The hardest task for many genealogists is tracking their immigrant ancestor back to his original home area in the old country in order to find records. In this article I will walk you through the process of getting across the ocean to Norway using all my favorite resources.
The newest online Norwegian archives have had a modernizing face lift but the functionality is the same as described in my 2015 post. It is the single most important site for finding your immigrant ancestor. However there are many others you would use first, to try to figure out where in Norway to look. All of Norway is not impossible with an exact birth date, but a rough location makes it easier.
One of the problems with searching for your Norwegian ancestors is the surname issue. Back in Norway, people were known by their father’s name and their farm name until the early 1900s. Plus the farm name would change when they moved. For some city dwellers a fixed surname came earlier, around the 1880s. There are a number of articles about Norwegian naming listed in my Norwegian genealogy article on the menu above (or click here).
Most Norwegians picked either the farm name, a variation of the farm name, or their patronymic for their surname once in America. So although there are many Lars Olsens and Ole Hansons, there are also Tweets (from Tveit) and Challeys (from Tjelle) and Hollands (from Haaland) to name a few anglicized farm names among my cousins. One of my great-grandfathers created Wold from Torgevollen and another great-grandad created the surname Lee. How he got that from farm Skjold is a complete mystery, although family lore is that it was done so that the name would fit around a tugboat chimney.
Finding the immigration record can be key, so it is best to start at Ancestry.com or FamilySearch or MyHeritage and locate your ancestor in the 1900, 1910, or 1920 census in order to get their year of immigration.
My worry is nothing on this trip will match the incredible day we had yesterday in Etne, Hordaland, Norway. The ancestral farms around the lake were so very green with snow-capped mountains behind them and sheep everywhere. The weather was perfect. We had a traditional lamb and cabbage stew lunch with the Skjold third cousins on their deck overlooking the valley and lake. Followed by fruit-filled waffles.
Jarle at the Lake
Our cousin Jarle was a wonderful guide. He showed me the house, still there, where my great grandfather H. H. Lee was born on farm Skjold. He mentioned that they had shown cousin John the wrong farm, the newer Skjold farm built by Jarle’s grandfather.
The house my great-grandad H H Lee was born in
Jarle also told us that the children called the white plastic wrapped hay bales “tractor eggs” because they came wrapped that way out of the backs of the tractors. Also we learned that most of Norway’s electricity is hydo-electric and that there are green chemicals available for fracking but regulations in the USA are such that companies do not have to use them. He works in the chemicals for oil companies business by the way.
Hans Martin Gunderson
The randomness of DNA inheritance always amazes me. My Norwegian-American father seems to have inherited more DNA from his Skjold grandad, “Dada,” than his Wold grandma, “Mormor.” Dad shares more than the expected amount of DNA with 3rd and 4th and double 4th cousins on his Skjold line. Of course this could also be explained by the slight endogamy in the area they come from, Etne, Hordaland. By comparison, Dad shares no DNA with a Wold 3rd cousin once removed and only a small amount with her mother. He shares more with a few other Wold cousins but it tends to be less than the expected amount with the more distant cousins on that line.
Recently I found two new Skjold cousins via DNA testing, Maria and Irene.
On Ancestry.com, a 3rd cousin match appeared for my brother which turned out to be a real 3rd cousin, a Gundersen relative who is descended from Dada’s sister Margareta. Her son who immigrated to Brooklyn, Hans Martin Gundersen, is pictured on the left.
On 23andme.com, I found a new 3rd-4th cousin on Dad’s list, who was found to be from another branch of our Holland relatives. The Hollands descend from Dada’s Aunt Mette (see my post with her portrait). My father’s newly found 3rd cousin twice removed shares 1.10% of her DNA with him: 4 segments totaling 84cM. This is on the high side, more like a second cousin once removed (click here for the article at ISOGG about the expected amounts of shared DNA).
So read on for the details of how I figured out the actual relationships with my new cousins.
There are forums, mailing lists, and facebook groups for almost any group with shared ancestry and the people who populate them can be amazingly helpful. So here is how I solved a mystery with assistance from various Norwegian helpers.
I have recently been working on the ancestors of my g-grandfather H. H. Lee (originally Hans or Halvor Skjold) from Etne, Hordaland, Norway since I have so many new relatives from his families found with DNA testing. When last in Salt Lake City, I photographed numerous pages of farm entries from the Etnesogas at the family history library and took several of his lines much further back. See the chart below (from wikitree) for those annoying blank spots I wanted to fill in.
I found the ancestors of Ingeborg Haktorsdtr, one blank spot below, in the Holmedal books. But my 3rd great grandfather Øystein Gabrielsen Bjørgjo evaded me. He appeared as if by magic on the Bjørgjo farm with no clue as to his origins. I tried the online Norwegian archives with no success, perhaps because they are a bit difficult for us English speakers. So I decided to ask for help.
My great-grandfather’s pedigree at Wikitree
On GENI.com and wikitree.com they allow birth surnames for men and women which makes life easier for those of us with Norwegian ancestry since the farm name of birth can go into the “maiden” name slot for both sexes and the farm where they lived most of their life into the surname slot. It is important to use the farm name as a surname and put the patronymic in as a middle name, since it makes it much easier to find and identify an ancestor. There are so many Ole Olesons and Lars Larsons otherwise.
This wonderful blog post explains Norwegian naming in great detail.
Sadly she has not written very many blog posts.
[UPDATE 9-AUG-2017] That author, Anne Berge, told me to send people to this page instead for her Norwegian DNA project at Family Tree DNA:
I found the original on this page at GENI which discusses Norwegian ancestry in detail.