Norway Farm Books or Bygdebøker
In addition to wonderful parish registers Norway has a very special source called “Bygdebøker”, or farm books. They are books filled with detailed local history and tremendous genealogical information. Authors have used numerous sources: parish registers, census, probate, tax records, land and court records, and interviews with local residents in preparing the histories. Some of the information given predates the parish registers. These books can be a real treasure for family historians, and others looking for their ancestors. A great portion of the Norwegian population does not live in big cities. They live in small towns and villages called “bygd”. The “bygdebøker” give us information about the people living on the farms in these communities, and a history of the communities.
The writing of “bygdebøker” started in earnest at the beginning of 1900 by well respected historians like Oscar Albert Johnsson, Yngvar Nielsen and Edvard Bull d.e., and very skilled “amateurs” like Lorens Berg, Ivar Kleiven, and Jacob Aaland
As a result of a 1906 initiative by “Den norske historiske forening” (The Norwegian Historical Association) a grand plan for a farm book project was created, which laid the groundwork and pattern for a systematic work for promoting both farm and family history, city and municipality, region and parish histories. During the following years, curricula were created and classes taught throughout the country.
The projects are funded (40 million Kr. per year) by the local “kommuner” or municipalities and private donors.
The periodical Heimen, was published by “Landslaget for bygde-og byhistorie,” with a purpose to encourage and support the work towards good farm books. In 1982 the name was changed to “Landslaget for lokalhistorie.”
In 1955 the Parliament (Stortinget) established the “Norsk lokalhistorisk institutt (NLI)”, a state run organization which, on a permanent basis, could encourage and guide the professional undertaking of writing the history of the community, city, and region.
How to use farm books
In order to use farm books you need to have the name of a parish and farm. The farm books are organized by farms! Remember that there are no farm books written for cities like Oslo, Bergen, Trondheim, Stavanger etc.
(If you have ancestors with “non-patronymic” last names (first name of father and adding –sen, or -datter) they could be farm names. Names like: Kleven, Lie, Melleby, Storhaug, Vang, Åsen, etc. Many Norwegians emigrating from Norway assumed their farm name as their last name, which can be very helpful later in locating an ancestor’s place of residence in Norway).
Each municipality/parish can have farm books covering many volumes. As a general rule the first volumes cover the earliest history of the area; prehistoric time to present. The next volumes can cover social history, schools and education, emigration, church and ecclesiastical history, agriculture and farm history. There is usually something written about the various plagues, illnesses, crop failures, famines, and other difficult circumstances our ancestors had to overcome in order to survive.
There are differences in various farm books. Many are very thorough, and try to cover as many persons as possible on the farms (down to the humblest servant), while others only cover the farm owners and their families. Some parishes have 3 or more volumes covering their farms and people. Do keep in mind that, as secondary sources, information in the farm books should be checked from parish records and other primary sources as possible. Even in farm books where is it evident that the author has been very thorough and careful with research, there can be errors in the information.
The later volumes then cover the farms and people living on the farms and in the communities. In these volumes you will find the families living on the farms throughout the years. You will find the earliest person found in the records living on the farm, sometimes identified by first name only. That person's information might have been found in the tax records predating parish registers. Often times the farm owner's names will be "bolded," making them easier to find. The next generations will follow in chronological order. Sometimes up to "our" time. As a general rule only the farmowner and the sons taking over the farm will have a very detailed "write-up" on their families. There will, however, be information on most person’s names, births, marriages, and deaths. There could also be references to where they have come from if they were not born locally.
Most books have a place- and person index in the back to help us.
The farm books give us, in addition to names, dates, and places, a peek into their traditions, superstitions, faith, and everyday lives. You might find information on relationships between neighbors; there were often legal disputes with regards to property boundaries, inheritance problems and drinking brawls.
There might be an article about the emigration from the parish, often with a list of parishioners leaving for North America (or other places), and information about where they settled. Some books also include excerpt from letters written home to family from overseas and pictures of the emigrants and their new homesteads.
There is an extraction program underway to extract the information from these farm books.
Here are links to more information about farm books.
- "What is a bygdebok?
- "Bygdebøker at the University of Minnesota Libraries
- "Oluf Rygh: Norwegian Farm Names
- "Bygdebøker" by John Follesdal.
A guide to the Arne G. Brekke Bygdebok Collection in the Elwyn B. Robinson Department of Special Collections, Chester Fritz Library, University of North Dakota, is available. The Collection does not circulate, but one can contact the Department of Special Collections for assistance to obtain information from the bygdebøker.
Here is a link to The University of North Dakota Chester Fritz Library.
The Family History Library (FHL) in Salt Lake City has a large collection of Bygdebøker (Farm books). A complete list can be accessed through the FamilySearch Catalog, but are available to view at the FHL only. Norwegian Bygdebøker or Local Histories Held at the University of Minnesota Libraries