Norwegian Genealogy: How To Find Your Ancestors

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A farm in western Norway, c.1890

Thanks to a new historical population registry, it’s never been easier to research your own Norwegian family heritage.

I know many of our regular readers are Norwegian Americans with relatives who left Norway several generations ago. I also know many have struggled to trace their ancestors.

Norwegian genealogy

Genealogy is the study of families, family history, and the tracing of their lineages. There are difficulties in researching genealogy in a different country, not least the language barrier and seeking out paper records.

Now, a new genealogical research project should make it easier to access information.

The Norwegian Computing Center has been working on the registry for six years. Norway's Arctic University is managing the project with several partners, with finances from the Research Council of Norway.

Various sources collected together

During the period 1800 to 1964, 9.2 million people lived in Norway.

Historic photo from Kløvtveit, Gulen, Norway approximately 1890

Several sources have been used to compile an overview of Norwegian lives throughout this period. They include censuses, parish registries and emigration records. The goal is to eventually have all deceased Norwegians entered in the register.

Information about a person and their close family members is linked. The ultimate aim is to be able to trace the population for up to seven generations. Living individuals are not included in the registry for privacy reasons.

Read more: A Brief History of Norway

The general public can access a lot of information for free, but only researchers have access to sensitive health information. It is hoped that researchers will be able to use information to find answers to historical questions such as the spread of disease and social/geographic mortality.

Open access to historic research

The results of the project should greatly simplify research for hobby genealogists. Access to the new registry is free for anyone searching for information on relatives.

Information such as dates and places of births, baptisms, confirmations, marriages and deaths should be instantly available. But! A word of warning first…

Historic Norway archive photo of a small village

It won’t be possible to find everyone who lived during the period covered by the research project. At least, not yet.

All Norwegians born before the 1910 census are included. After that, inclusion varies by location. Obituaries from Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten between 1950 and 2000 have also been included.

Local historians in rural areas have been the more frequent contributors to the digitization of old parish registries. The cities are a bit behind, according to the project team.

Head on over to histreg.no to get started with your own research, or read on for more information.

The challenges of collating ancestral records

The Norwegian Computing Centre ran into many challenges in the project, even when information was available. Making sense of old handwritten documents was top of the list.

Handwritten Kaupanger parish records, Norway genealogy
Example handwritten records from Kaupanger. Photo: Marianne Herfindal Johannessen / National Archives.

To digitise the documents and records, the centre turned to artificial intelligence. Although there were plenty of humans involved, too! Fifty data analysts, mathematicians and statisticians played a part.

Read more: Artificial Intelligence in Norway

The team use handwriting recognition software to interpret names and dates. Such programs used to recognise single characters, but today’s software is much more advanced and much faster.

Strong interest from international researchers

Health records, which will only be made available to researchers, are already turning up interesting information. For example, researchers recently revealed that a hereditary form of breast cancer spread from Rogaland to Lofoten through fishermen who travelled there to work.

Researchers will only be given access for specific requests. All applications will first require approval from the ethics committees.

But it’s not just Norwegian health researchers interested in the project. Genealogical researchers from around the globe are interested in the register.

Norway is further along the process of gathering such information into a central database than many other countries. Several international researchers are volunteering for the project to learn more about the process.

For Pinterest:

Norwegian Genealogy: How to find your ancestors from Norway

About David Nikel

Originally from the UK, David now lives in Trondheim and was the original founder of Life in Norway back in 2011. He now works as a professional writer on all things Scandinavia.

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27 thoughts on “Norwegian Genealogy: How To Find Your Ancestors”

  1. This will be a great benefit to those North Americans with 4th and 5th great grandparents from Norway. However, some of us carry enough genetic material to be equivalent to one great grandparent, while the ancestors most likely to be carrying this material came from geographic regions that were Norwegian colonies a thousand years ago, such as Dublin. Is there any chance that specific genetic variants will be associated with familial lineages? Remarkably, I have DNA matches to people living today in Western Norway.

  2. My paternal grandmother, from Hedmark, emigrated to the US in 1904. Despite the dates suggested in the article, she does not appear in the database.

  3. Hello David

    I wonder if you can help with a general enquiry, I live in Scotland but originally from Ireland and my grandfather emergrated there from Stavanger in 1865. I have trace his siblings in Norway to the turn of 5be century however that’s where it stops, I have no idea if they might ha emergrated to American. Are there any records that I can access to find out more and do you know of any forum or websites that I could use to post a message to trace any living relatives.

    Kind Regards Sean

  4. My brothers and I have the last name of Aune and were told by our parents long ago that theThose name means wasteland because of the plague sweeping through a part of Norway. Those farmers who moved back into the area then picked up that name. Can your studies support that argument, or is it myth?
    Thank you!

    • I was told that when the Aune family came to America they changed their name to Nygaard. My great grandfather dropped the extra a and now it’s Nygard. Nygard means new farmer.

  5. I am having problems tracing Aase Helene Fosse, from Alversund, near Bergen, born probably in Bergen.
    Can you help?

