirement was limited to baptisms, marriages, and burials. Confirmation registers of many parishes date from as early as 1736. Until a standard form was established in 1814, no directions were given on how to keep church records, so the records before that date vary greatly.
Prior to 1814, usually only the date of christening was listed. If only one date was given it was the christening date. Children were generally christened within a few days of birth.
This is the information usually found in the christening records:
- name of child
- name of parents. As you go back in time the mother's name is not always recorded.
- place of residence (name of farm)
- names of godparents and witnesses
- child's birth date/christening date
- home christening date if the child was christened at home
- father's occupation
- records of stillbirths
- smallpox vaccination date
The spelling of a name was determined by the recorder, so many variations resulted. (There was no standardized spelling). For example, the given name Sivert might be spelled as Syver, Sjur, Siver, Sifuer, or Siffuer.
After 1814 a standardized form was generally used in recording the event. This form asked that both the birth and christening date be listed, as well as both parents' names and place of residence, the child's legitimate or illegitimate status, and the names of godparents and witnesses. In larger cities, street addresses were also listed.
A wiki article describing an online collection of Norwegian Church Recirds is found at Norway Baptism (FamilySearch Historical Records).
How soon after birth should a child be christened in Norway
How soon after birth should a child be christened in Norway?
To find an answer to this question you should consult the Norwegian Encyclopedia “Store Norske Leksikon” available online.
Here I will translate some of the early rules and laws to this question.
In the Middle Ages it was punishable by law to wait more than 8 days to have an infant baptized. This is according to King Christian the 5th Norwegian Law of 1687. It was believed that if a child died without baptism this child’s soul would be lost forever, therefore it was very important to the parents of a child to have the child baptized as soon as possible. This law was abolished in 1771, but in the 1800s an infant was usually baptized within 1-3 days after the birth.
Baptism was deemed as necessary to be “saved”, and it was only the clergy who should perform the baptism. However, this caused a problem, as children were usually born at home, many on a farm far away from the parish church, or where the minister resided. It was impossible for the minister to baptize every child in the congregation within a few days unless the child was brought to the church.
This brings up another question. Who should baptize the child? Often a child died shortly after birth, and there was no time for the minister to get there. Therefore it was necessary to give instructions about how an infant was to be baptized. Clean water was to be used, but in some cases beer was used if clean water could not be found. If an infant looked sickly or death was imminent, the baptism could be performed by the father of the child, the midwife or even the mother. In the church records you will often see en entry that a child had been baptized (hjemmedøbt) at home. This baptism, if the child lived, would be confirmed by the minister in the church at a later time. The confirmation of a christening or baptism is not to be confused with the confirmation process that took place when a child was between 13-18 years of age.
After given birth the mothers were considered "unclean". They were "unclean" for about 40 days. After that time period the mothers would be formally reintroduced to the congregation. There were many superstitions regarding this time period; many things the mothers could or couldn't do.
Some parish records have a separate section for introductions, however, most can be found with the birth/christening records. The introdutions were done for the mothers of legitimate children only. The way back to church fellowship for mothers of illegitimate children was through the "absolutions"; as part of the church sermon, and where the women were expected to announce who the fathers of their illegitmate children were. (Bishop Eilifs statues of 1320)
See Baptism (Døpte) for more detailed information.
Rules about Baptism (Dåp) in Norway are found in Store Norske Leksikon but are in in Norwegian
The section states the following.
In the middle ages it was against the law to delay a christening of a child longer than absolutely necessary. The Norwegian law of 1687 states that the christening of a child must take place within 8 days of the birth. This law was abolished in 1771, but still in the 1800's children were usually christened 1 to 3 days after the birth. Since the general belief was that christening was necessary to obtain salvation, the clergy of the church early on gave permission to others to perform christenings. During the middle ages education was given on how a person was to perform the christening. Flexibility was given as to where a child should be christened, especially from year 1000 and later. The ideal place was the parish church, but in case of an emergancy it could be performed anywhere.
To learn more about how soon after birth a child was to be christened click here.
Although a person's first communion was important, before 1736 little formal religious instruction was given regarding it. However, in that year the Lutheran state church required that young people be instructed in catechism and pass a test before taking the first communion. This test and the first communion was called confirmation. No one was permitted to marry in the Lutheran church unless they had been confirmed.
Confirmation usually took place when a young person was between the ages of 14 to 20 years old. The candidate was usually nearer 19 years of age in the period close to 1736 and 14 to 16 years of age later.
Pre-1815 confirmation records:
- first and last name
- place of residence
After 1814 confirmation records:
- first and last name
- name of the head of household where the youth lived
- birth and/or baptism date
- place of residence and birth were recorded
- notes on behavior and knowledge were given
After 1830's the parents names were also listed
See Confirmation (Konfirmasjon) for more information.
Marriages (Viede, Vigde, Copulerede)
Information found in marriage records:
- names of bride and groom
- marriage date
- place(s) of residence
- whether they were single or widowed at the time of the marriage
- names of bondsmen (two men who knew that the bride and groom were eligible to be married; In later records these were often the fathers of the bride and groom).
- Sometimes a separate record of a couple's engagement [trolovelse] appears in the earlier records.
- date of the engagement and the three dates on which the marriage intentions were announced. These announcements, called banns, allowed anyone who knew of any reason why the couple should not marry to come forward.
- date of probate if there had been a previous marriage
After the 1830s, the records also include the names of their fathers and birthplaces.
Couples were usually married in the bride's home parish. Typically, the bride and groom were in their twenties when they married.
A wiki article describing an online collection is found at:
See marriage customs
Burials were recorded in the parish where the person was buried. The burial usually took place in the parish where the person died, one to two weeks after the death occurred. In the wintertime the actual time between death and burial could have been weeks or even months.
