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Norway Emigration and Immigration
These sources can be very valuable in helping you determine where in Norway your ancestor came from. They can also help in constructing family groups. If you do not find your ancestor, you may find emigration information about your ancestor's neighbors. People who lived near each other in Norway often settled together in the country they emigrated to. You may want to visit the Norwegian American page for more information specific to Norwegian-American sources in the United States.
This section discusses the following:
Fortunately, Norwegian emigration records are numerous. There are also some helpful records of Norwegian immigrants in the United States.
How to Find the Ancestor's Town of Origin
Once you have traced your family to an immigrant ancestor, you must determine the city or town the ancestor was from. Norway has no nationwide index to birth, marriage, or death records. These records were kept locally.
Several sources may contain your ancestor's place of origin. You may be able to learn the town your ancestor came from by talking to older family members. Family members or a library may have documents that name the city or town, such as:
If your ancestor has a surname that does not end in sen or son, the name itself may be a clue to the place in Norway where the family came from. Check a Norwegian Gazetteer such as Norsk Stedsfortegnelse (FHL 948.1 E8ns, 1972; microfiche number 6054629) to determine if the surname appears as a place name and where it is located in the country. See the "Names, Personal" section for further information about Norwegian naming customs.
History of Emigration from Norway
Between 1836 and 1920 an estimated 900,000 people left Norway. Most of them went to the United States and Canada. This wave of emigration was caused by the increase in Norwegian population and a desire to own land. While people of many occupations left Norway, most of these emigrants were farmers. The first emigrant ship left Norway in 1825, but the real wave of emigration started in 1836. Most who left Norway before 1825 first went to other European countries and then traveled to their destination.
1836 to 1865. An estimated 200,000 emigrants left Norway during this period. The emigration movement took root all over the country. Groups of emigrants came from every county and most communities. Every spring, ship left from ports all over Norway. In this early period the emigrants sailed to their various destinations, supplying themselves with food and commodities for a trip that could last as long as three months. Ninety-five percent of these went to the United States.
1866 to 1920. In the mid 1860s, large numbers of people began leaving Norway on steamships. Most emigrants sailed to Hull, England; then traveled by train to Liverpool, England. From there they sailed to the United States and Canada. Steamships took only two to three weeks instead of three months, so emigration increased. During this time period 700,000 people left Norway. However, emigration declined in the mid-1870s because of a recession in the United States. The numbers of emigrants to America had also been declining during the cival war years.
|Kristiania (Oslo) Passenger lists|| 1867 to 1902 |
|Indexes||1867 to 1902|
|White Star Line (unindexed)||1883 to 1902|
These records are alphabetized by the first letter of the surname only and then listed chronologically by date. They are handwritten and often difficult to read.
| Passenger lists
||1874 to 1925|
A typewritten version of the Bergen lists has been copied and indexed on microfiche. The passenger list from Bergen is also available on the Internet at:
Choose Database Selector, then from the Sub-Category choose emigrants, thenships' lists, and you will find the passenger list from Bergen.
A good index of Norwegians who emigrated from Bergen-Quebec was made from Quebec passenger lists:
- Fornavsregister til skipslistene Bergen-Quebec 1865-1873 (Given name Index to the Ship Lists Bergen-Quebec 1865-1873), Bergen, Norway: Statsarkivet, 1993. (FHL book 948.33 W3b). This index is also available on the Internet (see below).
Choose Database Selector, then from the Sub-Category choose emigrants, then ships' lists, and you will find the passenger list from Bergen.
|Passenger lists||1867 to 1930|
Trondheim is a city and municipality in the county of Sør-Trøndelag, Norway.
These lists have been indexed alphabetically by first name and surname(s). The index is on microfilm and is typewritten.
Some have been transcribed and are available online at Index to the Trondheim Emigrant Protocol 1867-1925.
The original passenger lists from Stavanger were destroyed. A list of emigrants from Rogaland County has been reconstructed from many other sources such as registers of people moving out of the parishes, newspaper articles, obituaries, and local histories. This emigrant list, known as the Rogaland emigration index, covers the earliest emigration period until the present day. It is alphabetized by the first letter only. For example, all the surnames beginning with "A" will be filed together in no particular order.
