Basics of Norwegian Research

Basics of Norwegian Research 

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Researching your ancestors in Norway is somewhat different than researching in the U.S. or other parts of the world.  Searching for your John Olsen or Ole Johnson in Norway will lead to frustration very quickly.

In the article below, I will provide you with what we consider the "basics" to starting Norwegian research . . . information you should collect first, concepts you need to understand, and a list of special Trøndelag and Norwegian resources available on the Internet. 

In order to keep this page concise, I have provided links to several more lengthy articles by others on the topics below.

To start:

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  1. I highly recommend you get a good dictionary such as "Norwegian English Dictionary" by Einar Haugen (Univ. of Wis. Press) and perhaps a software translator such as Tolken99.

  2. Order a copy of the "Norwegian Research Outline" and "Norwegian Genealogical Word List" from the LDS Family Search site. (Scroll down the page until you see Norway and the Norwegian topics.)

  3. Start collecting your immigrant family information in the U.S. (or wherever the immigrant lived).

Information you must collect

1) Immigrant ancestor's Norwegian name and birth date.
2) Farm name where ancestor is from.

Locate all the information you can in U.S. records about your immigrant ancestor (or wherever you live).

See also "Getting Started" by John Follesdal and my  "Tips for Researching in Norway"

Names in Norway

As you search for your ancestors in Norway, you will discover that they may not have the name you expect for several reasons.  1) Many Norwegians Americanized their names when immigrating. 2) Immigrants changed their surname or its spelling after arrival.  3) Permanent surnames were not required in Norway before the early 1900s.  The surname was in fact used as an "address"  and thus reflected the name of the farm where they lived.  When a family moved from one farm to another, they took on a different "address" and thus a different surname.  Those in cities often used the patronymic names as surnames.

Until about 1900, many Norwegian families used the traditional "patronymics" system of naming their children.  If the father was named Jon, and he named his son Tomas, the son would be called Tomas Jonsen. If they lived on the farm Berg, he would be called Tomas Jonsen Berg.  If the father Jon had a daughter Berit, she would be called Berit Jonsdatter Berg.  If Tomas and Berit moved to the Dahl farm, they would be called Tomas Jonsen Dahl and Berit Jonsdatter Dahl.  Children were often named after grandparents and other family members. Thus you will often see first names repeated throughout a family's history. 

When I started researching my great grandfather, I only knew his name in the U.S. was Mike Score. But his marriage certificate recorded his Norwegian name - Mens Arntsen Skaarvold.  That was also the name recorded when he left Norway.  I know from this name that his father was named Arnt. And Skaarvold may have been the farm he was living on when he left ... and indeed it was. Sometime after arrival in Wisconsin, Mens changed his name to Mike Score, again following a tradition of several relatives who had preceded him in immigrating who also took Score as their new surname.  I learned that Mens' family followed fairly traditional naming patterns.  His father was Arnt Mensen; his grandfather was Menz Jonsen; great grandfather was Jon Mensen; great-great grandfather was Mentz Jonsen and so on. Note that the name spellings varied in different records.

Although this may seem bothersome at first, you'll find that the naming conventions can help you find a "lost" ancestor.

See also John Follesdal's article, "Norwegian Naming Practices" and Johan Borgos article "Norwegian Naming Patterns."


Dates are especially important in Norwegian research in locating your ancestors.  Dates in Norway are written in this sequence: day/month/year.

As you record your ancestor dates from Norwegian records, be sure you are interpreting them correctly or you will have errors in your research!

Special terminology

See Our Word List for additional terms

fylke - Sør-Trøndelag and Nord-Trøndelag are each a fylke, or governmental body similar to a U.S. state, made up of numerous kommunes. 

bygdebok - sometimes called chronicles, provide history of community/parish and families who lived there. See "How to Use a Norwegian Bygdebok" and "What is a Bygdebok"

farm - consisted of the main farm called a gard, small farms that are part of the main farm were called bruks. See "Norwegian farms"

cotter - a farm laborer who leases a cottage from a farmer and sometimes a small holding of land, usually in return for services or sharing of their crops. Also called husmann.

husmann - rented/leased a house on a gard
husmann med jord - rented/leased a house with small plot of land on a gard

inderst/innerst - a lodger who rented a room from a husmann

Special characters

Here's how you type those special Norwegian characters . . .

With Num Lock "on", hold down Alt key and type using your numeric keypad (not number keys at top of keyboard):

Alt 0216  =  Ø
Alt 0248  =  ø
Alt 0198  =  Æ
Alt 0230  = æ
Alt 0197  =  Å
Alt 0229  =  å
Alt 0214  =  Ö
Alt 0246  =  ö

å = Alt/Option Key and a
æ = Alt/Option Key and apostrophe
ø = Alt/Option Key and o
Ø = Alt/Option Key and O with Shift down
Å = Alt/Option Key and A with Shift down
œ = Alt/Option Key and q

Installing Norwegian Keyboard (Windows users)
1.  Choose Start - Settings - Control Panel.
2.  Double-click on Keyboard icon.
3.  Click on Language tab.
4.  Click on Add.
5.  From Add Language drop-down list, choose Norwegian (Bokmal).
6.  Click OK.
7.  Click Apply.  [You may need to insert your Windows disk]
8.  Click OK to finish.

Special Internet resources

(My Top 10 List in alpha order)

Note: Although you may find your ancestors through Internet sources, you will probably also want to locate the original church records, most of which are available on film through the LDS.

100 Years of Emigrant Ships from Norway: Solem, Swiggum & Austheim Ship Index.  Ship index, passenger lists, voyage accounts, descriptions, pictures, articles.

Bygdebøker for Trøndelag

Digitalarkivet: Database including census, emigration, and other Norwegian records

DIS-Norge (Norwegian Genealogical Society)

Emigrants from Trondheim (Digitalarkivet)

Historical Data Centre - Univ. of Tromso (census, church books, emigrant data)

Nord-Trøndelag Map, showing the Kommunes
Sør-Trøndelag Map, showing the Kommunes

National Archives of Norway (Riksarkivet og Statsarkivene)

Statsarkivet i Trondheim (Records from Møre og Romsdal, Sør-Trøndelag, Nord-Trøndelag, Nordland) - not online
Høgskoleveien 12
Postboks 2825 Elgesæter
N-7432 Trondheim, Norway
Phone: + 47 73 88 45 00
Fax: + 47 73 88 45 40

Norway GenWeb - Links to many research sources (bygdeboks, church, census, culture, emigration, family pages, history, land, language, lookups, organizations, reference, search engines, travel) and query boards.

Slektshistoriske Kilder:
Norwegian Genealogical Sources 1500-1900 Nord-Trøndelag
Norwegian Genealogical Sources 1500-1900 Sør-Trøndelag


Trøndelag Genealogy Resources

     Copyright © 2001-2005 Linda K. Schwartz
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     Last Updated: 21 Feb 2005 10:02 AM -0500

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