Norway Farm Books
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Introduction[edit | edit source]
In addition to wonderful parish registers Norway has a very special source called Bygdebøker, or farm books. They are books filled with detailed local history and tremendous genealogical information. Authors have used numerous sources: parish registers, census, probate, tax records, land and court records, and interviews with local residents in preparing the histories. Some of the information given predates the parish registers. These books can be a real treasure for family historians, and others looking for their ancestors. A great portion of the Norwegian population does not live in big cities. They live in small towns and villages called bygd. The bygdebøker give us information about the people living on the farms in these communities, and a history of the communities.
Background[edit | edit source]
The writing of bygdebøker started in earnest at the beginning of 1900 by well respected historians like Oscar Albert Johnsson, Yngvar Nielsen and Edvard Bull d.e., and very skilled amateurs like Lorens Berg, Ivar Kleiven, and Jacob Aaland. As a result of a 1906 initiative by Den norske historiske forening (The Norwegian Historical Association) a grand plan for a farm book project was created, which laid the groundwork and pattern for a systematic work for promoting both farm and family history, city and municipality, region and parish histories. During the following years, curricula were created and classes taught throughout the country. The projects are funded (40 million Kr. per year) by the local kommuner or municipalities and private donors.
The periodical Heimen, was published by Landslaget for bygde-og byhistorie, with the purpose of encouraging and supporting the work of writing quality histories. In 1982 the name was changed to Landslaget for lokalhistorie. In 1955 the Parliament (Stortinget) established the Norsk lokalhistorisk institutt (NLI), a state run organization which, on a permanent basis, could encourage and guide the professional undertaking of writing the history of the community, city, and region.
How to Use Farm Books[edit | edit source]
Finding ancestors in the Norwegian farm books online - Research tutorial at FamilySearch
In order to use farm books you need to have the name of a parish and farm. The farm books are organized by farms. There are no farm books written for major cities like Oslo, Bergen, Trondheim, Stavanger, etc. If you have an ancestor with non-patronymic surname (first name of father and adding –sen, or -datter) it could be a farm name. Surnames like Kleven, Lie, Melleby, Storhaug, Vang, Åsen are taken from the name of a farm. Many Norwegians emigrating from Norway assumed their farm name as their last name, which can be very helpful later in locating an ancestor’s place of residence in Norway. Prior to 1910 when the first law regulating surnames was passed, farm names indicated a person's residence, and were not surnames.
Each municipality or parish can have farm books covering many volumes. As a general rule the first volumes cover the earliest history of the area. The next volumes can cover social history, schools and education, emigration, church and ecclesiastical history, agriculture and farm history. There is usually something written about the various plagues, illnesses, crop failures, famines, and other difficult circumstances our ancestors had to overcome in order to survive.
There are significant differences in content and arrangement of the farm books. Many are very thorough, and try to cover as many persons as possible on the farms down to the humblest servant, while others only cover the farm owners and their families. Some parishes have multiple volumes covering the farms and people. It is important to remember farm books are a secondary sources, and any information in them should be verified using primary sources such as church, land, and court records. Even in books where is it evident the author has been very thorough and careful, there can be errors.
The later volumes then cover the farms and people living on the farms and in the communities. In these volumes you will find the families living on the farms throughout the years. You will find the earliest person identified in the records as living on the farm. Sometimes they are only identified by their given name. That person's information may have been found in tax records predating parish registers. Often times the farm owner's names will be in bold face type making them easier to find. Subsequent generations will follow in chronological order. Sometimes descendants will be listed up to the date of the book's publication. As a general rule only the farm owner and the sons who take over property in the parish will have detailed information about their families. Usually, there will be information on most people, giving their names, years of birth and death, year of marriage and name of spouse. If the family moved in or out of the parish there could be references to where they came from or went. If an individual moved to the United States, frequently that will be indicated by the phrase, til Amerkia (to America). Most books have some kind of index.
In addition to names, dates, and places, farm books give a peek into the traditions, superstitions, faith, and everyday lives of the people in the community. You might find information on relationships between neighbors; there were often legal disputes with regards to property boundaries, inheritance problems and drinking brawls. There might be an article about the emigration from the parish, often with a list of parishioners leaving for North America (or other places), and information about where they settled. Some books also include excerpt from letters written home to family from overseas and pictures of the emigrants and their new homesteads.
The Family History Library (FHL) in Salt Lake City has a large collection of bygdebøker. A complete list of holdings can be found on the FamilySearch Catalog. Materials are only available for use in the library. FamilySearch has a private indexing project underway to extract information from these books and publish the indexed data online as part of the Community Trees project. A list of what has been published can be found at Community Trees Project, Norway.
A guide to the Arne G. Brekke Bygdebok Collection in the Elwyn B. Robinson Department of Special Collections, Chester Fritz Library, University of North Dakota, is available online. The collection does not circulate, but one can contact the Department of Special Collections for assistance to obtain information from the bygdebøker.