Search billions of records on

Back to"Bygdebøker"

How to use a Norwegian "bygdebok"
in your genealogy research.

By John Follesdal

One of the most frequently used sources in Norwegian genealogy research is bygdebøker - local history books that contain a wealth of genealogy information. The word bygdebok is derived from two Norwegian words: bygd - a rural community, and bok - a book (the plural is bygdebøker). Bygdebøker have been published for several hundred rural communities in Norway, but not for cities such as Oslo, Bergen, or Trondheim.

Generally speaking, bygdebøker have a standard format: there is a chapter or two on the history of the community, often with information on archeological finds that date back to the viking age. A bygdebok will also contain a chapter on the churches in the bygd, as well as biographies of the priests that have served in the community. In addition, there is usually a chapter on commerce and banking, as well as a chapter on the schools in the bygd. Then we find the real "goodies": the chapters that give a chronological history of each farm in the community. Not all bygdebøker, however, are contained in one volume. You can find some bygdebøker that are 3 or 4 volumes. Nonetheless, the structure remains the same. (If there is more than one volume, the volume that contains the farm histories and the genealogy information is usually called something like "Gard og Ætt" - Farms and Families).

In preparing the histories of these farms, the authors have used a variety of sources: church records, census records, land transfer books, tax rolls, probate records, etc. Unfortunately, some of the bygdebok authors have filled in various gaps by resorting to pure speculation and imagination! In addition, there are typographical errors, as well as pure carelessness in copying information from the many records that were used in writing the books. A healthy skepticism is therefore called for when you read a bygdebok: you are dealing with a secondary source, and you will need to verify the information that you obtain by reviewing the original sources yourself. Having said that, I want to point out that a bygdebok is a very valuable source of genealogy information, in that it gives you a wealth of information that can easily be verified in the original sources.

Most of my experience with bygdebøker has centered on Nordfjord, on the west coast of Norway, where my paternal ancestors came from. (My maternal ancestors were from Oslo and Stavanger, and as I pointed out above, bygdebøker are not available for cities). I will therefore use a bygdebok from Nordfjord for this article: Eid og Hornindal by Edvard Os, published in 1953. This bygdebok is an updated version of Volume 2 of Jacob Aaland's five volume set Nordfjord Frå Gamle Dagar Til No, published in 1909. It is 595 pages long, so I will obviously not go over the entire book in detail. Instead I will only make a few brief comments before turning to the chapters that cover farm histories.

The title of this book is Eid og Hornindal, which immediately tells us that it covers two separate communities: Eid and Hornindal. These are today separate "kommuner" (rural municipalities / townships), as well as two separate parishes. In the middle ages, however, Eid was one prestegjeld (parish), and it covered a much larger area than Eid kommune does today. In fact, Eid prestegjeld (parish) consisted of six sokn (subparishes): Eid, Hornindal, Stårheim, Ålfot, Davik, and Rugstund. In 1740 the three latter subparishes were separated out and became one parish called Davik parish. 125 years later, in 1865, Hornindal was also separated out from Eid parish and became its own parish. Thus we have today's situation: Eid is a kommune (a governmental unit), and for religious purposes it is a parish that consists of two subparishes: Eid and Stårheim. Hornindal is also a kommune (a governmental unit) which for religious purposes is one parish, which is called Hornindal parish. The bygdebok Eid og Hornindal covers these two communities.

While we are on the subject of parishes and subparishes, let me explain the difference between these two terms: in the old days it was difficult to travel long distances to get to church, and as a result many a prestegjeld (parish) would build more than one church. Each of these churches had their own menighet (congregation) and each such church was referred to as a sokn - a subparish. Each sokn usually had its own priest, who was called a sokneprest.

The bygdebok Eid og Hornindal follows the standard bygdebok format: Part 1 of the book (175 pages) gives a history of Eid and Hornindal and includes chapters on the various churches, schools, etc. in these two communities. There are several photographs in this part of the book, including one that shows Lake Hornindal -- the deepest lake in Europe (514 meters - 1,686 feet).