Alesund (1878 to 1930).
Passport journals also exist for Kristiansund (1837 to 1909)Alesund (1852 to 1916), and Romsdal rural district (1846 to 1925).
There is also an alphabetical list by given name, then surname of the people who emigrated from Telemark County, Norway, between 1814 and 1900:
Emigrant kartotek Telemark frem til år 1900. (Emigrant Card Index for Telemark up to the year 1900). [S.1.:s.n., 1982]. (FHL fiche 6350054.)
An excellent index to most of the above passenger lists is found on the Internet in both Norwegian and English at:
(Click on "emigranter", then registers and search the list of your choice.)
This site includes indexes for the following:
- Passenger lists from Bergen to New York, 1871-1873
- Passenger lists from Bergen, 1875-1924
- Passports issued for travel to America from Bergen, 1842-1860
- Ship's lists from Bergen to New York, 1871-1873
- Emigrants from Bergen City by place of birth or residence
- Passenger lists from Kristiania (Oslo)
- Passenger lists from Kristiansand
- Emigration records from Stavanger
- Migrants from Gran parish, 1825-1900
- Migrants from Jevnaker parish, 1837-1901
- Migrants from Valdres, 1816-1867
Records of Norwegian Immigrants in the United States
Most early Norwegian immigrants to the United States settled in the Midwest, but many also settled in other parts of the United States and Canada.
Passenger lists. Most Norwegian immigrants to the United States arrived at the ports of New York and Quebec. The Family History Library has microfilm copies of the records of all the major North American ports. Some are indexed. See the United States Research Outline for further information about United States immigration records.
The following is a bibliography of over 2,500 published lists of emigrants and immigrants:
Filby, P. William. Passenger and Immigrations Lists Bibliography, 1538-1900. 2nd ed. Detroit, Michigan: Gale Research, 1988. (Family History Library book 973 W33p 1988.) More than 1,000 of these lists are indexed in P. William Filby, Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, 9 vols. (Detroit, Michigan: Gale Research, 1981-; Family History Library book Ref 973 W33p). This does not index official U.S. arrival lists. Many of the names are from post-1820 published sources.
People tracing Norwegian Latter-day Saint ancestors should see the LDS Research page Tracing LDS Ancestors for additional sources.
From Norway to Minnesota
County histories. Histories from the counties where Norwegians settled sometimes provide the immigrants' towns of origin.
War records. Civil War service and pension records and World War I draft registration records sometimes give clues as to what a person's place of origin in Norway was.
Naturalization. Naturalization records from county, state, and district courts may give important clues as to where an immigrant was from and when he or she lived there.
Census records. The United States federal censuses for 1900, 1910, 1920 and 1930 list the year of immigration and indicate if a person had been naturalized.
Church records. Church records from Norwegian churches in America can be useful in your research. (See the "Archives and Libraries" section for an address to the Evangelical Lutheran churches in America.)
An important work on early emigration from Norway to the United States is:
- Ulvestad, Martin Nordmænderne i Amerika deres historie og rekord (Norwegians in America Their History and Record) Two Volumes. Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA: History Book Company's Forlag, 1907. (FHL book 973 F2u pt. 1 and 2; film 0896612, item 1).
This book describes many early Norwegian immigrants in every state in the Union, most with a place of origin.
Another useful book about early Norwegian immigration to America is:
- Naeseth, Gerhard B. Norwegian Immigrants to the United States, A Biographical Directory, 1825-1850. Five Volumes. Decorah, Iowa, USA: Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, 1997. (FHL book 973 D3nn)
- The Norwegian Immigrant Association was organized to create an exhibit for the Ellis Island Museum in 2000. The Ellis Island Database may be searched for immigrants from Norway at: http://www.ellisisland.org
- Nasjonalbiblioteket (The National Library of Norway) has available "Norway to America" in a searchable database online. This is the bibliographical collections of Thor M. Andersen. You may search the collection at:
The Norwegian Emigration Center is a division of the regional archive in Stavanger. The center has a copy of most of the published genealogical material about Norwegian families, as well as a complete collection of the church, census, probate, and emigration records. Workers there will answer questions and do research for a nominal fee. The center's address is:
The Norwegian Emigration Center
The Norwegian Emigration Museum (Norsk Utvandrermuseum), which has an archive, is located in Otterstad, Norway. It has an extensive collection of records of Norwegians in America. It also provides a network of local genealogists who, for a fee, will conduct private research through correspondence.
