Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Friday, April 23, 2010

Who Do You Think You Are? Tonight!

Tonight is the next to last episode of the season, and it stars Susan Sarandon.  I believe she will trace her family history to Italy.  It is should be as exciting as the previous episodes, so be sure and catch it.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Part 2 of Researching Norwegian Ancestors: The Basics of Online Parish Registers

When it comes to researching your Norwegian ancestor, the good news is you are very lucky.  In fact, there are a multitude of genealogy sources available, much of it can be found online, and your ancestor is as good as found -- so long as you have some basic information, that is.  Now on to the good stuff! To start you on your journey to the past, I will focus on the Lutheran parish registers, since this is where you are likely to do most of your research.

For a long time in Norway, there were no birth, marriage, or death certificates; there were only parish registers (ministerialbok) to record these life events.  Some parish registers go back to the 1600's, but most go back to the 1700's.  There are also duplicate books called klokkerbok.  My understanding is that due to possible destruction from fire, duplicate registers were kept in separate locations.  I am very thankful for this because of the following reasons: 1) I have had to research the duplicate registers before due to no available "official" parish book; 2) the duplicate register has sometimes had the person I was searching for in the "official book" where he was missing -- parish priests did make mistakes and forget entries; 3) sometimes when a record is illegible in the official book, I have found it easier to read it in the duplicate book; and 4) in some cases, I have found extra information in the duplicate register.  So keep duplicate registers in mind as you pursue your research.  But the overall take-home message is that there is ample opportunity to discover your ancestor and perhaps several generations before him.  The online site to view these registers is at .

You will need some basic information before you can start your search, so I will tell you what is vital.  The first thing you need to know is the fylke or county your ancestor was from -- no easy task for some.  However, if you have the essential name and a decent idea about year of birth, there is a good chance to find your ancestor in one of the census databases available (1801, 1865, 1875 [not complete online], and 1900), which will pinpoint the county and parish for you.  (I will explain census searches in another post.)

Assuming you know where your ancestor was from, you can now search for the parish and the right book.  Next, start going through the digitized pages until you find your ancestor.  The information in each book can vary somewhat, but generally for baptisms there is the date of birth, date of baptism, child's name, parents' names, parents' ages, place of residence, and witnesses.  The parish priest would also record whether the child was born in or out of wedlock. 

The Basic Anatomy of the Digitalarkivet Parish Record Site (you may click on the pictures to enlarge)

  Go to ; if it loads in Norwegian, click on "English" at the top right of the menu on the Digitized Parish Registers page.  Now note the search fields to the left.


Click on the county selection button, and you will get a menu of all the counties.


Next, select the type of register you want.

Pick your parish.
Choose the record book of interest by the year you wish to search.
Start searching the names, keeping in mind what I said about naming practices in Norway here.  The menu bar at the top allows you to search page by page or skip 5 pages or 20.
Find the record you want?  Note the source!  Click on "Image Information," then click "On Top."
The "source" and "permanent pagelink" now appear at the top.  NOTE: When emailing a link of a record to someone, DO NOT email the site address that appears on your browser.  It will NOT work.  Instead, copy and paste the "permanent pagelink" that appears above the record, as seen here.  You can also send the "permanent imagelink."  Save these links for your source notations.  Now you may also click on "PDF" found at the top right of the menu.
You will be able to download a high resolution PDF of your record with the source noted on top.  You can zoom in and out easily for clear viewing.  I love the PDF feature!

This concludes the lesson on the basics of using Norwegian parish records from .

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Researching Norwegian Ancestors: What's the Deal with those Norwegian Names?

I enjoy reading genealogy forum discussions because I often learn tricks of the trade from the answers that are posted.  But there is one question that crops up regularly that really needs addressing on a wider scope.  It goes something like this: I am researching the surname Hansen in Norway.  My great-grandfather Johan Hansen came to America in 1880, and I would like to learn more about the Hansen name in Norway.  This person has obviously just started looking into his/her Norwegian family history and has no idea how names work in Norway.

Norway used a patronymic naming system until the Family Name Act was passed in 1923 .  From this point forward, a patronymic name was "fixed" and passed down, or some chose the current farm of residence as a final surname.  I should point out, however, that in some areas of Norway, or in certain families, fixed surnames started a bit earlier -- generally, the turn of the 20th century.  But before I go further, let me backtrack and discuss the issue of surnames before the law came into play. 

