If you have hesitated to research your Norwegian ancestry, give it a try. Millions of online digitized records and many guides make tracing your Norwegian family history easier than you can imagine. The key is to follow a good research strategy, learn about the available records, and keep track of where you look.
Finding Your Norwegian Roots Made Simple
Tracing your Norwegian ancestry is easy if you follow a few basic steps.
- Start with what you know from home sources. Talk to living relatives about your ancestors. Learn any personal information associated with family stories.
- If an ancestor emigrated from Norway, search for records where your ancestor settled. Censuses, Lutheran Church records, historical societies, land records, and probate records are rich sources for family history.
- Use details you glean from local records to search for immigration and emigration records. Use passenger lists, information about ports of entry and departure, ship names, age on arrival, and intended final destination. Bear in mind that people often traveled with their relatives. Find out as much as you can about when your ancestors arrived and where they came from.
- Use maps, gazetteers, and guides to locate the parish or the farm where your ancestors lived in Norway. Locating the parish or farm is easy to do once you’ve found the place of origin in Norway where an ancestor lived, was born, or married. Parish priests kept excellent records of parishioner movements and important life events. Records were duplicated by clerks or wardens, and one version of the record may be more legible than another.
- Locate your ancestor in farm books (bygdebøker). Farm books are detailed local histories about each farm and include genealogical information about families, family connections, and dates that will help you positively identify your ancestors.
- Parish registers list the farm name residences at the time of births, marriages, and deaths, so don’t overlook this valuable resource. These important records document your ancestors’ lives.
- That’s it! You’ve found your ancestors! Continue using other records to learn more about them. Censuses in Norway, for example, were taken periodically. You can search these civil records as well as church records in the Digital Archives of Norway (Digitalarkivet). Use names, dates, and places, as well as farm names, to find the right record, in the right place, at the right time.
Follow these steps in a logical, systematic way. Build on the information you learn in one source to find additional information in other sources as you trace your Norwegian ancestry. The tips below can also help you locate your ancestors in Norway.
Develop a Research Strategy for Norway
Your family may know more than you realize. Ask your living relatives about your family history—they may even have stories for you to record. Look for names, dates, and places on documents that may be gathering dust in an attic, inside a family Bible, or in an old photo album. To get started, organize the information you find.
Knowing some Norwegian history, emigration patterns, and naming conventions through generations will also help you recognize your ancestors in the records. If your ancestors were born in Norway and immigrated to the United States, the first records you will find your family in will likely be United States census and Lutheran Church records. The Lutheran Church was the state church in Norway, so many of the settlers participated in the same church here.
Write down what you are trying to find and where you looked. Keep track of the records that you have searched and the dates your sources cover. This information will pay dividends as you search more records and make more discoveries for each of your Norwegian ancestors.
Norwegian Naming Conventions
If you are new to Norwegian research, names can be confusing until you become familiar with them. Up to the late 1800s, Norwegians predominantly used a patronymic naming system. The name is as an important clue to a person’s place in the family tree. Norwegians had a surname and a given name, but names could also be nicknames, occupational names, or geographical names.
By the 1870s and 1880s, traditional naming patterns began to change. Siblings may have ended up with surnames that were family based but not alike. The surname a person chose when he or she immigrated to a new country also varied from person to person. Online guides can help you sort through naming conventions.
Become Acquainted with Norwegian Records
If you can learn where an ancestor was born or lived in Norway, you can use online maps and lists to identify the parish where records about the ancestor will likely be found. Norwegian parish registers are some of the richest sources of family history information.
Norway parish registers or “kirkebøker” (church books) include christenings (births), marriages, and burials (deaths). Parish records may include member confirmations and marriage banns as well as accounts of people moving in and out of the parish.
Search Original Norwegian Records
To look for birth, christening, marriage, and death records, start at FamilySearch’s Norway country page.
Browse the images and use the Norway FamilySearch wiki page to help you recognize which records will help you. Indexed records usually have place-names, dates, and other details that will lead to more discoveries in other Norwegian records.
If you can’t find the records you need on FamilySearch.org, the National Archives of Norway is a key place to search. In the National Archives, Norway’s Digital Archives (Digitalarkivet) contain images from parish registers and other digitized source documents.
Get Help with Norwegian Genealogy
The genealogical community can be a helpful resource for getting started. For additional help, you can connect with online forums and other researchers doing family history. Here are some places to get started:
- The Nordic Countries Group is a forum on FamilySearch.org for Scandinavian research.
- The Norway Societies page will connect you to genealogical and historical societies in local communities. Many of these groups publish books and periodicals that will be of value to you.
- Find a family history center near you. This resource will put you in touch with experts and help you access partner sites that have additional records for Norway genealogy.