To begin researching genealogy in Norway, it’s important to understand the geographical divisions in the country.
Norway is broken into 19 counties, which are roughly equivalent to our states. The 19 counties are divided into over 1,000 parishes, equivalent to our counties. And those 1,000+ parishes are broken down into tens of thousands of farms, small towns, or villages.
One major source of information is the huge collection of published genealogy and local history called the bygdebøker, or farm books. They proved to be a amazing source of information on my maternal grandfather's family (the Hovick's), taking me back in some instances, a walloping twelve generations.
But because we lacked vital pieces of information about my maternal grandmother's family (the Braaten's), bygdebøker have provided little help. So I've had to turn my eyes elsewhere.
Vital records (including, birth, baptism, vaccination, confirmation, marriage, moving in and out of the parish, death and burial, as well as more salacious records like public confessions) were kept at the parish kirke, or church. Most parishes had two sets of books, one kept by the pastor – the ministerialbøker, and one kept by the church sexton – the klokkerbøker. Of the ones that I have been spending a lot of time with over the past several months, they range in years from the late 1700’s to the early 1900’s. Each parish has many volumes, each with sometimes hundreds of pages. It’s my understanding that each and every page of all of these books have been scanned and are available online. The scanning and cataloging must have been a staggeringly monumental task.
As an example, here's the record of my grandfather, Tjerand Torbjørsen's baptism from the Skjold parish klokkerbok in the county of Rogaland (line 31 on the top right). (After immigrating, he changed his name to Charles Hovick).
The challenges in searching the scans are many, not the least of which is to decipher archaic (and sometimes downright dreadful) handwriting.
Because of centuries of Denmark’s rule over Norway, the Norwegian language is hugely influenced by Danish. Most church records are actually in Danish. And at use during this time was a Gothic script alphabet.
The handwritten variations of this script are many. Combing through the pages in a particular book, you get used to the handwriting, recognizing the idiosyncrasies of a particular pastor or sexton, who sometimes kept the records for decades.
Over the past many months, I have been spending most of my time looking at record books from the parishes of Skjold (in Rogaland County), Vang (in Hedmark County), and Nittedal and Vestby (in Akershus County). And without a shadow of a doubt, the worst, the very worst handwriting is in the Vestby books. It’s simply maddening. I don’t know who this man was, but I’ve taken to calling him Thorvald. I have been feeling nothing but uncharitable feelings towards Thorvald for months now.
Here are some of Thorvald’s attempts at writing the name of my great-great grandmother, Kirstine Andreasdatter:
And then there’s utter gobbledygook like this:
After a couple of weeks staring at this, I think that this is the village of “Hvitsten.” Damn you, Thorvald.
Okay, back to research.
Some of the church records have been digitally transcribed and are in a searchable database. But because only a fraction is available in this format, you are much less likely to find what you are looking for. But every now and then I have gotten lucky.
I went into this not speaking a word of Norwegian. One trick I've learned is that when using Chrome, you can right-click on a page and select "Translate to English." The translation is far from perfect, but it does help. And over time, I have learned to recognize key genealogical terms.
- født = birth
- døbte = baptism
- konfirmasjon = confirmation
- egteviede = marriage
- død = death
- innflyttning = moving in
- utflyttning = moving out
- fornavn = given name
- etternavn = surname
- år = year or age
- “Æ” or “æ,” referred to as “ash.”
- “Ø” or “ø,” referred to as “o-slash.”
- “Å” or “å,” referred to as “a-ring.”
So this is some of what has been occupying my brain space over the past many, many months as the Genealogical Siren has been singing her song to lure me in further and further.
Stay tuned. Putting all of this to use, I've made a few major breakthroughs in the hunt for my maternal grandmother's family.