Information found in the burial records:
- name of the deceased
- date of death/burial. If only one date was given it was the burial date.
- place of residence
- cause of death
- For young children, the name of the child's father is usually given.
- Stillbirths were usually recorded in church burial registers.
- As you go back in time you might find the name of wives husbands.
Burial records may exist for individuals who were born before birth records and marriage records were kept. Some or all of the information can be found in the death and burial records. There is usually less information the farther back in time you search.
Norway Church Records arrivals and removals (Tilgangslister - Afgangslister)
Tilgangslister (Arrivals) are records where you will find the name of each person arriving. It lists the name of the person moving into the parish, date he or she arrived, age, reason for arrival, name of the parish he or she came from, place of birth, place of residence in the parish, and certificates.
Afgangslister (Removals) are records where you will find the the date of departure, name of each person, age, name of parish they moved to.
These records are usually available from 1814-1875. Some records of arrivals to and departures from parishes were kept prior to 1814, but you may find records as early as late 1700's to late 1800's. The printed forms in 1814 included information about people moving into a given parish and their departures to other parishes. They are valuable because you may follow each person as they move from one parish to another. When a family left a parish to emigrate to America often you may see whole families listed.
The arrival records may list the person's name, age or birth date, occupation, former residence, and new residence. The departure lists give similar information. These records are important sources for following the movement of the working class. They often include citations given to people leaving a parish for North America.
See Arrivals/Departures for more information. Most of the birth, marriage, and death records are available on the Internet at Digitalarkivet (Digital Archives) of Norway.
During the lats part of 1700's smallpox vaccination was encouraged in Norway, and records of those vaccinated can be found in the parish register. In the early records the pastor listed all the children vaccinated on a particular day. These records may also list the person who performed the vaccination. After 1814 this information was sometimes added as a notation on the christening record. The main genealogical value of vaccination records is to show that a person resided in a parish at a given time. When the vaccination date is given in more than one record it can also be a way to verify that the person you have is the right one by comparing those dates.
Locating Church Records
The parish registers are kept at the local parish church until 80 years have passed since the date of the last entry. The registers are then sent to the state archive for the area. (See the "Archives and Libraries" section.) The duplicate copy of the register is sent to the state archive as soon as it is filled.
You must determine which parish your ancestor belonged to so that you will know which parish registers to search. Small villages that did not have their own churches were part of a larger parish, which is referred to by the town where the church was located. To identify the parish a farm or village belonged to, see the "Gazetteers" section.
Parish boundary maps can also be extremely helpful when determining which parish church records to search. They can also help you identify neighboring parishes if you need to search more than one parish in a region.
When you find the address, click on "Kirkebøker" (church books). Hard copies of these records in both Norwegian and English are also available for purchase. They can be ordered through the following address:
Registreingssentral for historiske data
Ekspedisjon Universitetet i Tromsø
Telephone: 47 77 64 41 81
Children of other Denominations (Barn fra andre trossamfunn)
Children of other denominations should be listed in the Lutheran church records up to 1969, but this did not always happen. Children of Jewish descent are usually not listed in the Lutheran church records. They are listed in their own records, which by law should have been reported to the Amtmann and Magistrat (county officials) yearly from 1846-1891. The County official was to bring the records to the State Archive, but unfortunately these lists are not complete. However, children of other denominations are always listed in the fødselsregister (Registers of Vital Statistics).
Birth Clinics (Fødeklinikker)
Birth clinics and homes were establised in the 1800's. They made their own archives of birth journals as well as birth indexes. The birth journals have been deposited in the byarkiv (City Archives) and the birth indexes are deposited in Statsarkivet (State Archives).
Records kept by the midwife (Jordmorprotokoller)
The midwife would also keep a record, or diary of children born. In the year 1900, these records were standardized and you will find the name of the mother, her marital status, birth number (if it was her first, second etc.), if natural birth or complications, condition of mother (father), sex of the child, the child's health, name of the child will not be listed in these records. Each birth is listed in order of birth and may include the time. If a midwife served in several clerical district she was to keep a separate record for each. A midwife was not ordered by law to bring her records to the archive, but many of these records are available in the State Archives and in the Community Archives. They are listed with the records for the District Physicians or as their own record.
A midwife was to report a living birth to Sunnhetskommisjonen/Helserådet (Health Department) within 8 days of the birth. Stillborn children or children who died shortly after birth were to be reported to the parish priest within 24 hours. The parish priest was to send his report to the Health Department once a month.
Wiki articles describing online collections are found at:
- Norway Baptisms (FamilySearch Historical Records)
- Norway Marriages (FamilySearch Historical Records)
- Norway Burials (FamilySearch Historical Records)
Records at the Family History Library
The Family History Library has many Norwegian church records on microfilm. The collection includes all existing parish registers from their beginning until about 1920. This collection continues to grow as new records are microfilmed.
To find these church records in the Family History Library Catalog, look in the Place search under:
- NORWAY, [COUNTY], [PARISH] - CHURCH RECORDS.
Records Not at the Family History Library
Baptism, marriage, and burial records with entries from the last 80-year period are located at the local parish church. Occasionally, pastors delay sending their old church books to the archives, so some local parishes may have records that are older than 80 years. You may write in English to local parishes for information from this most recent time period. When writing, always include a self-addressed envelope with three international postage coupons.
Records online at Digitalarkivet
Digital images of the church books are available for browsing at the Digitalarkivet Website. Many of these records encompass records from a later time period than is a available on microfilm at the Family History Library.
Searchable databases of church records are being added regularly to the Digitalarkivet website. They can be accessed from the Select source tab.