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Searching the Norwegian Digital Archives, a Rootstech Talk

UPDATE 6 June 2017 – the archives have a new look and new site athttp://arkivverket.no/eng/Digitalarkivet

Many of us Norwegian-American researchers have been complaining about the new archives and its search function. So I went to the talk by Finn Karlsen of the Digitalarkivet hoping to gain a better understanding. Of course the first thing he told us was that the old archive would die at the end of March as would the links we might have been using in our trees to reference data there. This is not news as we have been hearing it for a while.

After listening to him I thought I understood what I had been doing wrong with my searches at the new digital archive site – I had not understand how to correctly use wildcards there. Apparently the asterisk * wildcard can only be used at the beginning or end of a word, not in the middle. Also the pipe character | can be used as an OR.

Finn of course made it look easy with his examples of searching. He promises to have his presentation posted at his website http://www.fkarlsen.net/drupal/index.php by the end of next week. He already has some explanations of how to use the simple search on his site.

The simple search example he gave in his talk was

Bernh* nes*|næss*

So I tried that at home and got this:

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Reading Norwegian Churchbooks

My cousin Dick Larkin has put together a wonderful guide to reading Norwegian churchbooks which is now available in our downloads section. It includes many charts, urls, and images of handwriting. Since so many Norwegian records are online at http://arkivverket.no/eng/content/view/full/629 – this is great help in doing genealogical research. While the census records there are transcribed to typewritten entries and easy to use, the church records require pouring through the images of handwritten entries so help or skill is needed to interpret them.

Here are a few excerpts from his guide:

“If you have chosen your parents wisely, your genealogical research will include Norwegian records.  Norway has one of the most readily accessible bodies of genealogical data of any country outside the United States; the ‘Kirkeboker’, or churchbooks, are an important part of those data.  They are the primary repository of data on births, marriages, and deaths for roughly the period 1670 to 1930, and, best of all, they are online and accessible without cost. Their only real downside is that they can be a challenge to read. This paper will help you overcome that challenge.

and how to figure out which churchbook:
“There are three ways to start: – First and best is to scour your own family records, certificates, Bibles, letters, diaries, and the like, and to inquire of elderly living relatives for clues as to where in Norway your ancestors came from. – Second is to look on Rootsweb (www.rootsweb.ancestry.com) to see if someone else has been researching your family and has posted their family tree data there. – Third is to use theFamilySearch website, but this may or may not be very helpful without at least some other clues. For example, this search lists over 137,000 people named Ole Olsen born in Norway between 1650 and 1930. Two ways to narrow this search are first by date of birth (or other known or closely estimated date); second is by location – at least at the county level. But even narrowing the search to Vest Agder County, and birth years 1800 to 1830 still gives 692 Ole Olsens. Death records in the United States sometimes identify a birth location in Norway; a farm name may give a clue (but a given farm name will likely be found in multiple communities and counties).
 [Editor’s note  when your ancestors names do not end in -sen or -son they have probably taken their farm name as their surname in this country for example Sande, Hauge, Skjold, and Tveit are all farm names. The familysearch listings for specific counties usually give a list of farm names but these may not be complete so try googling for the farm name with the words farm and norway. For example, googling for “tveit farm norway” turns up farms in at least four different counties.]

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Norwegian Naming Practices and Genealogical Resources

So as I find more and more DNA matches with Norwegian-American relatives who tell me “Oh we have an Andressen or a Larsen too,” how do I explain what little use that is? I try saying, “Well in Norway before the late 1800s most people used their father’s name (so Jonsen means the son of Jon) and perhaps their farm name for a surname. So please tell me what locality your family was from and the farm name if you know it.”  Plus Per might be Peder in a different document and other names have other variations. Still one can’t complain, there are an enormous number of  Norwegian records online and the records go back to at least the 1500s in most localities.

I have found two resources which explain the naming practices quite well:

John Føllesdal also has an excellent website hosted by ancestry.com explaining how to research your ancestors in Norway.

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