News of Norway, issue 10, 1996
Some Norwegian-Americans are compelled to search for ancestors after remembering stories told by parents or finding faded pictures in a drawer.
Tracing ancestors can cost a lot in both time and money, but you may find it worthwhile because of what you might learn about your identity and your heritage. There are so many great stories about reunions of families; you might be part of one yourself .
A well-known historian from Norway,Yngve Nedrebø was recently in Washington, D.C., and Maryland where he gave a speech on genealogy to an audience of more than 100 at the Sons of Norway Lodge 428. "Normally it is the elderly who are the most interested" said Nedrebø who lives in Bergen where he is head of the historical archives. "Maybe it is because the elderly have more time for such work.
"My advice to first-time searchers is to start locally, where you live," he advised. "Start in your own home, of course. The best is to know the precise name and birth date of the persons you are looking for, but here lies one of the big challenges too. So many people changed their names when they came to America," Nedreø said. If you are lucky, your ancestors were smart enough not to change both their first and last names. The historian generally gives three key words for preparations and source hunting; immediate environment, printed sources and archival sources.
Nedrebø noted that old letters and names of photographers on the back of photos often give clues to what part of the country or which town in Norway someone came from. Apart from letters, look for such as certificates, naturalization documents, deeds, diaries, notations in old Bibles or on newspaper clippings. You could even try your old silverware and see if it has dates or initials. The old Lutheran church in your American neighborhood might also give answers you are looking for.
If you do not find any information locally, you should try other sources in the United States first. In some cases, information from sources in your own country is required in order to do further research in Norway. Hundreds of books have been published with information that may be useful for the genealogist; biographies, family histories, historical accounts of special settlements, and books about Norwegian immigration in general. Many such books are published by the Norwegian-American Historical Association.
The archival sources primarily include the records of congregations and other church organizations, and the records of official agencies on the federal, state, county, city, and township level. Documents of interest include papers relating to immigration, naturalization, settlement, employment, and military service, as well as birth, marriage, and death certificates.
American libraries and archives are well equipped and have better connections with Norwegian libraries than before. They have old church book archives, data bases and other materials available. Most church and rural chronicles called bygdebøker "village books" are written in Norwegian, but you do not have to know the Norwegian language to look up names and dates. (Bygd is a topographical and usually also an administrative unit, like a township)
One place to find genealogy experts and historians to help you is Vesterheim Genealogical Center and Naeseth Library in Madison Wisconsin. The Center was founded in 1974 by Professor Gerhard B. Naesth, a scholar of Norwegian genealogy and immigration. The Center's aims are to respond to Norwegian and Norwegian-American genealogical inquiries, and to promote the study of Norwegian heritage. "Fylkesarkivet i Sogn og Fjordane" is only one example of a database this Center offers. In this particular database you will find an index of all the emigrants who left the county of Sogn og Fjordane in Norway.
The Director of Vesterheim Genealogical Center, Mr. Blaine Hedberg, tells News of Norway how his interested in tracing ancestors was sparked. "I think I got my interest in genealogy because I grew up without relatives and elderly people". In a way Mr. Hedberg was missed something. With a background in history and Scandinavian studies, he is now well prepared to help people who are tracing their familial roots. Together with three other genealogy experts, he serves around 1000 visitors every year. "Among the visitors we have received this year are citizens from Norway, Australia, Germany, Saudi Arabia and every single state of the US," Mr. Hedberg explains. He has been doing this for the past 15 years. One of the primary reasons for his dedication to the Center is the gratitude he derives from all the people he and his fellow researchers have been able to help. His mailbox is stuffed with thank you notes. "Right now we are putting together a book on early immigration from 1844 to 1846", says Mr. Hedberg with enthusiasm. The 500 page book is called Norwegian Immigrants to the United States,- a biographical directory, and will have a listing of 5000 emigrant names, detailing the ships from which the immigrants came on, their fellow travelers and their final destination. The 5000 figure is a close match with what the Norwegian government estimates as the actual number of emigrants that left Norway during that time period.