  6. Oh wow ! have just come across this site. I did try to research the Evensen family tree some years back but got stuck especially trying to read handwritten documents. I learned that records were going to be digitalised so thought I might wait a while. This site has given me a renewed enthusiasm.
    The Evensen’s came from the Oslo area. i have been to Norway twice. Once hiking and driving around the fjords and then once cycling the Lofoten Islands. I live in the UK so maybe I should book a flight to Oslo sometime.
    If anyone wants to share info about Evensens from the Oslo area would love to hear from you.
    Thank you.

    • Hi Sally, I have tried to work on genealogy for my family tree. My great grandfather was an Evenson but he was born in USA. His wife was from Norway and maiden name of Skogerbo, either from Stavanger or Trondheim, and she came to the USA late 1800’s, I believe, but still researching.

  7. Hi I am searchng for my great grandfather Charles Thompson who was born in Norway 1876/7. All I know is that he married in Yorkshire UK in 1897 as a Boatman and is on the 1901 cns as being born in Norway BS. I have no idea what this BS means first of all and where can I trace him on birth records, it says his father is Thomas Thompson a publican on his marriage certificate. Many thanks in advance. Cathy

  8. Hi David,
    I was adopted at birth. My daughter found my birth family in about 2010. Mom was from Greenville, SC and my dad (they never married) was from Milwaukee, WI. I took my DNA test and it shows that I am 48% Norwegian. I was shocked, as from being from South Carolina, I never even considered that. I found out that my birth dad’s family was mostly German and some came from the Netherlands. The 1910 Census did show on my dad’s side, that my great grandmother, Mary Julia Peterson was born in 1871/1872 in Wisconsin. But, it also showed on the same 1910 Census, where her parents were born in Norway, so that is where my Norwegian comes from, I assume. I have not had any luck finding her parents. I have looked all over the internet and family trees, etc, but no luck. I am missing something, but don’t know what and where else to look. I am thinking, after reading your page, that the spelling changed, but again, I don’t where or what to look for. I sure hope you can help me, as this is so important to me. Thanking you in advance. Susan

  9. When my Dad was born, his family name was Karlson. The family moved to a property that supposedly had a beaver dam on it and they subsequently changed their name to Bjordammen. I have been told that is Norwegian for beaver dam. Any legitimacy to this tale?

  10. I received a published book of Stormoen househods in U.S in 1983. It listed 42 households.
    My husband was Ralph David Stormoen
    son of Arthur Sydney Stormoen. I am interested in any research ideas or available information.

  11. I visited Trondhiem two years ago and there is a plaque in remembrance of all the people who immigrated to the USA. It shows their name and the year they left Norway.

    • Wow, that is the first time I have heard of that plaque, so thank you for sharing this information. I wonder if there are photos of the plaque showing how far back those records go, and how current the most recent postings are!

  12. I’m attempting to trace my family lineage and have managed to trace back all the way to the Viking raids on France and England, however I can’t seem to locate the original area my family comes from. Spelling variants include Riddle, Riddel, Riddell and Ridell (Not as common). If you can help me please reply or email.

  13. Hi,
    I’m trying to locate Joseph Alexander Wilkin, born around 1832-36 in Bergen, Norway. Father Joseph.
    He immigrated to New Zealand between 1851-1864.
    Had no luck with ancestry sites.
    Are you able to help.
    Thankyou, Dawn

    • What kind of information are you looking for Dawn? If you have account on Myheritage, you will find some information regarding this name.


  14. Hi I am looking to find some information regarding my great grandmother who was born in Norway in 1904 and my grandmother who was born in 1922 and they both moved to England in 1924. We have no information where they lived in Norway. I can not find any emigration records , birth certificate or any information for either, I have found a marriage certificate from 1926 in Yorkshire and it has my great grandmothers father named as John Johnsen ??? who worked as a farm labourer. Any ideas where I can go from here. Had no luck on any genealogy sites.

  15. Hi:
    I am trying to trace my family in Norway. My grandmother was Signe Kanutte Annie Sleipnes, from Rødøy, Norway, born May 8th, 1896. My great grandmother was Johanne Marie Sleipnes, born Sept. 30th, 1865 and great grandfather, Ludvig Johan Lorentsen, Oct. 2nd, 1874.
    I’m trying to trace it back as far as I can.

  16. David Nikel
    Hi. Do you know of a paid service that can search for information about a relative born in Norway in the late 1800s? I do not speak much Norwegian, so it would be nice to hire a service to find the relative information.

  17. Hello David,
    Is there an English version of the histreg.no website at all, or a similar one you would recommend?
    I’m sorry but I don’t read Norwegian and would really like to use a site like that to search for my Norwegian ancestors.
    My paternal grandmother was from one of those Johnson families that dead ends before the immigrant is defined. The earliest in the line is Hans Albert Johnson born in 1860 supposedly in Wisconsin, so I am assuming his father was the immigrant (but there are no records of his parents I could find). How do you suggest I go about trying to find his family records in Norway?


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