Norway's history is filled with stories of fierce Viking warriors that occupied the country and also explored and settled other countries like Greenland, Iceland and Newfoundland in North America. Although Norway is just bigger than New Mexico, its extensive coastline defines the sea lane and still makes it an important Scandinavian port.During the early thirteenth century under King Haakon IV Haakonson, Norway also controlled the Orkneys, Hebrides and Shetlands Islands, Isle of Man, Faroes, Greenland, Iceland and part of Sweden, making it a strong political force in Europe. However, Norway took a serious blow during the fourteenth century when the Bubonic Plague swept through Europe. Due to the resulting poverty and loss of population, Norway aligned itself with Denmark, lasting through 1814, as well as with Sweden, a tense union that lasted through 1905 when Norway finally became independent.
Those with Norwegian ancestors could easily discover branches of the family that were from any of the Norwegian or Viking territories if enough records exist that go back to medieval Norway. Most of these records would be through the church, which kept birth and death records for the local parish, and many still survive today. Norwegians began coming to America in 1825 when a small sloop, the Restauration, sailed to New York with 53 passengers. Additional Norwegian immigrants began arriving regularly after 1836, prompted by several Norwegians who sailed back to Norway to report their findings. Often, a genealogy search begins with the Norwegian ancestors who moved to America.
Researching your Norwegian ancestry should begin at home with any family documentation you can find. This could include birth, death and marriage dates, names of ancestors and even the first generation who lived in America. The last relatives you can document should be your starting point for delving into your family's past that probably extends over an ocean to Norway.
Luckily for family researchers, the big Norwegian exodus didn't really begin until the 1840s. Between 1840 and 1865, 80,000 Norwegians had emigrated to America, most coming from inner western and eastern parts of Norway. The second big wave of immigration occurred between 1880 and 1893, with over 18,000 people leaving per year. The final wave of immigration occurred between 1900 and 1910, although Norwegians continued to come in large number through the 1930s.
Initially, many of the Norwegian immigrants, nicknamed "Sloopers" in reference to the type of boat used in the first voyages, settled in Kendall Township in western New York. During the 1830s, many of these Norwegians started a westward movement, and the Norwegian settlement in Fox River, Illinois, was founded. Once the waves of Norwegian immigrants began arriving, many joined the Norwegian communities in New York and Illinois, but it also prompted another move west into Wisconsin. Although Norwegians continued to settle in Minnesota, Iowa and then the Dakota Territory in the 1870s, Wisconsin remains the Norwegian hub of the upper mid-west and is a good place to begin a genealogy search.
Beginning in the U.S., there are many genealogy resources that could feature Norwegian immigrant information. Census records date back to the 1800s when many Norwegians were entering the country and would have participated in the census. These will name the head of household, as well as anyone else living in the household, including children, spouse and relatives. Naturalization, immigration and passenger records are also vital tools that can be searched locally and online to discover when your ancestors arrived in the U.S. and from where in Norway they came.
Once you discover (unless you already know) what town your ancestors come from in Norway, you can take your search to Norway and search their vital records. There are many genealogy sites that have indexed international vital records, including Norway, to make your search easier and not requiring a trip overseas. Norway's digital archives offers an online searchable database containing parish registers dating back to 1920, along with marriage records and census records going back to 1801. Other sites offer baptism, birth, burial and marriage records dating back to the 1600s in Norway. Vital records can also be searched, although only historical vital records in Norway are available to the public. Many after 1920 have restricted access due to sensitive information not being suitable for public consumption.
Discovering your Norwegian ancestry is much easier today with so many vital records, immigration and naturalization records and military records being digitized and placed in online databases for the public to access. Although your search may take you across the Atlantic and north to Norway, you can learn much about your family's history from the comfort of your home computer, although visiting the land of your ancestors could be a fun and enlightening adventure.
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