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How to research your Norwegian roots in America

These items are derived from a man with successful experience researching in the US.
(He chooses to be anonymous).

 1- Outlines of organized procedures for such research have been published in English in two very helpful pamphlets. One is "How to Trace Your Ancestors in Norway" by the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, available free from the Embassy of Norway, 2720 34th St. NW, Washington, DC (202-333-6000). The other is "Research Outline - Norway", by the LDS Family History Library (see below), 35 North West Temple St., Salt Lake City, UT 84150, who ask an extremely modest fee for it.

2- One good source of Norwegian, and other, genealogical information in the US is the (filmed) records of the Genealogical Society of Utah,
operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints (LDS) - the Mormons. They maintain these records for their own purposes, but are gracious enough to allow access to them by everyone. The central records are maintained in Salt Lake City, and Family History Library branches are maintained in several hundred locations throughout the US, usually associated with an LDS Church. To determine the location of one's nearest branch, look in one's local telephone directory, or contact the Family History Library, at the address given above. Branches maintain micro-fiche indexes of the detailed records that can be ordered from Salt Lake City.
The contents of the records are of many kinds, some very commonly important ones being the official church records of vital statistics since about the last three quarters of the 1600's, maintained as an arm of the national government, and the Norwegian census records.

3- The Norwegian government maintains a national archive (Riksarkivet) in Oslo, and regional archives (Statsarkiver) in eight regions centered in Oslo, Kongsberg, Hamar, Kristiansand, Stavanger, Bergen, Trondheim, and Tromso. On inquiry, the archives are always willing to offer one some kind of help. The more one can convince them that one has pursued the research as far as possible one's self, the more likely they are to help one learn more. The address of Riksarkivet is Folke Bernadottes vei, Postboks 10 Kringsjå, N-0807 Oslo 8, NORWAY. The addresses of the Statsarkiver can be obtained from "Research Outline - Norway" (see above) or from the Embassy
of Norway (see above).

4- One needs to know the names and locations of some places (usually farms) where one's ancestors lived in Norway. If the names one is
researching are patronyms, one needs to go from those to the names of some ancestral places. One of the best sources of this kind of information is family lore.

5- Information and assistance can often be obtained by contacting genealogical societies, and private persons, especially family members. It
is especially important to determine whether any family member other than one's self has already made any kind of partial collection of genealogical data.

6- The LDS records include effective locator files, which can be used to determine the location in Norway of a named place when one is unsure of it.

7- In orienting one's self geographically in Norway, it is extremely helpful to have a good set of maps. Smaller scale maps for long distance
orientation are available at many book stores. For detailed orientation at small distances, extremely helpful maps are the Norwegian Statenskartwerk M711 Series, at the enormous scale of 1:50,000 (0.75 US miles per inch). These show the locations, and give the names, of most individual farms. A very convenient and reliable source for these maps is: Travel Genie, 3815 Calhoun Ave, Ames, IA 50010-4106 (515-232-1070) or E-mail: TravGenie@aol.com.

8- In the LDS Norwegian church record micro-films, one may be able to find the birth, death, etc. information for named ancestors, and the census records may tell one the names of people living on named places at the particular times when censuses were taken, which varies over the years.

9- A particularly useful census for many researchers is that of 1801. In addition to the LDS micro-films of it, it is available on the Internet web
site Digitalarkivet. Here you can look up, in real time, information categorized in many different ways, such as by location, farm name, personal name, etc.

10- Remember that the geographic organization of Norway is by two different systems, the church and the civic. Sometimes the two get confused, and the distinction can make a big difference in some cases, e.g., in determining the bygdebok (see below) coverage of particular places.

11- The church organization of Norway is as follows, from largest to smallest: prosti (deanery), prestegjeld (main parish), sogn (sub-parish),
and anneks kapell (annex chapel) - a small, sometimes remote and isolated congregation, within a sogn.