Part II of the book covers the farm histories. These histories vary in length depending on how large the farms were. We will take a look at the entries for two farms: the Føllesdal farm, which is covered in just over one page, and the Hanebrekke farm, which is covered in about 2 ½ pages. (There are a few farms that have longer entries. These were somewhat larger farms and therefore had more families living on them. The structure of these longer entries, however, is the same as the entries for the small farms).

One of the first things to keep in mind is that these farms were not the large farms that we are familiar with from the American mid-west: most of these Norwegian farms had been subdivided into several smaller farms called bruk, each of which was 5 to 15 acres in size. Each bruk belonged to a different family, and these families survived by growing a few crops, raising a few animals, fishing, and logging timber. This was "subsistence farming" -- barely getting by, struggling to feed the family, and listening to stories that were circulating in the community about 160 acres of land that could be had for free in America. And you were wondering why your ancestor left Norway! The various bruk at a farm were each numbered (for tax purposes), and often a bruk would have its own name in addition to the name of the larger farm that it was part of. Some of my ancestors, for example, lived at bruk number 3 at the Hanebrekke farm. This bruk was called "Hansgarden", but the farm name that my ancestors used was Hanebrekke. There were seven bruk at the Hanebrekke farm, and some (but not all) of the families living on these bruk were related to each other.

Let's now turn to the page from the Eid og Hornindal bygdebok which covers the Føllesdal farm. (To save loading time for your web browser I have typed the information in as text rather than uploading a picture of the page as a huge .gif or .jpg file). This page is a typical bygdebok entry for a farm, and it has several parts. The first part is a history of the farm. This is followed by a chronological listing of the owners of bruk number 1 and bruk number 2. (There were two bruk at the Føllesdal farm). I have listed the last few owners of bruk number 2 in red so that we can take a closer look at these owners.

93. Føllesdal

Føllesdal er nemd for fyrste gong i 1602, er ventelig bureist frå Havsås før den tida. I 1608 er g. kalla Fylesdal, i jordbøkene Føllesdal. Bygdefolket kallar g. for Bergehola el. berre Hola.

I 1626 vart landssk. 1 l. i 1838 3. skdl. 1 ort 19 skill. og er no 3,91 skmk. I 1626 seier jordboka at det var "en ganske ringe jord og ligger tildals." G. var apostelgods og skifte eigarar ned gjennom tidene i lag med anna apostelg. i bygda. I 1726 kjøpte presten P. R. Finde g. på auk. etter Sev. Svanenhjelm. I 1820 kjøpte N. Leganger av presten Cl. Finde. Det var eitt bruk til 1608, seinare to jamstore bruk. Det er likt til at det var to brør som skifte g. mellom seg i 1608. I det 17. og 18. hundreåret var det jamt smått for brukarane. Dei var utarma og g. skifte tidt brukarar. Sume tider ligg det eine br. øyde, sume tider driv same mannen båe br.

Br. nr. 1

Berge, br. heile g. 1602.
Siurd Bergeson br. halva 1608.
Ivar "arm husmand", br. 1633.
Enkja Eli, br. 1666.
Torgeir, br. 1672.
Isak, br. 1687.
Ola, br. 1695. Etter 1700 same br. som på nr. 2.
Jacob Salmundson, br. 1703, bygsla 1/2 l. 1720. Br. hadde då lege øyde nokre år.
Hans Jørgenson, br. 1750, gm. Ingeborg Kristoffersd. Rafshol.
Nils Guttormsen bygsla i 1766.
Rasmus Hansson bygsla i 1787, br. 1793, gm. Anne Kristensd. d. 1799.
Ola Olson Orh. bygsla 1794, d. 65 å. g. 1825, gm. 1) Anne enkja etter Rasm. 2) Ingerid Olsd. Rafshol, d. 52 å. g. 1820.
Rasmus Olson, br. 1829, gm. Ragnhild Larsd. Heggja.
Samuel Jørgenson, gm. Synneve, fosterd. til Rasmus Olson.
Rasmus Samuelson, gm. Brite Andersd. Sørland.
Sivert Knutson Sth. f. 1875, k. 1893, gm. Brite enkja etter Rasmus.
Samuel Rasmusson, sk. 1921, selde att til
Sivert K. Sth. sk. 1922. Han flytte frå og selde til
Ingebrigt Skinlo, f. 1883, sk. 1925, gm. Malene, f. 1884
Jacob Ingebrigtson, f. 1921, sk. 1950

