Norway Court Records

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Online Resources[edit | edit source]

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Digitalarkivet (The Digital Archives)

  • Find source - In the Category menu select Legal proceedings and sanctions to see a list of availble record types. This search allows you to specify the physical location where the records are stored, agency that created the record (Archive), county, municipalty, source type, beginning year, ending year, and free text search. Not all parameters are required.

Introduction[edit | edit source]

Three kinds of court records are of interest to genealogists are available in Norway: probate, land, and civil court records. A complete description of these records can be found in Norway Probate Records and Norway Land and Property. The civil court records discussed here and are referred to simply as court records.

Most court records start sometime in the 1600s, and they record both criminal and civil action. Before the probate law was passed in 1687, many probate records were part of the general court records. Many cases involving land transfers are also part of the court records. Within court records you will find several different types of cases:

  • Cases regarding allodial land rights (independently and privately owned land), where several generations of a family may be listed
  • Pension contracts (Føderådkontrakt or kårbrev) where the farm is turned over to heirs in exchange for upkeep for the rest of their life
  • Paternity suits, including fines levied against parents of illegitimate children
  • Inheritance cases
  • Criminal cases such as theft, assault, and murder

History[edit | edit source]

From the oldest sources we see that all free men in Norway had the obligation to meet at court (ting), which was called bygdeting or allting. The word ting means negotiation or discussion. Such assemblies were common all over northern Europe where members of the court were chosen to become jurors and make judgments. The court was to handle all disputes and contentions as they occurred. In the early times laws were read in court to ensure that everyone knew them. After the law was read then it was supposed that everyone had knowledge of it. The court was also the local authority which enacted the regulations for the community.

Presumably the earliest sales of real estate took place on the property which was to be sold with witnesses present. It is told that the word skøyte, which means deed of conveyance, comes from that time period when a clump of earth was taken from the property and placed in the lap of the new owner. However, from very early it was the court which became the proper place to make private agreements on real estate. Since olden times, it had been customary for agreements to be made with the entire public present as witnesses. But it was not always so easy in actual practice. Gradually it was enough that the agreement was made at court. When something was read at the court with the public in attendance there were many who could witness what had taken place. But people have a limited lifetime so the question of committing the proceedings to writing came up.

On August 16 1590 an ordinance was given for the procedure for judging cases in Norway. The court should still have its important place and the public was still required to meet. This practice was not abolished until 1687 with Christian 5's Norwegian Law. But the ordinance of 1590 brought many changes in the way the court was held. The ordinance of July 31, 1591 required that sworn scribes (sorenskriver) should be in attendance to help in the court. It gradually became the custom that these scribes took over important functions from the public. At first the scribes were fellow judges, but, with time, became the chief judges.

Each bydgeting was normally held in its court district. It was the custom to hold three courts per year—-spring, summer, and fall. A special court could be called for business or taxation. A period of four or five months was often too long to wait to bring a case to court. However, from 1735, cases which had to do with life, honor or peace could require a special court. Later this evolved to include cases where a guest or stranger to the area was involved. The guest court was set when the one part in a dispute was a stranger to the jurisdiction. Then the court should be held a soon as possible so that the outsider was not required to wait or to return later to clear the matter up.

It was sometimes necessary to handle cases which applied to boundaries or real estate disputes outside the courtroom, usually on the property, or these types of cases could be heard in a special court. But still four or five months was a long time to wait to bring a case to court and from 1797 court was held every month. These courts were held at the scribe’s (sorenskriver) office. The process had evolved from being a verbal procedure to, in reality, a written procedure. It was usual to have court a couple of times each month in the smaller court districts but, nearly every week day in the larger. From 1936 the terminology and court procedures were changed. Now the court documents were registered in a day journal when brought in and later entered into the official record. From that time the court was accessible every work day.[1]

Court Sessions[edit | edit source]

The ting was a place where people would meet to discuss and settle disputes. This meeting would represent a large area such as a district (herred), county (len or amt, currently fylke), or even a larger area. Here people would meet to settle disagreements, bring forth complaints, or hear the law recited by a lawspeaker. This was called lagting. Early on twelve well respected men from the community were appointed as members of the court, and they were along with the bailiff (foged) responsible for all court cases

Norway was divided into five regions tingslag where slightly different versions of the law applied. These regions generally can be described as:

  • Borgarting - Oslo, Østfold, Vestfold, and Akershus counties
  • Eidsvating - Hedmark and Oppland counties
  • Frostating - Nord-Trøndelag, Sør-Trøndelag, Nordland, Troms, and Finnmark counties
  • Gulating - covering part of Hordaland and Sogn og Fjordance counties
  • Mostrating - Sunnhordland in Hordaland County, Rogaland, Aust-Agder, and Vest-Agder counties

Ting was also a term used for set days when a court was in session at given places in the country. In the cities it was called byting and in the rural areas it was called herredsting. There were several set times for the court to meet, such as the høstting (fall court), vårting (spring court), månedsting (month court), and ekstrating(extra court). The ekstrating was generally involved with the registration of new legal documents. In 1927 a change was made to the law assigning both the civil and criminal cases to the herredsrett in the rural area and byrett in the citites. The date and time for these proceedings are now scheduled by a judge in each inividual case.

Records[edit | edit source]

Court (Tingbøker)[edit | edit source]

Preamble to 18 June 1666 (Botolph's Day Session), Nordland & Finmark District

Records are arranged by court district (sorenskriveri) and the contents are arranged chronologically. Sessions were held at different farms in the district, on a rotation to provide all persons in the district access to the court. These records begin in the 1630s. They are unindexed, not transcribed, and require considerable study and effort to be used effectively. The bound volumes which are available are transcriptions of the testimony, notes, and judgement from each court session. A copy of the court's decision was provided to the participants. A fee was charged for the stemplet papir (paper printed with king's monogram)on which the decision was recorded or for the recording (tinglysning') of any transaction. Most records are held in the regional archives (statsarkiv) and are available on microfilm and online at the Digital Archives.

The sample entry gives the date of the court session (18 June 1666, the Feast of St. Botolph, identifies the jurors present and the districts they represent-Lofoten, Salten, and Vesteraalen, and other officials of the court present, and the first case on the docket.

Probate (Skifteprotokoller)[edit | edit source]

Before the Christian 5's Norwegian Law of 1687, many probate proceedings were part of the general court records. See Norway Probate Records for more information. Most of these records are not transcribed, but most volumes are indexed. Most records are held in the regional archives (statsarkiv) and are available on microfilm and online at the Digital Archives

Bibliography[edit | edit source]

Seland, Per. "Norwegian genealogical research techniques prior to 1750", World Conference on Records and Genealogical Seminar. Salt Lake City, Utah : The Genealogical Society of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1969.
Schilbred, C. S. "An introduction to the court records, deed, mortgage records, probate records, etc., of Norway", World Conference on Records and Genealogical Seminar. Salt Lake City, Utah : The Genealogical Society of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1969.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Nedrebø, Yngve, "Til Almenhedens Kundskab". Arkivmagasintet 1/08, (a publication of Arkivverket).