12- The civic organization of Norway is as follows, from largest to smallest: amt (obsolete) or fylke (county) - comparable with US states,
kommune (municipality) - often mainly rural, but usually contain at least a village of the name.

13- There are dozens of generally and specifically helpful web sites on the Internet, maintained by researchers in both the US and Norway. They can often give one real time information and assistance that is important. To find the ones relevant to one's self, simply search on any relevant surname, using, e.g., the "Alta Vista", or some other, search engine.

14- Be aware that (even official) word and handwriting scripts usage have changed with time in Norway. If you are researching older times, older words and scripts (now outdated) may have been in use.

15- After official church records and other original documents, the next level of accessibility and reliability for Norwegian genealogical sources
are the "bygdeboks". These are books, on (farm) family histories, that have been compiled, within the past century, or sometimes even recent decades, by historians using (even ancient) original records. The word bygdebok translates as "rural chronicle", and they are usually prepared to include most residents of all farms (or other homes) in individual kommunes over the years covered. They now exist for a large and increasing number of kommunes, on the order of a thousand. Their accuracy depends an the skill of the historian author in extracting information from the older original sources, and that varies. Sometimes one may find disagreements between comparable information in different bygdeboks, or between a bygdebok and an original source. If one encounters such a situation, and cannot resolve it one's self, one may wish to consider paying a professional genealogist in Norway to attempt to resolve it.

16- Copies of bygdeboks, or their pages, can be obtained in the US from several libraries. If a person is located near Boston, MA or Washington, DC, or any other library with bygdeboks, one can go directly to the Harvard University Library or the Library of Congress, or other library, and use bygdeboks from their collections. Bygdeboks, or page copies therefrom, may be accessed by mail from the following libraries.

Bygdeboks can be rented by mail from the Madison Naeseth Library Genealogical Center's
Naeseth Library, 415 W. Main Street, Madison, WI 53703-3116 (608-255-2224).

Limited numbers of copies of pages of bygdeboks may be obtained by mail from the Department of Special Collections of the Library at the University of North Dakota, P. O. Box 9000, Grand Forks, ND 58202-9000 (701-777-4625).
They will also help one determine which page numbers one needs.

In the Western US states, a considerable collection of bygdeboks is maintained in the Library of the Pacific Lutheran University at Takoma, WA 98447.

To determine whether a bygdebok exists for a particular kommune it is helpful to contact the Norwegian-American Historical Association (NAHA), at 1510 St. Olaf Ave., Northfield, MN 55057-1097 (507-646-3221). A staff member will help you.

It is useful to keep in mind, in searching for bygdeboks, that many of them do not include the word "bygdebok" in their titles. Common alternative types of titles are such as "(Kommune-name of place) soga", "Kommune-Soga", or "Kommune-Boken."

17- Descendants in America of ancestors in Norway, from over 30 localities, usually at the prosti level, have formed, in the US, bygdelagene
(associations) for purposes including genealogy. These associations are often very helpful, and most of them conduct yearly "stevener" (conventions) at which genealogical research workshops are held that are often even more directly helpful.

18- One's research will be greatly facilitated to whatever extent one can acquire at least some minimal ability to read those words in the Norwegian language which appear often in genealogical documents. These are words such as: born (fødte), baptized (døpte), married (gifte/viede), died (døde), buried (begravde), census (folketelling) etc. Learning the use of such words in the context of the different-from-English word order in Norwegian sentences, may be challenging at first, but conscientious application leads to success, and is tremendously rewarding in terms of research progress.

19- After one has pursued one's research as far as possible via the original documents copied in the LDS micro-film files, and the available bygdeboks, any further information is usually contained in esoteric ancient documents, at least several centuries old. These documents are usually written in the Old Norse language in Gothic script. Reading this material usually requires considerable training and experience. At this point, one may wish to consider paying a professional genealogist in Norway to help one with further pursuit.

Happy hunt!

Thank you "mr. Hunt"!