The truth is surnames did not truly exist.  Norwegian baptismal records, for example, only have the child's first or first and second names inscribed.  The next column on the record contains the name of the parents, which tells you how the child will go through life explaining who he is: I am Kristian, son of Olaus.  In Norwegian this is Kristian Olausen.  Kristian's son Johan will be Johan Kristiansen, and Johan's son Peder will be Peder Johansen.  Get the picture?  If the person is female, she would say: I am Hanna Marie, daughter of Anders... or Hanna Andersdatter. 

Now let's take this to the next level for more confusion.  Many names in Norway are extremely common, and even in a small town there may be several Kristian Olausens.  Kristian would, therefore, have to add the farm where he lived to explain who he was: I am Kristian, son of Olaus, who lives in Jordbaerhaugen farm... or Kristian Olausen Jordbaerhaugen.  As you may imagine, this practice can make you pull your hair out because sometimes the farm is used as a surname and sometimes it is the patronymic name, and worst of all, your ancestors may change "surnames" several times because they may move from farm to farm over the course of their lives.  For example, my great-great grandfather was Olaus Christensen Haugen when he was born but later became Olaus Christensen Jordbaerhaugen when he moved to Jordbaerhaugen farm.

Long-story-short, your ancestor who came to "Amerika" would have "frozen" his name a lot earlier due to lack of a patronymic system in the U.S.  He may have used his father's name with "sen" or "son" as his surname to pass down from that point on, or many preferred the farm of their last residence.  A woman would have traded "datter" for "sen" such as in Hanna Andersen rather than Andersdatter.  The good news is that this confusing system can provide some solid starting points to finding ancestors in Norway if you learn how to work the system.  A farm name can be traced easily in Norway, though there may be many with the same name.  In the case of a patronymic name, you know the father's name, so when you find the record of your ancestor and his/her father's first name matches the surname, it is one more item of proof to convince you this is the right person. 

Of course, when tracing back to Norway, it is essential to start with what you know now and move back.  Interview your family, go through your pictures, document everything.  It is much easier to find your Norwegian ancestors if you can attain a location in Norway to start, which will then point you to the right parish records  -- yes, Lutheran parish records are where your family history is located for the most part, along with census records.  Online national census records for 1801, 1865, 1875 (not complete), and 1900 may be the best place to look for someone if you are unsure of location.  Census records may be found at the Digitalarkivet site or The Norwegian Historical Data Center .  If you are a novice, you may find the latter site a bit easier to handle, but I often find more information using the Digitalarkivet site.  There are parish records also available in database search format at the Norwegian Historical Data Center and may also be easier for an initial search if your parish and year of need is available.  Otherwise, the Digitalarkivet site is much more complete, and if you want to see the original record, then this is the site you want.  Since many records in Asker Parish are available using the NHDC site, I search there first because it is easier, and I then go to the Digitalarkivet site to look up the original record.  But chances are you will have records you can't find with NHDC, and so yes, you will need to look for the record at the Digitalarkivet site page by page until you find it.  If you know the dates to search, or can guesstimate, then it is not too hard, so long as you have some patience.

One last piece of advice: when searching ancestors you will have to be creative with name spellings.  Most names can be spelled several ways and will vary from record to record for the same person; this is the only real "chaos" I find with the wonderful legacy of records Norway has left for us and made available FOR FREE online.  Ellen might be Elen; Birgitta could be Birgitte, Bergitte, Bergitta, Bergaetha; Christen or Kristen or Chresten or Xten (not kidding); Jon or John or Johan... you get the picture.  The same goes for farm names.  Some of this comes from Norway's Danish and Swedish influences.  "Kristian" is a Norwegian spelling, but "Christian" comes from the Danish influence.  The use of "Ch" could be from the period when Norway was part of the Danish kingdom, or perhaps the parish vicar was educated during the Danish period.  And sometimes there just is no explanation for the spelling differences except that it was written as the person thought it should based on his perception of phonetics.  In any case, you will soon find you can think of many creative ways to spell a name when searching the census records, for example.  On another note, when searching for ancestors who came to "Amerika" the same rules apply, except names were changed to sound and look more American -- so keep this in mind.

Finally, we come to the end of this lesson in Norwegian names.  So happy name hunting!

Oh, I forgot one piece of trivia: Do you know which country today still uses a patronymic naming system?.............................................................. Iceland!

I am providing two links below for two more articles that may be helpful when researching ancestors in Norway.

Part 2 of Researching Norwegian Ancestors: The Basics of Online Parish Registers

Finding Ancestors with DIS Gravminner -- A Grave Database

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Wordless Wednesday -- Carmelo Di Bennardo

Carmelo Di Bennardo (b. 186? - d. ?).  My great-grandfather from Palagonia, Sicily.  Parents are most likely Vincenzo Di Bennardo (ABT. 1831 - ?) and Maria Blandini (1835 - ?), both from Palagonia and married in 1855.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Ancestor Approved Award -- Yay!