Br. nr. 2.

Jon Bergeson, br. 1608, jfr. br. nr. 1.
Anders, br. 1633. Han var "arm".
Jacob, f. 1622, br. 1646, gm. Marte nemnd i 1646. Versonen
Abel Samuelson, f. 1650, bygsla 1672 både br. nr. 1 og 2 er det likt til. G. hadde då lege øyde ei tid.
Jacob Abelson, f. 1684, bygsla 1/2 l. av fru C. Kås i 1704.
Eirik Andersson gjekk frå br. av armod i 1746.
Anders Simenson bygsla 1746.
Ola Hallsteinson bygsla 1750.
Torgeir Arneson bygsla 1761, d. 1764, gm. Synnøve Andersd. d. 89 å. g. 1819.
Steffen Pederson, br. 1780, d. 80 å. g. 1825, gm. Magdeli (Magnhild) Olsd. d. 82 å. g. 1828.
Martinus Torgeirson bygsla av Cl. Finde i 1803, gm. 1) Oline Steffensd. d. 48 å. g. 1831, 2) Ågåte Rasmusd. Hjl.
Daniel Olson Lid bygsla 1832, d. 90 å. g. 1897, gm. 1) Johanne Knutsd. Myrold, 2) Malene Pedersd. d. 87 å. g. 1891. Versonen
Jon Jonson Hanebr. sk. 1910, d. 80 å. g. 1923, gm. Eline Danielsd. d. 72 å. g. 1915.
Daniel Jonson Føllesdal, lærar, sk. 1910, d. 54 å. g. 1923, gm. Berte Sørensen, d. 66 å. g. 1937. Sonen Alv, f. 1903, lærar i Remedalen, gm. Pernille Vassbotn. Sonen
Magne, f. 1902, sk. 1930, lærar og klokkar i Sth. gm. Jofrid Kristiansd. Høynes, f. 1910, jfr. Orheim br. nr. 8, selde til

Kristian Rise f. 1882. Han kjøpte br. til son sin, men har sjølv vore br. frå 1940.
Iver Kristianson Rise f. 1933, sk. 1940.

Well, what does all of this mean? In case you missed it, my section on Bygdebøker includes a "Norwegian - English dictionary for Bygdebøker" that I have written for you to use when you read the bygdebok for the community that your ancestors lived in. For this tutorial I will translate the first part of this farm history for you (I have added a few brief explanations in parenthesis):

93. Føllesdal

Føllesdal is mentioned the first time in 1602, and was probably separated out from Havsås farm before then. In 1608 the farm was called Fylesdal, but in the written records of ownership is was called Føllesdal. People in the bygd call it Bergehola or just Hola.

In 1626 the yearly fee for leasing the land was 1 laup (an old measurement). In 1838 it was 3 skylddalar, 1 ort 19 skilling (old currencies) and it is now 3.91 skyldmark (old currencies). In 1626 the register of land ownership says that it was "a small farm up in the valley." The farm was originally part of the land that was owned by the Apostel Church in Bergen and changed ownership down through the ages as did the other land that was originally owned by the Apostel Church. In 1726 the priest P. R. Finde purchased the farm at from Sev. Svanenhjelm at an auction. In 1820 N. Leganger purchased it from the priest Cl. Finde. The farm was one bruk until 1608, and after that it was two equally large bruk. It appears that two brothers divided the farm between themselves in 1608. In the 17th and 18th centuries it was difficult for the farmers on this farm. They were impoverished and the farm frequently changed ownership. At times one of the bruk would lay abandoned, and at other times the same person would farm both of the bruk.