Records of Norwegian Immigrants in the Other Countries
Although not emigration records, Buenos Aires, Argentina had a small population of Scandinavian immigrants. They primarily belonged to Norwegian sailing families. Church records have been microfilmed from 1888-1919, with some later records appearing on the Norwegian National Archives website. These records include, many times, places of birth in Norway.
History of Early Emigration from Norway
Norwegians have always been a seafaring, exploring people, and extensive travel was common; even before historical times. In the epic “Edda” which describes the times around 800 A.D., and is the earliest recorded history, the spice cardamom is described; and already widely in use. It was picked up in travels to India, and is incidentally still a very popular spice today.
Early Emigration (1600-1700)
From early times Norwegians have traveled the seas and have been known for their expertise as sailors. The emigrants who left Norway before 1825, generally traveled to other countries and ports in Europe and left from there.
In the 1600s the Dutch were known as the leaders of all oceans and occupied around one third of the world’s ships which at that time included about 15,000 ships.
The Dutch would travel to Norway to obtain timber and building materials. There was a saying in the 1600’s “Amsterdam is on Norway”. In 1622 the population of Amsterdam was 100,000, and in 1662 the population was 200,000.
Norwegians traveled to Holland (some settled there) and people from Holland traveled to Norway (many settle there), and several Norwegians ended up immigrating to America with the Dutch. History states that Norwegians serving in the Dutch Marine were Netherland’s best sailors.
Norwegians traveled with the Dutch to New Amsterdam (New York). In 1624 there was a colony of Norwegian immigrants in New Jersey, at the site of the present city of Bergen.
In 1633 in the early days of the New Netherland’s colony, Norwegians came over in Dutch ships and settled in the Dutch colony. In 1700 there were a number of families of Norwegian and Danish descent living in New York. In 1740, Norwegian Moravians took part in founding a colony at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
The 1850 US Census records about 1,800 persons of Scandinavian birth.
The 1880 US Census list 449,262 persons and in the 1890 US Census the number was 933,249.
1871-1875: 1500 persons emigrated from Norway to Australia. The number of persons going to Australia later was much smaller. They settled mainly in South Victora and New Zealand.
The undersized sloop “Restauration” sailed from Stavanger, Norway on July 4th, 1825. Onboard were 52 persons from the religious community of Quakers, Haugeans (followers of Hans Nielsen Hauge, who had been assassinated). This group of dissenter families left Stavanger after a particularly fierce religious strife with the Norwegian State Church.
The Sloopers and other early emigrants wrote to relatives and friends in Norway about their conditions in the new land, but it was the writing of Ole Rynning (1809-1838) who emigrated on the ship “Ægir” who energized Norwegian immigration. Every spring sailing ships left from ports all over Norway. During the sailing ship period the emigrants, most of the time, had to provide themselves with food and commodities
From 1865-1873 most Steam Ships travel arrangements were more organized. Most emigrants left Norway for Hull, England, from there traveled by rail to Liverpool where they left for ports in the United States and Canada. Steam Ships shortened the length of time from 3 months to about 3 weeks, and the number of emigrants increased. Over the next half century around 70,000 emigrants left Norway. During the Civil War and in the 1870’s when the unemployment rate was relatively high in the United States, the number of emigrants decreased.
Many records are available, both in the United States and in Norway to trace immigrant ancestors who came to this country. The Family History Library has a paper called “Tracing Immigrant Origins,” to help suggest sources one can use for all areas of immigration to the Unites States.
