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Friday, February 23, 2024

‘Treasure chest’ for tracing roots

Data from the 1910 Norwegian census has recently been published by a new state genealogical website, making it easier for people to search for and find information on Norwegian relatives – a development described as a “treasure chest” by newspaper Aftenposten.

New data is also available on emigrants to the US, who returned to Norway. PHOTO: Nasjonal Biblioteket

Tracing family roots has recently become trendy in Norway, fueled in part by a new TV series on Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that searches the family backgrounds of various celebrities. Now the task may be simpler: Information on names, dates and places of birth, addresses, professions and other biographical markers of the 2.4 million people registered in Norway’s population surveys can be accessed for free at the archive’s website (external link).

Launched as part of the Digital Archives of the National Archival Services of Norway (NA), the services give invaluable information to researchers who previously could only rely on far less comprehensive 1900 census for data about the turn of the century.

The results have already been digested by a number of interested researchers. The register reveals that, between 1900 and 1910, life expectancy increased to 55.6 years for men and 58.4 years for women, and a greater number of people migrated to cities.

During the same period, around 30 percent of the 50,000 Swedes accounted for in 1900 had left Norway, thought to be an effect of the break-up of the union between the two countries in 1905. The census also gathered information on 19,000 Norwegians who had gone to and returned from the USA. They were obliged to record more details than the average Norwegian, including their place of residence in America.

One person found in the archives, according to Kristian Hunskaar of the NA when speaking to Aftenposten, “had traveled back and forth to America a total of seven times.” In addition, seafarers serving on vessels within Norway’s waters were recorded on their respective “ship lists” (which have since been lost), with craftsmen also having their own register. Mental institutions are not covered by the census, although prisoners are. The NA estimates that only 4,850 individuals are absent from the archives because of lost information.

Name change challenges
One key issue identified with the census is that it comes well before the 1923 laws on changing names, when names were much easier to alter. Yngve Nedrebø of the NA in Bergen, responsible for the digitization of the archives, illustrates the potential problems with this when looking for Einar Gerhardsen, Norway’s legendary post-war prime minister who is often described as the “father of the fatherland” (Landsfaderen). “If you search for Einar Gerhardsen, you will not find him,” Nedrebø told Aftenposten. “He was actually called Einar Olsen in 1910, the son of Gerhard Olsen.” He later changed his “Olsen” name to “Gerhardsen.”

Since 2002, teams of archivists have worked to transfer around 2.6 million personal entries from 450,000 household responses into a searchable online resource. The 100-year wait for publication can be attributed to a law passed in Norway in 1907, which forbade the release of personal information by the state for a century after it was gathered.

According to NA’s website, the 1910 census was the responsibility of either the mayor (in rural districts) or a magistrate (in urban areas). The surveys themselves were usually undertaken by school teachers, going from household to household in order to fill out “house lists” or “family lists.” “Area lists” were then compiled by each teacher, and finally collected together into a “main list” by the mayor or magistrate. Eventually, national statistics based on this fieldwork were published in seven booklets between 1912 and 1916.

Those interested in their Norwegian family heritage have a number of sources for finding further information, including the Norwegian Genealogical Society’s website at

Views and News from Norway/Aled-Dilwyn Fisher
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