This historical background is certainly interesting, but my great, great, great grandfather, Daniel Olson Lid, did not arrive on this farm until 1832, when he acquired bruk number 2 at the Føllesdal farm. So why should I care about the history of the farm before that time? Well, my last name is Føllesdal, and thus the entire history of this farm is certainly interesting to me! As I point out in my article "Norwegian Naming Practices", many families adopted the name of their farm as their surname when fixed surnames began to be used by Norwegian farmers in the latter part of the 19th century. This was the case with my great grandparents. (Other families started using a patronymic name, such as Sørenson or Anderson, as their fixed family name).

Now we can take a look at the portion of the farm history that I put in red letters and see what we can find out. Here is the translation of that portion:

Martinus Torgeirson bygsla av Cl. Finde i 1803, gm. 1) Oline Steffensd. d. 48 å. g. 1831, 2) Ågåte Rasmusd. Hjl.
Daniel Olson Lid acquired the bruk in 1832, died 90 years old in 1897, married 1st time with Johanne Knutsd. Myrold, 2nd time with Malene Pedersd. who died 87 years old in 1891. Their son in law
Jon Jonson Hanebr. acquired ownership in 1910, died 80 years old in 1923, married with Eline Danielsd. who died 72 years old in 1915.
Daniel Jonson Føllesdal, teacher, acquired ownership in 1910, died 54 years old in 1923, married with Berte Sørensen, who died 66 years old in 1937. Their son Alv, born 1903, was a teacher in Remedalen, married with Pernille Vassbotn. Another of their sons
Magne, born 1902, became owner in 1930. He was a teacher and parish clerk in Stårheim. Married with Jofrid Kristiansdatter Høynes, born 1910, see Orheim farm, bruk number 8. He sold to

Kristian Rise born 1882....................

Daniel Jonson Føllesdal and his wife Berte Sørensen were my great grandparents. Their son, Magne -- the brother of my grandfather -- inherited the Føllesdal farm in 1930, but he sold it in 1940, and the ownership of the farm passed out of my family. When I was a child I met "Onkel Magne", and he took me out fishing on the fjord where I caught several fish! Although he has now passed away, his widow, Jofrid, is in great shape, and two years ago I stayed with her during a genealogy trip to Nordfjord. But back to my great grandparents, Daniel and Berte.

The first thing to notice is that Berte's last name is listed as Sørensen, not Sørensdatter. In my article "Norwegian Naming Practices" I have mentioned that by the late 1800's the patronymic naming system was disappearing in Norway. Were it not for this change that brought about fixed surnames, Berte Sørensen would have been called Berte Sørensdatter and the farm where she was from would have been added to this. While some families began using their farm name as their fixed surnames, others, like Berte's family, used a patronymic name (like Sørensen) as their fixed surname. This change means that the bygdebok does not tell us where Berte Sørensen came from. We must therefore use other sources, such as church records, to find out where she came from.

The second thing to notice is that Daniel Jonson, my great grandfather, acquired ownership of the farm in 1910. However, the bygdebok also says that his father, Jon Jonson, acquired ownership of the farm in 1910. Here the bygdebok is wrong: Daniel's father, Jon Jonson, actually acquired ownership of the farm in July, 1869. Jon Jonson retired from farming in 1910, and transferred ownership of the farm to his son, Daniel. A good example of misprints /carelessness in a bygdebok! (This error was readily apparent when I checked the original sources, including the property tax records). You should also notice that Daniel died in 1923, but his son, Magne, did not become the owner until 1930. There is a 7 year gap in the ownership here, and this is because the property was in probate.

