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Most of the Norwegian people we can find records for, are the people who left Norway from 1825 to1920. An estimated 900,000 people left Norway during this period and immigrated to other countries, most of them to the United States and Canada. The emigrants from Norway who left before 1825, generally travelled to other countries and ports in Europe and left from there to come to America or to go elsewhere. You need to be familiar with the research sources available in the areas where your ancestor lived in the U.S. as well as Norwegian sources you can use to trace your ancestors to Norway.
GETTING STARTED: FIND A PLACE-NAME WHERE YOUR ANCESTOR LIVED
In order to trace your Norwegian ancestors back to Norway you need to have the name of the place where they lived, were born, or married in Norway. To find this information, you need an understanding of what records are available both in the United States and Norway. As you search the sources discussed below, have these questions in mind:
- Was your ancestor in the U.S. by 1900, 1910, or 1920? (Censuses were taken these years.)
- Where did you immigrant ancestor reside in the United States?
- When did your ancestor emigrate?
- Did your ancestor emigrate alone or with someone?
- Did your ancestor emigrate as a child or as an adult?
- Was your ancestor married when he or she emigrated?
SEARCH AMERICAN RECORDS
Search American records to find out everything you can about your Norwegian ancestor.
- Talk to living relatives of your immigrant ancestor.
- Search for personal information in sources you may have at home or at the home of relatives, such as vital records, Bibles, journals, letters, pictures, funeral home records, or naturalizations records.
- Search immigration records. These can be found by searching the passenger lists for each port, as well as the Ellis Island and Castle Garden records online.
- Search the U.S. census for 1900, 1910, and 1920. These will list the year of immigration as well as country of origin. This will help narrow your search to one year.
- Search other records of places where you ancestor lived in the United States, such as court records, county histories, and phone directories.
SEARCH NORWEGIAN-AMERICAN RECORDS
Some of the following sources may have information about your ancestor. Search:
Norwegian-American Lutheran Churches
You may find information about this church by searching the following:
- Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, online at http://www.elca.org/
- Family History Library Catalog for Norwegian-American churches
- Lutheran Church directory at the Family History Library (FHL)
- Norwegian American Genealogical Center (NAGC) at http://www.nagcnl.org
- Sons of Norway at http://www.sofn.com
Archives and Libraries
Archives and Libraries usually have a wealth of vital and historical information. Search the Internet for the area where you ancestors lived by county, state, and city.
State and County Historical Societies
These historical societies often give a wealth of information. Search directories by state, then county, and (if available) city from the area where your ancestor lived. The FHL has a directory of historical societies that can be searched by county, state, and city.
Universities and colleges
Augustana College, Concordia College, Luther College, Pacific Lutheran University, and St. Olaf College have a wealth of information about immigrants from Norway.
Bygdelag are organizations comprised of descendants who emigrated from specific localities in Norway to North America. See Bygdelagenes Fellesraad at http://www.fellesraad.com
Norwegian-American Historical Association (NAHA)
A private membership organization dedicated to locating, collecting, preserving, and interpreting the Norwegian-American experience with accuracy, integrity, and liveliness.
When you have searched the American sources and the Norwegian-American sources, you should now have a place-name in Norway. You can then continue your search using the resources identified below.
SEARCH NORWEGIAN RECORDS
If you know the name of the farm where your ancestor came from, you may want to search the Norwegian gazetteers. The 1972 Postal Guide for Norway is online at http://da2.uib.no/cgi-win/WebBok.exe?slag=lesbok&bokid=nsf.
- Norske Gaardnavne (Norwegian farm names) by O. Rygh
- Postal Guides (1901 and 1972)
If you find your farm in the 1901 or 1972 Postal Guides, it will list the parish and county where this farm is located. Sometimes there is more than one farm by the same name, and in that case you will have to search all the parishes for a given farm name until you find your ancestor.
A farm name is the name of the farm (an address) where your ancestor lived in a given parish in Norway. As it was more prestigious to use a farm name as a surname than a patronymic name (such as Olsen – the son of Ole; Nilsdatter the daughter of Nils), an immigrant often took the name of the farm he or she came from in Norway as a surname instead of their patronymic name. This may be helpful in finding the farm they came from in a given area in Norway. The volume Norske Gaardnavne (Norwegian Farm Names) by O. Rygh lists most of the farm names. There is a volume for each of the 18 Norwegian counties in Norway. The cities are not represented.