Linda McCauley of the blog Documenting the Details awarded me with the Ancestor Approved Award, and I am really happy about it.  Thanks Linda! 

As a recipient of this award, I am to list 10 things I have learned about my ancestors that have surprised, humbled or thrilled me and then pass the award on to 10 other genealogy bloggers I feel are doing their ancestors proud.  So here goes...

1) I thought my father was the first one in my direct line to come to America, but I discovered a ggg-grandmother who became a Mormon and moved to Utah in 1875.  She is buried in Salt Lake City.
2) I thought my family was strictly Lutheran on my father's side or Catholic on my mother's side.  However, on my father's side, my ggg-grandmother (above) and three of her children converted to Mormonism.  Another ggg-grandmother became a Methodist along with her husband, my ggg-grandfather.  Their son was baptized in the Methodist church, which explained why I was banging my head against the wall trying to find his birth/christening record.
3) One of my sets of ggg-grandparents was actually from Sweden!  I had always thought I was Norwegian and Italian, but I am also Swedish -- an exciting find.

4) My Italian grandfather had a sad childhood, living in a religious boarding school after his mother died.  It is obvious as I have read his diary that he missed his family terribly.
5) My Italian g-grandmother was unable to divorce her abusive husband because of the Catholic church and their rules.  She had to "live in sin" with my g-grandfather for the rest of her life, and each of their 5 children had to have the surname that belonged to her legal husband.  My g-grandfather would pay her husband a bribe so he could put his name on the birth certificate rather than see his own name -- so sad.
6) My ancestors worked hard.  My Norwegian ancestors took to the seas on long journeys, were loggers on the Glomma river, and farmers, too.  The women bore many children, and life could be harsh, cold, and unforgiving at times.


7) I found American descendants of my great-grandfather's brother Christen who went to North Dakota in 1905.  One of Christen's daughters was still alive, and I was able to get some pictures and information.
8) I found descendants of my great-grandfather's other brother, Nils, who ended up in Canada.  From them I also received pictures and information.
9) I have made several connections with relatives in Norway I had not been aware of before.  From them I attained information and fantastic pictures of ancestors vital to my search and journey of discovery into the past.
10) My parents went to Salt Lake City and met descendants of my Mormon branch.  They received valuable information, stories, pictures etc... from them.  They also went to the Family History Library and found some documents.  My mother may have even found my Italian great-great grandparents' wedding record, which also mentions their parents!

I could go on with so many other thrilling moments of discovery, but this is where I must stop and name 10 blogs that I feel deserve this award, too.  Now, this is really hard because I love all the blogs I follow. 

1) Herstoryan
2) Slekt og Slikt
3) A Multitude of Sens
4) Nordic Blue
5) Ginisology
6) Are You My Cousin?
7) Swedish Thoughts
8) A Tale of Two Ancestors
9) Lessons from my Ancestors
10) Kinfolk News

Happy reading and blogging!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Istituto San Francesco di Sales -- My Grandfather Vincenzo's School Life

As I have posted previously, my Italian grandfather lost his mother as a young boy and was sent to a religious boarding school.  In 1915 and 1916, when he was 15 years old, he kept a diary during the school year at the Salesian school -- Sacro Cuore -- in San Gregorio, Catania, Sicily.  It is a true gift to have such a wonderful testament to his life at the time.  The diary spans his entire school year, almost 100 years ago, and gives light to a boy with a great talent for writing, his emotions, and the stories he witnessed. 

I have been slowly reading and savoring the diary, a task that is a bit difficult because of his old style Italian language and old-fashioned handwriting; and I'm fluent in Italian!  Even my native-born mother has difficulty reading it.  But together we are transcribing it into a computerized document, and I plan to also translate it into English. 

One thing I have learned is that prior to the school in San Gregorio, where he was located while writing the diary, he was at another Salesian school in Catania -- the Istituto San Francesco di Sales.  I googled the school, and, in fact, the school temporarily closed down from 1915 to the end of WWI because it served as a hospital for the wounded -- hence the reason he went to Sacro Cuore in San Gregorio.  My grandfather does describe in his diary a visit to his old school and the wounded he saw there.  But what is really fascinating to me is that the school Web site has some old photographs of students during the year 1914 BEFORE it was turned into a hospital.  I can't help wonder if my grandfather is among the students in the pictures.  Following are pictures I obtained from the school Web site here.

Historic picture of the San Francesco di Sales school in Catania.

Students from the year 1914 (above and below).  Is my grandfather among them? Probably.