Thursday, May 15, 2014

Treasure Chest Thursday - My first foray into Norway

I was lucky enough a couple years ago to attend a class for Norwegian genealogy research at the local Family History Expo taught by Jan Sjavik, a Norwegian native who teaches Norwegian at the University of Washington. The class was awesome, full of real examples of how to use the records, and great explanations of how to use the Norwegian digital archives website. I've been a total Johnny-come-lately in getting around to making my first real attempt at original Norwegian research, but a week or so ago, I thought I'd give it a shot and see what I could find.

I've written before about getting some help in searching these archives, so I kind of knew how to go through them, I'd just never made the attempt on my own before. But I knew from Prof. Sjavik's class that the best and most reliable records for Norwegian research are the parish registers, and that all available registers have been digitized and made available online for free by the Norwegian national archives (pretty sweet deal, huh?). However, there aren't indexes for these records yet, so you have to know what parish your people came from, and then search the registers manually. Some of them are broken down by year and event type (baptism, burial, banns, etc), and some of them are just everything together in one book. Based on my previous research, I knew that my Bergstad ancestors came from Voss parish in Evanger, Hordaland county. So I decided to take a family I had some info on that I'd found in Ancestral File years and years ago when I was first starting out, but hadn't confirmed with actual records yet, and went in search of information to confirm or refute that info.

I started with the family of Johannes Sjursen Bergstad, my fourth-great-grandfather, who was supposedly born in 1777. He and his wife Brytteva Johannesdatter Horvei were the parents of 10 children:
Marita, Sjur (my ancestor), Johannes (who died as an baby), Johannes (they reused the name), Niels, Anna, Olav, Anders, Ivar, and Dordei. According to my info, Marita was born in 1803 and Dordei was born in 1820, so they had kids in pretty rapid-fire succession. Much moreso than me, I must say, with only 3 kids to show for 9 years of marriage. I figured I'd start with the patriarch, Johannes Sjursen, and see what I could find for him. I pulled up the Voss parish register book for 1777, went to the births, and started going through the entries one by one. I don't read or speak Norwegian, but I can recognize names, and I hoped that would be enough. Turns out, it was!

With some help from the Norway Genealogy Research group on Facebook, I confirmed that this was indeed my ancestor, who was baptized on the 21st Sunday after Trinity, or October 19, 1777. No actual birth date was given, but it does give his parents' names as Siur Nielsen and Mairtta Johannesdatter Bergstad, which was exactly what I have in my files. The names of the witnesses were interesting too - Knud Biørge, Knud Andersen Herveij, Niels Siursen Wasenden, Anna Biørge and Brita Andersdatter Bergstadnæs. I'm still not sure if or how Bergstadnæs is related to my Bergstad family, but I would tend to think so. That's something I still need to research. But boy was I excited by all this info! I had actually done original research, and found what I was looking for! I thought, if I could find him, why not look for all his children as well? So I did. 

I learned a couple things right away from finding all these records. First, the research I found on Ancestral file was very, very accurate. The only details that were wrong were Olav's name was actually Ole, Dordei was Durdei, and the first son Johannes died in February 1809 and not 1808. But everything else was spot on. That made finding these records a lot easier, and my confidence in the data grew with each record found. 

Another thing that stood out to me was the names of the witnesses for these baptisms. Some of the witnesses were from families whose surnames I recognized - Bergstad obviously, but Flantzaas (spelled Flansas in my files) and Horvei are both families that married into the Bergstads. There were many I didn't recognize, but kept seeing over and over again, especially Biørge. I wonder if there isn't a family connection there, maybe cousins or in-laws or something. 

I was also interested in how rare the name Johannes was, comparatively speaking. I thought it would be tough finding my Johannes, given how common the name John is in English speaking countries, but it actually turned out to be pretty rare. It made finding the birth records a lot easier, as the records all start with the name of the father, and I learned to skim the page for the father's name and just search for Johannes. 

All in all, I was pleasantly surprised at how easily the search for Johannes' family was concluded, and how I was able to put the family together so quickly. I now have baptism dates for all of his kids, and exact birth dates for a few of them. Plus there's just something magical about seeing a two hundred-year old record in a foreign language, with the name of your ancestor in it, and you're one of only a few family members to see that record since it was written. I am really looking forward to finding more of my relatives in these records, and maybe (hopefully) learning how to read more than just the names.