If you still don’t have a place-name and you only have a year of immigration from a U.S. census, you will want to search the emigration records for each port in Norway for that year.
Look for your ancestor’s name in the emigration records by searching on the Internet first. Go to these helpful Web sites:
- Digitalarkivet (Digital Archives) http://digitalarkivet.uib.no. Search the year he or she left Norway.
- Norway-Heritage http://www.norwayheritage.com/ships/index.asp. This is a searchable emigration Web site that may be helpful
- The Promise Of America: Norwegian Emigration To America And Norwegian American History 1825–2000; http://www.nb.no/emigrasjon/emigration/
The online emigration records from Norway are indexed and are in print that is easy to read, but since several individuals have entered the information it does happen (not very often) that a person is left off.
Things You Need To Know About Emigration Records
- If you cannot find your person on the Internet, search the emigration records on microfilm.
- The emigration records from Norway will list the last place of residence and usually the age of each person emigrating. If a whole family emigrated together, it will list the relationship to each person.
- If your ancestor left Norway prior to the organized emigration records from Norway (starts around 1867), you may want to search the Family History Library Catalog for early emigration records.
- One great set of books to search for early Norwegian immigrants is Norwegian Immigrants to the United States: A Biographical Directory, 1825–1850 by Gerhard B. Naeseth. Available at the Family History Library (FHL) 973 D3nn vols. 1-5.
- The emigration records on microfilms are available at the Family History Library and can be ordered from and sent to family history centers and some libraries.
If You Still Can’t Find Your Ancestor.
If you cannot find your ancestor on the Internet, search the emigration records for each port in Norway starting with Oslo (Kristiania), then Bergen, Trondheim, and then the rest—Stavanger, Kristiansand, Ålesund, and Kristiansund. These records are available on microfilm at the FHL.
Lutheran State Church Records
It is often difficult to find an ancestor’s place of origin in Norway. But once you have found his or her place of origin, it is often easy sailing, at least in the church record in the 1800s. Church records in Norway are kept by the parish priest; therefore, you must know the name of the parish where your ancestor was born to be able to find him or her in the records. You must know the place (parish) to be able to search most of the Norwegian records. Church records consist of:
- Birth/christening records (Fødte/døbte)
- Confirmation records (Confirmerede)
- Marriage record (Viede/copulerede)
- Death and burial records (Døde/begravede)
- Moving records (Afgangslister/Tilgangslister)
- Vaccination records (Vaccinerede)
- Absolutions (Absolverede)
Most of the Norwegian church records are available online at Digitalarkivet (Digital Archives), http://digitalarkivet.uib.no.
Most of the Norwegian censuses are available online at http://digitalarkivet.uib.no. You may search for them by choosing the year, then the county, and then the parish or clerical district. This is a fast way to find an ancestor; however, if you do not find him or her, look in the microfilm version of that census. I have found that at times information has been left out when the digitized versions were created, so you may want to search original records. They are available on microfilms at the FHL.
If your ancestor was still living in Norway by year 1865, 1875, or 1900, you may want to search the Norwegian censuses for the parish where he or she resided.
- Find the place your ancestor came from.
- Search the census records for 1865, 1875, or 1900.
A word of caution: A name may have been changed after the ancestor arrived in the U.S. For example, “Anders” may have become Andrew, “Gullbrand” may have become Gilbert. Farm names could have been changed as well.
If you find your ancestor in the 1865, 1875, or 1900 census, you will find:
- Name of each person
- Relationships within a family
- Place of birth
- Miscellaneous information
The 1865 census is the earliest census in Norway to list a place of birth for each person. The 1875 and 1900 censuses include additional information beyond what is available in the 1865 census. It indicates if a person is temporarily away, and it lists the name of the parish where he or she is visiting.
Most of the censuses for Norway are online, as well as the emigration records. The Norwegian Archives are in the process of entering probate, court, and many other miscellaneous records. Their goal is to eventually put all the Norwegian records online.
PALEOGRAPHY (SCANDINAVIAN GOTHIC SCRIPT)
The German influence on education was strong throughout Europe, and the script used in the records in many countries was Gothic. This was also the case in Norway until the middle of the 19th century. Many Latin phrases were used as well that you will need to be familiar with.