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

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 Vesterheim 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

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

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!