Norway Emigration and Immigration
Emigration and immigration sources list the names of people leaving (emigrating) or coming into (immigrating) a country. Norwegian emigration records can be a useful source of genealogical information. They are usually found as passenger lists. There are also some records of passports issued. The information in these records includes the emigrants' names, ages, occupations, destinations, and places of origin or birthplaces.
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.
This section discusses the following:
- How to find the ancestor's town of origin
- History of emigration from Norway
- Passenger lists
- Records of Norwegian immigrants in the United States
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:
- Birth, marriage, and death certificates
- Family Bibles
- Church certificates/records
- Naturalization applications and petitions
- Passenger lists
- Family heirlooms
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, ships 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.
No passenger lists exist for any of the Norwegian ports before 1867. Prior to this time, emigrant groups generally bought or chartered a ship and left from almost any of Norway's many ports. For earlier emigration records, check the Family History Library Catalog:
- NORWAY - EMIGRATION AND IMMIGRATION
- NORWAY, COUNTY - EMIGRATION AND IMMIGRATION
- NORWAY, [COUNTY], [PARISH] - EMIGRATION AND IMMIGRATION
- NORWAY, COUNTY, [CITY] - EMIGRATION AND IMMIGRATION
These records may be on microfilm, on microfiche, or in book form. Some emigration sources are listed in periodicals, listed in the local histories (Bygdebøker), or found as passport records. Some Norwegians emigrated via Altona, Norway, and Hamburg, Germany.
After the mid-1860s, most Norwegian emigrants left through the ports of Kristiania (Oslo), Bergen, Trondheim, and Stavanger. The records of departures from these ports are called passenger lists. The information in these lists varies over time but usually includes the emigrants' names, ages, occupations, last places of residence, and destination. When a family group emigrated together, the list also contains the members' relationships to the head of the household. Passenger lists are available for most ports used by Norwegian emigrants. Most are indexed at least by the first letter of the surname.
The Family History Library has microfilm copies of the following original records. The film numbers are listed in the Family History Library Catalog under:
NORWAY - EMIGRATION AND IMMIGRATION - [PORT].
|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:
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).
| Passenger lists
||1867 to 1926|
These lists have been indexed alphabetically by first name and surname(s). The index is on microfilm and is typewritten.
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.
There are also passenger lists from Kristiansand (1873 to 1927,) Kristiansund (1882 to 1959), and Alesund (1852 to 1923).
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 "emigratner" and then 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.
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:
- Naesetgm Gerhard B. Norwegian Immigrants to the United States, A Biographical Directory, 1825-1850. Two Volumes. Decorah, Iowa, USA: Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, 1997. (FHL book 973 D3nn)
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.