Before the early 1870’s Quebec was the busiest port of arrival from Scandinavian ports. In the 1870’s with steam ship companies arranging travel, New York received the bulk of the immigrants.
What to do first (place of origin in Norway)
Have these questions in mind.
Emigrated alone or with someone?
Emigrated as a child or an adult?
Married when emigrated?
Was ancestor in the US by 1880, 1890, 1900, 1910, 1920, or 1940 (when US Federal Censuses were taken)?
Where did the immigrant reside in the US?
What to do next.
Talk to living relatives of your ancestor.
Search records where he/she lived in the US.
Search immigration records.
Search Vital Records, Bibles, Journals, Letters, Naturalization records.
Search US Federal Censuses.
Search records of places where ancestor lived.
Search county histories.
Also get background material such as family surnames. Remember that your ancestor could have changed his/her name from what it was in Norway. A farm name could be used and may be an important clue to help you find a place of origin in Norway. A patronymic name may be used or the last name of his/her father. The names that ended in “datter” or “sen” in Norway were usually changed to the ending son in the US.
In many places the change to a permanent surname took place in 1923, when a law was passed (in Norway and in the United States) to use permanent surnames from this time on. However, permanent surnames may also have taken place around the turn of the century. Sometimes you may find permanent surnames from the 1850s in the cities, a little later in the rural areas. Examples of farm names are: Bakken, Stordal, Mundal, Grimstad. Foreign names were also used. When someone from a foreign country moved to Norway they usually used their family name in Norway (sometimes the spelling changed in Norway). Examles: Collett, Welhaven, Schrøder, Conders etc.
Norwegian American Genealogical Center (NAGC)
Formerly known as: Vesterheim Genealogical Center and Naeseth Library (VGC/NL)
415 Main Street, Madison, WI 53703-3116
Phone: 608-255-2224 Fax: 608-255-6842
Sons of Norway
Sons of Norway, International Headquarters
1455 West Lake Street
Minneapolis, MN 55408-2666
Phone: 612-827-3611 Internet: http://www.sofn.com
ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America)
The ELCA archives can be contacted by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: (847) 690-9410. They will do quick searches free of charge, but may charge for more extensive searches.
Universities and Historical Societies
Universities and Historical Societies in the Mid-West and North-West often have large Scandinavian collections. They may include Bygdebooks (farm books), obituaries, newspapers, biographies, and county histories.
There are many organizations where the members are either descendants of or came from a specific area in Norway. These organizations are called BYGDELAG, such as Totenlaget (from Totne), Sigdalslaget (from Sigdal), Hallinglag (from Hallingdal) and include areas in all of Norway. These organizations have membership lists, most founded in 1916 and each organization include histories, genealogies, history of early settlers for each area they represent. All of the Bygdelags have genealogists and will share their information with others searching in a given area. They publish newsletters, where they publish inquiries. You may find their website (which includes contact information for each “Bygdelag”) on the internet at www.fellesraad.com. You may join the Bygdelag for the area where your ancestors came from and get access to their information.
Normendene i America
Nordmendene I America – Deres Historie og record (Norwegian in America – Their History and Record) by Martin Ulvestad is a two volume work about early Norwegian immigrants. The book was published in Minneapolis, and printed in Norwegian Gothic script. Volume I give a short history of the early Norwegian settlers alphabetically by state, then by county within each state. Volume II is an index to many early immigrants, many not mentioned in Vol. I.
What to do next (after finding place of origin in Norway)
Search the following Norwegian records both online at Digitalarkivet and on microfilm available at the Family History Library. The microfilms at the Family History Library can be ordered from and sent to Family History Centers and some libraries.
• Search the emigration Records from Norway
• Afgangslister (Departure Records)
• Confirmation Records
• Birth Records
• Census Records
If your ancestor is not listed in the place listed as place of residence in the emigrations records – search the surrounding parishes.
If you cannot find your ancestors in the Lutheran Records, make sure to search other denominations (Church Records) such as - Catholic, Methodist, Mormon records etc.
After searching these records you should by now have found your ancestors place of origin in Norway.