The Genealogical society of Utah in Salt Lake City is another library that could be of help. This library, operated by the church of Jesus Christ of latter-day Saints, houses microfilm copies of the principal genealogical records in Norway and other countries as well. More than 1,800 branches of this library are located all over the United States and in 51 other countries. They are open to all readers, not just to members of the Mormon Church. You could also try the Lutheran Church in Chicago, which have their own large emigrant Archives.
Good libraries to start your search at:
- Library of Congress in Washington DC
- Libraries at the University of Minnesota and Augsburg College in Minneapolis, Minnesota
- St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota
- The Memorial Library of the University of Wisconsin in Madison,
has the largest collection of Norwegian local histories in America.
- The Preus Library of Luther College in Decorah, Iowa has a remarkable collection of Norwegian-American newspapers, available on microfilm.
- The National Archives in Norway:
- Riksarkivet, Oslo
Phone: + 47 22-23-74-80
Fax: +47 22-23-74-89
- The Regional Archives:
- Statsarkivet i Oslo, for Østfold, Akershus and Oslo fylker.
Phone: +47 22-23-74-80
Fax: +47 22-23-74-89
- Statsarkivet i Kongsberg, for Buskerud, Vestfold and Telemark fylker.
Statsarkivet i Hamar, for Hedmark and Oppland fylker.
Phone: +47 62-52-36-42
- Statsarkivet i Kristiansand, for Aust -Agder and Vest-Agder fylker.
Phone: +47 38-02-55-11
Fax: +47 38 -02-04-11
- Statsarkivet i Stavanger, for Rogaland fylke.
Phone: +47 51-50-12-60
Fax: +47 51-50-12-90
- Statsarkivet i Bergen, for Hordaland (including the city of Bergen) and Sogn and Fjordane fylker.
Phone: + 47 55-31-50-70
Fax: +47 55-32-12-65
- Statsarkivet i Trondheim, for Møre og Romsdal, Sør- Trøndelag, Nord- Trøndelag and Nordland fylker.
Phone: +47 73 52 96 20
Fax: +47 73 51 69
- Statsarkivet i Tromsø, for Tromsø and finnmark fylker.
Phone: +47 77-67-66-11
Fax: +47 77-67-55-20
- Archives of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, }
8765 West Higgins Road, Chicago, IL 60631-4189
- Geneological Society of Utah
Family History Library, 35 North West Temple Street,
Salt Lake City, UT 84150
- Minnesota Historical Society, P.O. Box 16069
St. Paul, MN 55116-0069
- The National Archives
Washington, D.C. 20408
- The Norwegian -American Historical Association
Rølvåg Library of st. Olaf College,
Northfield, MN 55057
For full adress list in the leaflet " How to trace your ancestors in Norway", call or write to The Norwegian Information Service, 825 Third Avenue, 17th floor, New York, NY 10022. Phone: 1-212-421-0280 Fax:1-212-688-0554
Over 100 years ago, Norwegian immigrants wrote back to Norway about life in Vesterheim, their new western home in America. If you visit the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, Iowa, you can relive this immigrant history by seeing the carved furnishings, vibrant decorative arts, and traditional costumes of old Norway.
The museum also has a ship gallery three stories high, displaying ships that crossed the Atlantic with immigrants in the last century. With 15 historic buildings covering almost an entire square block in downtown Decorah, and a farmstead and country church just outside the city, Vesterheim is the most comprehensive museum in the United States dedicated to a single immigrant group.
For information, contact: Norwegian-American Museum 502 West Water Street, Decorah, IA 52101.
The foundation for the present Vesterheim Museum was laid at Luther College in 1877. In 1964 the museum became an independent non-profit corporation and now has members in all 50 states.
Folk Art Classes
Vesterheim and the Minnesota Museum of American Art jointly offer classes in Norwegian folk arts at the Landmark Center in downtown St. Paul. In January this Center will offer courses in Telemark rose painting (rosemaling), figure carving and incised line carving (Kolrosing).
The Vesterheim Museum also features its Handwork School and Academy. Next March this school will offer classes in rose painting, lettering, other painting techniques, weaving, Hardangersom (sewing), knitting, woodcarving, woodworking and knife-making. For information, call (319) 382-9681.