Norway Social Life and Customs

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To be effective in family history research, it is often helpful to understand the society your ancestor lived in. Learning about everyday life, religious practices, customs, and traditions will help you appreciate your ancestor and often give you ideas for research. Those that might affect your research strategy include mortality rates, life spans, apprenticeship customs, and courting and marriage customs that affected illegitimacy rates.

The infant mortality rate was high in most areas of Norway before the 20th century.

See the article Bunad for information on women and customs.

The article can be found in the "Tidsskrift for den Norske legeforening". This is unfortunately in Norwegian. Adults had a shorter life span than they do today, so it is necessary to search the death records in order to get a complete picture of a family.

About the time of confirmation (between the ages of 14 and 20), young people often left home to earn their own living or to prepare themselves to do so. A young man may have signed a contract for a five-year apprenticeship to learn a trade such as shoe making, barrel making, or rope making. A young woman may have become a servant in a well-to-do household or lived with relatives to learn housekeeping.

Norwegian marriage customs go back hundreds of years and have been changed very little by outside influences. For a long time, most of the population followed the custom that marriages took place in private. Therefore, when a young couple and their families had agreed to the marriage, they and the community around them considered them as if married. Because of this custom, the birth of the first child often occurred soon after the marriage was formalized in the church.

The birth of illegitimate children was not uncommon. In many cases, a promise of marriage had been made or the father may have died before the formal marriage could take place.

The Family History Libraryhas some sources that explain social life and customs in Norway. Most are in Norwegian. They are listed in the Place search of the FamilySearch Catalog under:




A good book describing many aspects of Norwegian social life and customs is:

Of Norwegian Ways, Bent Vanberg, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA: Dillon Press, 1970. (FHL book 948.1 H6v).

Scandinavian Folklore

Norwegian periodicals are a particularly good source of information about social life and customs. For more information, see the "Periodicals" section.

The bygdebok discussed in the "Genealogy" section describes the local customs in the various parts of Norway. Also see the "Periodicals" and "Societies" sections.