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 – 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 ( 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.]

“This writer found the clue to identifying an entire major branch of his family tree through a farm name on a New York death certificate. U.S. census records give only a country of birth for immigrants, but some do give immigration dates (or number of years in the U.S.), which in turn may be helpful in locating immigration records from Ellis Island or ship passenger lists showing the Norwegian port of embarkation; the latter may help narrow the search. Once you have identified a Norwegian county to search in, use the drop-down menus to locate communities in the county, and periods to search in. Some communities have just one set of books, normally called ‘Ministerialbok’ (kept by the priest), in date sequence. Some will have several sets with overlapping dates; in those cases, for a given year, typically one book will have births, another will have marriages, and another will have deaths. You have to open a book to see the index of its contents. Some of the larger communities may have two parallel sets of books – one called Ministerialbok and the other called ‘Klokkerbok’, which was kept by the church sexton.  ….



And another excerpt which is about naming:
“Names and naming patterns – Until the late 19th Century naming was based on the patronymic model in which a child’s name was based on its father’s first name, followed by ‘sen’ (male) or ‘datter’ (female), as follows: If the father’s name was ‘Jens Knudsen’, a son Ole’s name would be ‘Ole Jensen’; a daughter Anna’s name ‘Anna Jensdatter’. Persons living on a farm added the name of the farm after their name: Jens Olsen living on farm Aastvedt was ‘Jens Olsen Aastvedt’. A woman’s name did not change with marriage. But if she moved to a different farm, her farm name would change – see below. ‘Madame’, ‘Monsieur’, or ‘Mand’ preceding a name indicates a higher social status. Until the mid-19thCentury, there were fairly rigid rules for children’s first names.
For example, assume Niels Aanonsen, son of Aanon Olsen and Kari Hansdatter, marries Anna Larsdatter, daughter of Lars Monsen and Inger Knudsdatter:
  • Niels and Anna’s first son would be named for the father’s father – Aanon Nielsen
  • Their second son for the mother’s father – Lars Nielsen
  • Their first daughter for the father’s mother – Kari Nielsdatter
  • Their second daughter for the mother’s mother – Inger Nielsdatter
After that, names were often taken from the parents’ grandparents, and the parents themselves, and would likely be chosen from among: Ole Nielsen, Hans Nielsen, Mons Nielsen, Knud Nielsen, Anna Nielsdatter, and Niels and Anna’s other grandmothers. If a child died young, the next child born (of that gender) would often be given the name of the dead child. If a person was widowed and later remarried, the first girl born to the second marriage would often be given the first name of the deceased first wife, and vice versa. However in major seaports such as Oslo, Kristiansand, and Bergen, there were numbers of non-Norwegian families, whose naming practices would not necessarily follow the Norwegian patterns.  [Editor’s note: and by the late 1800s it was less rigid, often a similar name starting with the same first letter would be chosen. For example in our family Serene instead of Syneve]….
“In older records, and especially in rural areas, the name of Ole Jensen on the farm Aastvedt may be written as just ‘Ole Aastvedt’. A few families – mostly in larger cities – also kept a family name through generations. E.g., Peder Halling was the son of Andreas Halling; he was Peder Andreasen Halling; his daughter Josephine would be written as Josephine Pedersdatter Halling. ‘Middle’ names as we know them today were mostly unknown until the early 19 A man’s name is often preceded by his occupation. Ole Jensen, a sailor, will appear as Matros Ole Jensen. Military ranks are often seen. Women did not have ‘occupations’; they were described as ‘pige’ (girl), ‘jomfru’ (unmarried woman), ‘hustru’ (housewife), or ‘enke’ (widow) as appropriate. (Of course they worked – hard, but at home and on the farm.) If a man is a widower, his name will appear as ‘Enkemand Ole Jensen’; a widow as ‘Enke Anna Jensdtr.’. Occasionally the format will be reversed as ‘Ole Jensen, Enke’ (but look carefully as that might actually be ‘Ole Jensen’s enke’ – i.e. Ole’s widow.) Thus a man’s name can have up to five parts, plus ‘og’ (and) between the first two, e.g.: Enkemand og Matros Ole Jensen Aastvedt. The ‘farm’ part of a person’s name changed if (s)he moved to a different farm (after marriage, later in life to live with adult children, or for some other reason). So Ole may be found in his birth record as Ole Jensen Aastvedt, in his marriage record as Ole Jensen Loland, and in his death record as Ole Jensen Svenevig – all the same Ole Jensen. If he was enumerated in a census along the way, there might be yet another farm name. All men and women living on the same farm (‘gård’ or ‘gaard’) used the same farm name while living there. Many, but by no means all, farm names end in ‘land’; another frequent ending is ‘stad’. Other endings are seen, but a word at the end of a person’s name ending in land or stad is most likely a farm name. Records of second marriages where one or both are widow or widower will show Enkemand or Enke before the name(s).”
See the full paper for discussions of names in different types of records.
Some good additional resources can be found at the website for the Norwegian genealogy mailing list hosted by Rootsweb.

4 thoughts on “Reading Norwegian Churchbooks

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  1. Kitty (DNA Cousin!), excellent information! I look forward to digesting it further. Maybe you have seen my recent newbie-flavored posts in the NOR group? Regardless, this looks like helpful information for me.

    I think you might have a cut-and-paste mix-up in the last two paragraphs of this blog posting. In the next-to-last paragraph, one sentence begins, “Until the mid-19…” but then suddenly switches to something else. The last sentence in that paragraph concludes, “th Century, Norwegian names followed the patronymic model in which a child’s last name th Century, there were fairly rigid rules for children’s first names: For example, assume Niels Aanonsen, son of Aanon…”. Also, the last paragraph has a sentence which includes the phrase “until the early 19”, but seems to switch abruptly.

    Anyway, I look forward to making further use of this information. Thank you again!

  2. Thanks so much DNA cousin James! All fixed. Plus I added a link to our Norwegian Genealogy mailing list

    By the way, our friend and your cousin Sigmund in Norway found a male line descendant of my putative ancestor Ole Monsson Titland and it is a match! See my post here “It’s a match”

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