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Norwegian Census Records

By John Føllesdal

The two most important sources used in Norwegian genealogy research are census records and church records. If our ancestors came from rural communities we can fairly quickly obtain a rough sketch of our family tree by using the bygdebok for the community that these ancestors lived in. (See my article on bygdebøker for more details). Once we have this rough sketch, we turn to census records and church records not only to verify the information in the bygdebok, but also to obtain additional information that may not have been included in the bygdebok. Census records allow us to cross-check the information that we obtain from the bygdebok and from church records: we can verify that we are tracing the correct family, that we have not overlooked a sibling, etc.

In this article I am using the term "census records" somewhat broadly in order to include three categories of documents: 1) skattemanntall (census records taken in connection with taxes); 2) manntall (census records usually taken for military purposes and which therefore only included males); and 3) folketelling (census records that included all persons, male and female). Given this rather broad definition, we find quite a few census records that we can use in our genealogy research. These records span a period of about four hundred years, starting with tax lists dating from the 1500's and ending with the folketelling in 1900. (The most recent census records, i.e., those gathered after 1900, have not been released to the public due to privacy laws). Some of the oldest census records have recently been placed on the Internet by the University of Bergen's Digitalarkivet (some parts are in Norwegian only).

The oldest census records - 1500's

The Norwegian national archives (Riksarkivet) has a collection of several tax lists that date from the mid- to late-1500's. This collection, which includes a property tax list dating from 1593-1594, is stored in about 200 boxes at Norwegian national archives. The collection has not been bound, but a two volume index has been created.

Tax-related and military-related census records from the 1600's

During the 1600's there were many censuses taken for tax purposes. The most important of these is probably the so-called Titus Bülches censuses collected in 1663 and 1666. Titus Bülches was a 23 year old who was appointed to the position of church kommissarius by the king in 1662. At his suggestion two parallel censuses were held, one by the priests and one by the fogder (baliffs). Originally these censuses only included males over the age of 12, but in the 1666 census younger boys were also included. The 1666 census, however, is not complete because many priests and baliffs did not do their job! Nevertheless, the Titus Bülches censuses are an important and quite extensive resource -- 57 volumes. The censuses did not include Finnmark, nor did they include cities. The Titus Bülches censuses are organized by farm, and have several columns. The first column contains the name of the gaard (farm) and the Landskyld (yearly lease payment for a farm). The second column contains the name of the Opsidderne (farmer), and the third column is for Sønner - the farmer's sons. The fourth column is called Tienestedrenge and contains the names of any male servants. The fifth column is called Huusmænd og Strandsittere - men who rented a cottage on the farm. Unfortunately there is some variation in the format depending on who wrote it. (The entire form is handwritten).

Other census records from the 1600's include the Koppskattmantallet from 1645/1646. It was named "Koppskatt" from the German word Kopf - head. It was, in other words, a tax on persons. This census included all rural districts, and we find not only farmers listed, but also their wives and children over the age of 15, as well as any servants. Unfortunately we often find that only the head of household is named, and not the wife and children. Finally, I should mention the censuses taken in connection with the Seksdalerskatt in 1647, the Femdalerskatt in 1655, and the Quægskatten (tax on cattle) in 1657/1658. These censuses vary in the amount of detail given.

The 1701 census (Manntall)

The 1701 census was collected in September, 1701, and covered all males, including male children above the age of one. (In northern Norway the census was collected in the spring of 1702). The census did not include cities nor did it include Finnmark. Unfortunately large portions of this census for Østlandet (eastern Norway) and Agder have been lost.

Other census records from the 1700's

There are several tax related census records from the 1700's, including censuses for the Extraskatten (extra tax) in 1743 and 1762, and for the Formueskatten (property tax/estate tax) in 1789. In addition, there was a census taken in 1711-1712 for the Skoskatt - a tax on shoes! As time permits I will provide translations for the column headings of these census records also

The 1801 census (Folketelling)

The 1801 census was taken on 01 February, 1801. It has been entered into a database at the University of Bergen, and you can search this database on the internet at 1801 census from the University of Bergen.

Census records from 1815, 1825, 1835, 1845, and 1855

The census records for 1815, 1825, 1835, 1845, and 1855 were statistical only, and did not contain names. There were a few areas, however, where names were included: the 1815 census, for example, included names for Christiania (Oslo), Bergen, and for Sande parish in Vestfold. The Norwegian National Archives has a created an online list of the few nominal census records (i.e., the ones that did include names), but this list is only available in Norwegian. You can, however, scroll down the list to see if the district or area that you are researching is included.

The 1865 census (Folketelling)

This census was taken on 31 December, 1865. The records for Gol in Hallingdal have, unfortunately,been lost. The census provides quite a bit of information: for farms we find not only the number of farm animals but also the size of the 1865 harvest. The census is in two parts: a Hovedliste (index) and the main census which was called the (Specialliste). In the cities, each property was listed on its own separate Specialliste, usually by the matrikkelnummer (property tax number). For rural areas, there was one Specialliste for each school district, and it included all of the farms within the school district. The Hovedliste is a summary or index that shows the number of people who live in a city or in a school district, etc. The Hovedliste gives a cross-reference to Specialliste, and is fairly easy to use.

The 1870 census (Folketelling)

This census was taken on 31 December, 1870, but only covered cities and seaports. The records for the following cities are missing: Hølen in Vestby, Hamar, Åsgårdsstrand, Stathelle, Kragerø, Farsund, Sandnes, Stavanger, Vardø, and Vadsø. There was one form for each property, however the forms were printed in each of the various cities, so there is some variation in the format. Furthermore, there is no index for these census records, so they can be time-consuming to research.

The 1875 census (Folketelling)

This census was taken on 31 December, 1875, and covers the entire country. Like the 1865 census, the 1875 census is in two parts, the Hovedliste (index) and the Specialliste. The Specialliste includes persons who were temporarily away, and the information contained with regards to these persons can give us clues as to where relatives were living. The 1875 census also included a census of sailors, with each vessel having its own list.

The 1885 census (Folketelling)

This census was taken on 31 December, 1885, but, like the 1870 census, it only covered cities and seaports. It did, however, also include Fredriksvern (a naval base at Stavern), as well as Vardø and Vadsø, Nesseby, Tana and South Varanger. Two different forms were used: one for Lapps,Kveins, Finns, and persons of mixed nationality, and another form for the rest of the population. There is one form for each building. There is an index for this census.

The 1891 census (Folketelling)

This census was taken on 01 January, 1891, and covers the entire country. This census used a somewhat complicated approach: a Personseddel (personal form) was completed for each person in a household. This information was then summarized in a Husliste (household list) which shows the head of the household and the number of persons in the particular household. The Hovedliste is an index to the Husliste. To use this census, you start with the Hovedliste and work your way to the Husliste (household list) that you are interested in, and from there you go to the Personseddel for each member of the household.

The 1900 census (Folketelling)

This census was taken on 03 December, 1900, and covers the entire country. The census consists of a Personliste where all persons in a household were listed, and a Hovedliste, i.e., an index to the Personliste.


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John Follesdal
Copyright 1996 - 1999
This page was created December 12, 1996
Last updated on December 23, 1999