Once you are familiar with the Norwegian patronymic naming system, there are some excellent sources of Norwegian genealogical data online to help you to trace your family, such as the Norway Historical Data Centre ( www.rhd.uit.no/indexing.html ) and Norway Marriages, 1600's-1800's, which are available on Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com/), My experience is, that without some idea of the Norwegian naming system, before you embark on your search, you might find yourself spending much more time cursing, than searching! Having a book of Norwegian/English translation on hand, will be useful as well, since the censuses on the Historical Data Centre website are written in Norwegian.
The giving of christian names for children in Norway usually followed a pattern:
- The first son was named after the paternal grandfather.
- The second son was named after the maternal grandfather.
- The third son was named after the paternal great grandfather.
- The first daughter was named after the maternal grandmother.
- The second daughter was named after the paternal grandmother.
- The third daughter was named after the maternal great grandmother.
Traditionally, the formula for the name given to a child was :
Christian name + father's name + appropriate suffix.
Henrik Gulbrandsen( son of Gulbrand Olsen) has a family. His first son would be named:
Gulbrand (christian name) + Henrik (father's name) + sen (suffix = son)
Henrik's first born son would be named Gulbrand Henriksen.
If Henrik had a daughter she would be named:
Ragnild (christian name) + Henrik ( father's name ) + datter (suffix = daughter)
Henrik's first born daughter would be named Ragnild Henriksdatter . (The name Ragnild would probably be the name of the child's maternal grandmother.)
Just to confuse matters more, it was not uncommon for children to assume the mother's 'family' name i.e. the name of her father. In Norway a wife was allowed to keep her father's name rather than to adopt the name of her husband. So if Henrik's wife was named Ingabjørg Evensdatter - her father being Even Tillesen- the children could be alternatively named Evensen and Evensdatter, instead of Henriksen and Henriksdatter. (datter is usually written in an abbreviated form as dttr i.e. Henriksdttr).
To illustrate the naming system, let us assume that Henrik Gulbrandsen and Ingabjørg Evensen had two sons and one daughter.
Below are examples of the surnames that Henrik's children might have.
Example 1. Patronymic naming system
Example 2. Use of mother's surname:
Now, just as you are probably quite confused enough, I will introduce you to Norwegian 'Farm Names'. Many Norwegian surnames that became fixed after 1925, were farm names. Farm names in Norway were adopted when a family worked and lived on a farm. The family often assumed the name of the farm instead of the father's or mother's name. Farm names are a very old tradition in Norway and most date back more than 200 years. Norwegian surnames which end in stad, set, heim, um, land, tveit or tvedt are always farm names. If Gulbrand Henriksen worked on a farm named Kolstad, his family would assume the 'surname' of Kolstad instead of Gulbrandsen. If the family moved to a farm of a different name they would usually assume the name of the new farm.
Example 3. Use of farm name:
Henrik Gulbrandsen Kolstad
Ingabjørg Evebsen Kolstad
Farm names were registered so if your Norwegian surname is Kolstad or Elstad, you will possibly be able to locate the farm where your ancestors lived in Norway.
If you are now confused and thinking twice about doing the Norwegian family tree, don't be discouraged by the complicated Norwegian naming system. Tracing your family in Norway will be a most interesting although challenging project.
Some Tips for searching for Norwegian ancestors.
- Study the naming system until you are familiar with it.
- Use the naming system to try to work backwards eg. Ole Hanson's father would most likely have been named Hans Olsen if Ole was the eldest son. Ole's grandfather would most likely have been named Ole. If Magnus Hansen was your ancestor and you don't know his position in the family, don't dispair! You know his father's christian name was Hans.
- Search the Historical Baptisms for a Magnus Hansen born to a Hans around the date you believe to be the birth date.
- Search the Norwegian censuses.
- Search the Norwegian Marriage records as they will often tell you the names of both parents.
How to type the special characters in the Norwegian alphabet:
Æ - Press ALT while typing 0198
æ - Press ALT while typing 0230
Ø - Press ALT while typing 0216
ø - Press ALT while typing 0248
Å - Press ALT while typing 0197
å - Press ALT while typing 0229
Until the early 20th century Norwegian people (unless they were very wealthy or members of the clergy who sometimes did use surnames)