Let us turn to Daniel's father, Jon Jonson. We can see that he is identified as Jon Jonson Hanebr.
If we look through the index of the farms in the bygdebok we find that there is a nearby farm called Hanebrekke, and that is where Jon Jonson came from. (Hanebr. is an abbreviation for Hanebrekke) His wife is listed as Eline Danielsd. (an abbreviation for Danielsdatter). Authors of bygdebøker do not usually spell out the fact that a person is the child of the previous owner: this is implied in the layout. We can therefore safely guess that Eline was the daughter of Daniel Olson Lid, and that she inherited the farm from her father. This leaves us with two small problems: 1) we should never guess or rely on implications when we do genealogy research; and 2) Daniel Olson Lid is listed as having married twice, and we cannot tell if Eline was a child of the first marriage or the second marriage. The solution is very simple: We have to check the original sources -- the microfilmed probate records and Church records. In these records we immediately find the answer. It is very easy to look up because the bygdebok has told us what year to look at!

I mentioned that Jon Jonson is identified as "Jon Jonson Hanebr.", and that "Hanebr." is an abbreviation for the nearby farm called "Hanebrekke". In order to trace his ancestors we have to turn to the page that covers the Hanebrekke farm. Here we find the same information as we did for the Føllesdal farm: a history of the farm, followed by a chronological list of the owners. Since we have already seen what a farm history looks like I will not include that portion of the Hanebrekke entry here. Instead I will only include information on Jon Jonson Hanebrekke's ancestors:

Bruk nr. 3.
Jon Isakson Mørkeset, sk. 1743, d. 85 å.g. 1796, gm. 1) Anne Eiriksd. Hanebr. d. 1762, 2) Anne Pedersd. Hundeide, d. 85 å.g. 1782.
Hans Jonson sk. 1762, d. 71 å.g. 1817, gm. Lisbet Olsd. Hanebr. d. 1800.
Eirik Hansson, sk. 1789, vart funnen d. i fjæra på Havsåsneset 61 å.g. 1824, gm. Oline Didriksd. Naustdal.
Anders Kasperson Hjelle, br. 1824-39, var med i fyrste formannskapet i Eid, gm. Oline enkja etter Eirik
Jon Eirikson, sk. 1824, br. 1839, d. 86 å. g. 1889, gm. Kristi Arentsd. Hjelle, d. 87 å.g. 1886

Arent Jonson, sk. 1860..................

Here is the translation of this portion:

Bruk nr. 3.
Jon Isakson Mørkeset, acquired the bruk in 1743, died 85 years old in 1796, married 1st time with Anne Eiriksd. Hanebr. who died in 1762, married 2nd time with Anne Pedersd. Hundeide, who died 85 years old in 1782.
Hans Jonson acquired the bruk in 1762, died 71 years old in 1817, married with Lisbet Olsd. Hanebr. who died in 1800.
Eirik Hansson, acquired the bruk in 1789, he was found dead in the tide waters at Havsåsneset 61 years old in 1824. He was married with Oline Didriksd. Naustdal.
Anders Kasperson Hjelle, farmed the bruk 1824-39, and was a member of the first town council in Eid, married with Oline the widow of Eirik
Jon Eirikson, acquired the bruk in 1824, and began farming the bruk in 1839, he died 86 years old in 1889, married with Kristi Arentsd. Hjelle, who died 87 years old in 1886

Arent Jonson, acquired the bruk in 1860..................

As you recall, we turned to the Hanebrekke farm because we found that Jon Jonson at the Føllesdal farm was listed as having come from this farm. As we look at the 2 ½ pages that cover the Hanebrekke farm we find seven bruk, each of which has a long list of owners going back to the 1640's or so. Now we have a problem: we have to guess which of the seven bruk at the Hanebrekke farm Jon Jonson came from and who his father was. (Such guessing, however, is perfectly acceptable, because we will verify our guesses by looking at the original sources -- church records, etc.).

