Anne M - I can be contacted through the email listed in the Norway DNA project, see link below.
DNA testing can verify traditional genealogical research
All Norwegian original records are available for free at the Norwegian Digital Archives
Norwegian Family Names: Norwegian names are sometimes difficult to understand, as hereditary surnames were not usually used. Except for the bourgeoisie in the cities and some civil servant families, almost all Norwegians were farmers, and used a three-part naming system:
Understanding the Norwegian Naming Practice
A lot has been written about this before, and for those who are not familiar with how Norwegian names work, I will refer to a few very good websites to study. Having good knowledge about this system is necessary to do Norwegian genealogy.
Recommended reading for all Norwegian-Americans:
How to enter names in a collaborative genealogy database
Being a Norwegian genealogist I come across a huge number of ways for how people enter Norwegian names in a genealogical database. If a collaborative database is going to work, a common practice is called for.
The Surname field in software and online sites
The surname field has some special characteristics:
For a patronymic this is not relevant - not until the name is frozen into a patronym-derived last name, from 1850 to 1923, or upon emigration.
Farm names are the closest to surnames
Norwegians have three names, given, patronymic and farm name. It is the farm name that is closest to a hereditary surname, and this is the name that should be put in the "last name" field on genealogical websites.
a farm name:
If you put the patronymic in the last name field, it will generate a lot of useless "surname pages". A patronymic never behaves like a surname. The farm names on the other hand are quite similar to how a surname functions, with one main exception: it is an address name, which means it changes when people move. All farm names for a person should thus be listed: birth farm name as primary/in last name field, all subsequent farm names as alternative names, with dates if possible.
The only exceptions
There are only a few groups of people who did not have farm names:
How to enter names:
But I've always entered the patronymic in the surname field?
In your private genealogy software, you will of course enter names just as you wish, to make your family file as practical for your own purposes as possible. However, now you know reasons why it could be a good idea to gradually change your practice. For collaborative databases online (Geni, MyHeritage, WeRelate, WikiTree etc) it is however essential to use the farm names whenever possible.
There will be thousands of Ole Andersens in a Norwegian genealogy database, and easy to be confused about who is who. If you have Ole Andersen Sukkestad, Ole Andersson Selboskar, and Ole Andersen Stedje, you know so much more. You really do not want to add just half the data about a person, right? We want our genealogical information to be as complete as possible, and always adding the farm names is necessary.
There is never a farm name in the records I have
The farm name will often be implied as can the patronymic be. Everyone knew that if you referred to Ingrid Sollien, it meant that she lived at Sollien, and if she was referred to as Ingrid Knutsdotter she was the daughter of Knut. Sometimes people would use one, sometimes the other, depending on the setting. Typical christening records list the child with given name(s) only, then the father with given name and patronymic, and the mother with given name and patronymic and the (common) farm name last.
But where do I find the farm name then?
In a census (1801, 1865, 1900), people are listed under the farm they live at, with their given names and patronymics in the name fields. You then find the farm name on top of the forms, as each page is sorted by farm. The farm name is implied.
In parish records for christenings, marriages and burials you find the farm name either listed as address, or as name together with given name and (most probably) patronymic.
Genealogy is a constant work in progress, and my own database and GEDCOMs I have uploaded here are not perfect. I keep editing and correcting when I have the time. Don't we all?
Today we perceive Sigurd, Sivert, Sjur and Syver as different names. Originally these were just variants of each other, all derived from Sigurd (Old Norse Sigurdr), and the actual name used/pronunciation chosen would depend a lot on the local dialect.
If you wish to learn more about this, study name etymology. A good first name dictionary is necessary.
Set spelling is a very modern invention, and for names entered in any original record before 1900 we have to be aware that it was not the people themselves who entered the name, they would say it, and the minister/office clerk/census data collector would write it down - the way he perceived it. Thus the spelling of the name of one and the same person could vary a lot between all records that exist. Jon, Joen, John could refer to the same person.
Language normalization is actually a subject at university, and you will find that almost all authors of bygdebøker (bygdebooks) have used normalized spelling of the names, based on the local practice in the area. It basically means using the standard common official spelling of a name in our database, to ease comparison and finding duplicates, and avoiding wrong matches.
Why should I spell the name differently from what I find in the source?
Records were not written by the people themselves - they were written by civil servants, mostly the clergy, who were Danish or who had their education from Copenhagen - and wrote Danish. The spelling would be chosen by whoever wrote it down, and not the people themselves.
The same person could in various records from Sogn og Fjordane have been entered as:
The normalized version in this case would be Sjur: this is the name form that people in this area used, and it is still a popular name today. In other areas the common form could be another.
This means that for this family in Sogn, we should enter "Sjur" as given name, "Sjursson" or "Sjursdotter" as patronymic (in the given name field) in the farm name in the "surname" field as usual. The actual spelling from the parish records, census records, probates etc, should be entered exactly the way it is found in the record for each entry, when we describe the source.
The actual name fields should have:
As for which name variant is the best, local knowledge is essential. Read local history books and talk to local genealogists.
Farm names should normally be written according to their normalized form, typically the one used in O. Rygh: Norske gaardnavne. Some families today who use a farm name as family name use a different spelling, and it is natural to add these under their actual spelling of the name for family members born after 1850-1923, depending on what actual sources exist for that spelling.
More about the Norwegian language here.
Some common misunderstandings
"My ancestors changed their name"
No - they were referred to by another farm name because they moved, or they chose a surname (their patronymic or a farm name from their history) when immigrating to a country with hereditary surnames (like the US)
"The people who wrote the books could not spell"
No - there were no set spellings, that is a very modern invention. Most people could not write nor read, and had few opinions about how their names should be spelled. When they said their names it was up to the minister or civil servant to write it down the way they perceived it. There would be a lot of individual variation and preferences. Thus the same person could be listed with numerous varieties in the records during a life-span, depending on who wrote down the name.
Unfortunately there is a lot of dubious "genealogy" out there with unsourced or even mythological origin - this should not be included in the WeRelate tree.
For everyone working with Norwegian lines and trying to connect to kings and vikings - or any famous person born before 1600 - please read the following article by Lars Løberg (member of Adelsprosjektet, on the board of Norsk Slektshistorisk Forening, supervisor at Volda College GEnealogy studies etc).