If you have family roots in Norway, you have a celebration coming up. The bicentennial of Norway’s independence is May 17th. There are almost as many descendants of Norwegians in the U.S. (4.5M) as there are in Norway today (5M). Norwegians are the 10th largest American ancestry group in the US. There are more descendants of Norwegians worldwide than native Norwegians—but more about this country’s fascinating history and independence in a moment.
First, if you want to research your Norwegian roots, here are some tips from Nordic genealogy experts.
Liv H. Anderson was born in Kristiansund, Norway. Liv has been fascinated with Norwegian genealogical research since she was 12 years old. “I love everything about it except the dust on the books,” she says. She moved to Salt Lake City in 1968, gaining her degree and certifications in genealogy at BYU. Today she works helping patrons of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City with their Norwegian research.
Anderson suggested, “Find out everything you can about your ancestors in the United States. Find who was the first emigrant to the US from Norway. Then find that person in a census report. That will help determine the place of birth in Norway.”
There are many other facts you can look for to help your research. “Find the year your ancestor emigrated and what port they left from. That will open up emigration records,”Anderson says. “Those records can lead you to father and mother, grandfathers and grandmothers. Find the church they went to. That also opens up records of the past.”
There is a galaxy of Norwegian genealogical records. They are by government and church, farm and county. If you can acquire the initial information about the emigrants, people such as Liv Anderson at the Family History Library in Salt Lake can guide you.
Resolving the complexity of Norwegian records is the specialty of Alfhild Aanensen, a native Norwegian and service missionary with FamilySearch.org. For years Aanensen has been diligently coordinating much of the work of the FamilySearch Norway Project—digitizing Norway’s rich farm history books (bygdebøker) dating back to the 1700s and creating a searchable regional database online of the individuals who resided on these farms.
Bygdebøker are also the earliest way of identifying locations and locations of families. Compiled by local historians, they are excellent local histories and reveal who lived on which farms throughout generations, who may have inherited the farms, who may have immigrated to what country, and when they died.
Aanensen is also part of a team that is painstakingly reconstituting all of the families found in these publications into online family trees, one book at a time. It’s part of a pilot project called FamilySearch Community Trees. Aanensen noted that the FamilySearch Norway Project could move much quicker if there were more Norwegian volunteers.
Aanensen has gathered over 1 million names already through this project and is publishing them by clerical district (the area included in the congregation of a church, another reason to trace ancestors back to what church they attended).
Aanensen has been working on this project in Salt Lake City for 5 years. This summer, she must return to Norway for 6 months to satisfy her work visa. She is looking forward to getting back to her desk in Salt Lake as soon as possible to continue her contributions on the FamilySearch Norway Project.
If you are just getting started with your Norwegian family research, Anderson and Aanensen suggest starting with searches on FamilySearch.org and the Digital Archives of Norway. These two sites provide church, census, probate, emigration records, and more. If you need research assistance, try the FamilySearch Wiki. It includes research guidelines and links to a host of additional online Norwegian resources.
If you have the luxury of attending the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, go to the Nordic section and ask for help. You can also seek online assistance from the Family History Library staff on the Facebook, Norway Genealogy Research page. If you know where your Norwegian ancestry originated, you can try the Norwegian American Genealogical Association or many other bygdelags (ethnic organizations) for assistance. These organizations are comprised of descendants of emigrants from each particular area of Norway (see fellesraad.com for more information).
Norway has one of the longest and most interesting histories in the western world. Up to A.D. 872, Norway consisted of small kingdoms. After 800, Viking expansion united much of the country. In A.D. 1000, Christianity was brought by Olav Trygvasson and Alav Haraldsson. From 1523 to 1814, Norway was united with Denmark. In 1814, Norway adopted its own constitution, providing for an elected legislature and a constitutional monarch.
That’s the 1814 we’re celebrating—the bicentennial of Norwegian Constitution Day, May 17 (Syttende Mai in Norwegian). The celebrations are held in many nations. Children are emphasized in the parades. In Salt Lake City, the celebration is in the Peace Gardens at Jordan Park, 1000 South 900 West. If you don’t have Norwegian ancestors, just show up and someone will probably hand a Norwegian flag to you, adopting you for the day.
John Hartvigsen is a vexillologist who takes his grandchildren to the Syttende Mai celebration at the Peace Gardens every year. As a vexillologist, he is an expert in the history, symbolism, and use of flags.
Shown here with the Norwegian flag, John says Norwegians in the US proudly display them as a symbol of their heritage. At the parades celebrating Norway’s Independence Day, all may participate—as long as they carry a Norwegian flag.
Norway added a blue cross inside the white Danish cross with their first efforts to be independent. Denmark ruled Norway from the 14th century until 1814. When Denmark found itself on the losing side of the war with Napoleon, Norway was given over to Sweden. Norway quickly created a constitutional monarchy on May 17th.
Hartvigsen’s ancestors lived on an island in the northern part of Norway. They immigrated to the US long ago as Mormon pioneers.
Most Norwegian emigrants settled in Minnesota or the upper Mississippi Valley. Almost 1 million Minnesotans claim Norwegian ancestors. Utah’s pioneer heritage includes prominent Norwegians. Knud Peterson of Hardangar, Norway, emigrated in 1837 and was one of the early settlers of Lehi. Ellen Sanders Kimball of Telemark County, Norway, wife of Mormon Church president, Heber C. Kimball, was one of the three women in the first company of Mormon pioneers to enter the Salt Lake Valley in 1847.
If you’re a descendant from one of the many “Sloopers”(a nickname for Norwegian immigrants after the type of ship they first immigrated in) who celebrate Norway’s Independence Day on May 17th, you should check out some of the resources listed above to find your ancestors. Or better yet, add to your FamilySearch.org family tree online, add some of your family photos, or some of your favorite Norwegian ancestral stories. If you don’t have Norwegian blood, you’re still welcome to most Norway celebrations being held throughout the country this Saturday, May 17, including the one at the Peace Gardens. Just grab a flag when you get there and wave it like an official Norwegian celebrant.
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