The patronymic naming system helps us out a great deal: we know that Jon Jonson's father was named Jon. Therefore we have to look for that first name in the right time frame, i.e., we are looking for a Jon Somebody who could have been Jon Jonson's father. Fortunately we find that there is only one Jon who was living at the Hanebrekke farm during the time frame that we are looking at - Jon Eirikson. We can therefore guess that this is Jon Jonson's father. If there were two or three men with that first name, and therefore two or three different candidates that could have been Jon's father, we would have to use other sources, such as church records, to find out who Jon Jonson's father was. But that really doesn't matter, since we will use church records and probate records in any case to verify the information from the bygdebok. Notice, however, that the information given in the bygdebok allows us to quickly zero in on one person and with that information we can scroll to the right page in the microfilms of the church records and probate records to verify that Jon Eirikson was in fact the father of Jon Jonson.

We can also see that Jon Eirikson's mother, Oline, married again shortly after the death of her first husband, Eirik Hanson. Jon, however, inherited the farm when his father died, and thus Oline's second husband did not become an owner of the farm. Jon was what we call an "odelsgutt" -- the oldest surviving son -- and he therefore had the legal right to inherit the farm. (If there were no sons, the oldest surviving daughter would have this legal right and she would be called an "odelsjente"). We can also see that as an adult, Jon Eirikson married Kristi Arentsd. Hjelle. If we look in the index of the farms in this bygdebok we find that Hjelle is a nearby farm. We can use the entry for the Hjelle farm to trace Kristi's ancestors in the same way that we traced Jon Jonson's ancestors at the Hanebrekke farm.

If we look at the information on Eirik Hanson (Jon Eiriksons's father), we can see that he drowned in 1824 at the age of 61. We can therefore figure out that he was born in 1763. His father, Hans Jonson, is listed as having died at age 71 in 1817, which would mean that his father was born in 1746. This is quite interesting! If Hans Jonson was born in 1746 he would have been 17 years old when he became the father of Eirik Hanson in 1763. While this is certainly possible, it should raise a red flag for us. I am quite sure that it would have caused more than the raising of a red flag in 1763! Fortunately we can (and should) turn to the microfilmed churchbook to verify this information. There we find the priest's handwritten entry when Hans was baptised -- not in 1746 but in 1743. The bygdebok is wrong again!

By now you might be wondering if you should even use bygdebøker, given the many errors that are found in these books. The answer is a resounding yes! Keep in mind that we started a few minutes ago with my great grandparents, Daniel Jonson Føllesdal (1869 - 1923) and his wife Berte Sørensen (1871 - 1937). Now we are getting a red flag over the date of birth of Daniel's ancestor, Hans Jonson (1743 - 1817). We have moved back four generations in just a few minutes, and the red flag can quickly be dealt with by turning to a microfilm of the churchbook. (Most of these microfilms are available at LDS Family History Centers).

In conclusion we can say that bygdebøker are a very valuable resource for Norwegian genealogy research. There are typographical errors, as well as pure carelessness in copying information from the many records that were used by the authors of these books. As I mentioned earlier, a healthy skepticism is called for when you read a bygdebok: you are dealing with a secondary source, and you will need to verify the information that you obtain by reviewing the original sources yourself. A bygdebok should be treated as a roadmap or a rough draft of your family tree. In almost all instances you will find that the information in the book is correct. When there is an error, you will quickly discover it as you go about verifying the information in the original sources.

This short tutorial is one of several items in my section on bygdebøker. You can print out a copy of this tutorial as well as the Norwegian - English bygdebok dictionary for your own use. (I hold the copyright to these, but you have my permission to print out a copy for your own personal use). You will also find a brief article on how you can obtain a bygdebok by Inter Library Loan. Within a few weeks you too could be reading the bygdebok for the community where you ancestors lived!

© John Follesdal, 1997, 1998

Back to"Bygdebøker"