Geir Thorud’s personal notes on Genealogy in Norway
The oldest genealogies in Norway can be found in the Viking sagas, although most of them are not very reliable. Before World War II a popular activity was to construct genealogies going back to Viking kings, all have later been disproved. Many Norwegians are likely to descend from these kings, but no one can tell how (exept that there could perhaps be lines via European nobility??).
Types of genealogy publications
There are several types of genealogy publications. Ordinary family histories was the first to appear, but during the last century a very popular type has been "community history books" (Bygdebøker) that in the beginning contained the history of the major farms and the people living there, but in the last 40-50 years this has been extended to cover all places and all the people living in the community (at least those that can be found in the sources). These books go back to about 1650 and in some cases before that, and end with people living at the time of publication. They are structured according to the farms/properties. Such books have been produced for at least halve the country. One reason for structuring the documentation of families this way, compared to ordinary family histories, is to avoid duplication (overlaps) between families. (As a pioneer project Familysearch has started to transfer the material into databases, unfortunately leaving out the farm history.)
Examples of other types of publications are those that deal with medieval families (incl. nobility) or those that lists thousands of emigrants from a community to North America incl. descendants in America (after Irland, Norway was the European country that had the largest number of emigrants compared to the size of the population). Also, most local communities have history books (incl. genealogy info) that are published each year.
The most important sources are:
Church records (Parish records) (birth/christening, stillborn, marriage, burial, confirmation, migration) (from 1700 +/- 30 years)
Censuses (1664-66 males only, early 1700, 1801 (complete), 1865 and many later, the latest publicly available is 1910)
Land transactions (from 1730-50)
Probates (from about 1650, but then covering a small part of the population)
(Farm) Tax lists (from about 1610)
Military records (soldiers, incl. those that could be mobilized in case of war) (from late 1600)
Court records (from mid 1600, including some land transactions)
Land “censuses” – farms with name of owner/user, land value, farm number within parish (from mid 1600, latest 1950)
Although there are several source types that start before 1700, the percentage of the total population mentioned before 1700 is small (maybe 20 %, but I have not seen any statistics on this). One exception is the 1664-66 census, which covers maybe 40%, but this is my guessing.
From the type of event (type of info) you can in many cases tell the type of source, but e.g. birth dates can in the last 200 years be found in several types of records (e.g. confirmation, burrial) , although the christening record is the primary one. But if you dont have a record of the exact date of birth, you can use age, which occurs in many types of sources. You can in most cases easily determine the repository from the type of source. Many of the pre 1800 sources that are not in a tabular format are difficult to read, and it may require years of training to read them without error.
Digitization of sources
Many of the most important sources for Norway are available free on the internet, scanned from microfilm and/or transcribed. All parish records before 1910-30, land transactions before 1950, court records before 1800, probate records before 1800-50, the 1664-66 censuses, “local administrator/tax collector” records from 1600-1650 are scanned. Most censuses have been transcribed – the 1891 census will be scanned in 2011 (one page per person). Many parish records have also been transcribed. Many other sources will be published in the near future. A service with historic maps, linked to a database with administrative regions, will be available in 2011.
Thus functions in genealogy programs for reference to pages in these sources on the internet are important.
A few special aspects are:
Patronymic. Before 1850-1900 few people had family surnames, they used patronymics, and in many cases the farm name as a second surname (although there are different opinions about this being part of the name). When they moved to a new farm, the latter changed. Family names were for the "upper class", and were not mandatory before 1922(?).See Patonymic on Wikipedia.
"Odel". A law, dating back almost 1000 years, that gave the descendants of an owner/user of farm land legal right to inherit (or take over the usage of) the land – making sale/transfer to non-descendants (outside the family) difficult. Thus many current owners of farms can trace their ancestors back a couple or centuries or more on the same farm, something that makes farm history important. (The farm where my mother's surname come from has been in the same family for more than 500 years:) In the 1600s there are special records for farms where “Odel” applied (the family had to own the farm for 60 years before the law applied, now 20 years). Similar laws can be found in some other European countries.
Prepositions for places, especially towns. In towns along the sea coast people live IN towns, but inland they live AT towns, but there are exceptions.
Cohabitants. During the last 30-40 years, marriage has become less common. About 25% of the "families" are now cohabitants. Some cohabitants marry at a later stage.
Two surnames. During the last 20-30 years double surnames (for children) have become very common, usually the mother's surname (the law considders this a middle name), then the father's, in some cases merged to one word with a dash between.
Dates. Before 1800 many dates in parish records were recorded as special, in many cases latin, “church dates” e.g. Palm Sunday, or the 12’th Sunday after Whitsun. The Gregorain calendar was adopted in 1700, by skipping the dates between February 18 and March 1.
The same comments that Adrian Bruce has on "professional standards" and the format of footnotes in the UK also applies to Norway - no standards. But we have standrads for transcription of parish records and censuses.
There are numerous organizations dealig with history and/or genealogy, there is at least one in each municipality (400+ municipalities) and several on the national level. There are two organisations especially for genealogy, Norsk slekstshistorisk forening" and DIS Norge (focusing, but not limited to, the use of computers in genealogy)..Conclusion: History is important to Norwegians.
Still to be written ....
There is probably more to say about this – maybe later.