24 February 2012

Norwegian Names

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:
  • First name: all given names
  • Patronymic: Olsdatter, Sveinsson, Nilsen etc, showing the given name of their father (note that women would never have a male patronymic)
  • Farm name: the name of the farm where they were born or lived - this would change when people moved, but is the name that can best be used to find a person's origin 


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:

Some dates

  • before 1850: traditional system of given name, patronymic and farm name
  • 1850-1923: gradual change starting in cities moving towards hereditary last names - circumspection must be used to judge what is more correct in this phase, especially for those who moved from their farms to towns
  • 1923-1965: Norwegian Names Act: everyone had to take a hereditary last name. Children would have their father's last name. Women would use their husband's name
  • 1965: Women could again keep their name (as before/tradition) and children could use either parents' last name, typically both (one as middle name)

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.

Some terms

  • Given name: all given names. (Unlike the US, additional given names are not "middle" names in Norway; a middle name here is either a patronymic or an additional family last name.)
  • Patronymic: a descriptive name telling us the first name of the person's father
  • Surname: a hereditary last name normally inherited from one's father, that can be used to follow a paternal line back in time, shared by the whole family
  • Last name: a surname or other last name used by an individual
  • Farm name: an "address" telling us on which farm the person lived. Over 90 % of Norway's population lived on farms/in rural areas in 1801 (number based on census 1801)
  • Legal name: Before the Names Act in 1923, this was the given name(s), but patronymic and farm name were not part of the legal name, they were descriptive names. After 1923 this is the given name(s) and a last name.

The Surname field in software and online sites

The surname field has some special characteristics:
  • It automatically generates Surname pages, where one can enter, edit and use information about that particular surname.
  • There will be Surname Lists (index) which can be used in searches and to see who is related.
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 surname:
  • can be used to follow genealogical lines over generations
  • is the same for a family
  • can be studied to find out more about family origin and should have a surname page on websites
a patronymic:
  • is different for mother father and child
  • cannot be used to trace generations - new name for each generation
  • cannot be studied to find out more about family origins and should not have a surname page anywhere
a farm name:
  • can be used to follow genealogical lines over generations
  • is the same for parent-child
  • can be studied to find out more about family origins and should have a farm name page (i.e. surname page) on websites
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:
  • Families with hereditary surnames: typically immigrants to Norway 1500-1800 from Holland, Germany, Denmark, clergy, civil servants
  • Some northern fishermen families who lived in cottages with no farm name
  • Travellers/romani
  • Craftsmen, labourers and their families who did only stay in one place a short time, and made a living travelling to get work, moving from farm to farm

How to enter names:

  • "First Name" field: All given names and the patronymic
  • "Last Name" field: Farm name at birth, or the earliest one you know - the fact that you do not know the farm name does not mean there is no farm name - search sources to find out
  • Alternative Names: All later farm names, with a description and/or timeline/event for when/why etc 


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.

My database

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?

Spelling variants

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:
  • Sivert
  • Syver
  • Siur
  • Sjur
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), and 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:
  • original name at birth
  • normalized spelling (remember Æ æ Ø ø Å å - copy/paste from here if you do not have a Norwegian keyboard)
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 Oluf 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.

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 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 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.

08 August 2011

mtDNA tests

There are a lot of people getting interested in Genetic Genealogy: using DNA to find out about ancestry - but it is not always easy to find basic information about what these tests can do.

mtDNA: What can I test and where?
There are several testing companies, but they offer very different tests, on different levels, at different prices. Make sure you look around and ask people to get the best offers.

The mitochondria consist of 16569 SNPs that can be tested. Typically these are tested in three steps: (from Family Tree DNA’s FAQ)

Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) has two major parts, the control region and the coding region.

The control region is often called the hypervariable region (HVR). Hypervariable means fast changing. In mitochondrial DNA, the control region is the fast changing part. The control region may be further divided into two Hypervariable regions, HVR1 and HVR2.

* HVR1 runs from nucleotide 16001 to nucleotide 16569.
* HVR2 runs from nucleotide 00001 to nucleotide 00574.

The coding region (CR) is the part of your mtDNA genome that contains genes. Because it does contain some genes, the coding region is believed to be slower mutating than the control region. Often, it is the mutations that are found in the coding region that are used to define haplogroups.

* The coding region runs from nucleotide 00575 to nucleotide 16000.

The only complete test that will assign you with certainty to your haplogroup and subgroup is a Full Sequence test. This is offered by Family Tree DNA ($299 or less) and Genebase ($528).

The reason for this is that a lot of (but not all) of the mutations that define the different subgroups are placed in the Coding Region, which is only analysed in a Full Sequence test (FMS, FGS, "Mega").

It is possible to buy the complete test at once, or to do it step-wise and upgrade. If you are most interested in the deep ancestry and anthropology of your group, a HVR1 level test will find that. For genealogical purposes it is almost always necessary to do a Full Sequence test, FMS.

What about 23andMe?
This company offers one type of test only, which include an analysis of about 2500-3000 SNPs on the mitochondria. This will often be enough to find out haplogroup and a few subgroups, but it is not a complete test, and it does not easily compare with tests from other companies, as the SNPs tested are spread over the mtDNA. If you already have an mtDNA-test from 23andMe, only the Full Sequence at FTDNA (all 16569 SNPs) will be useful to learn more. 

Timeframe for Matches

HVR1 only:
The common direct maternal ancestor could have lived up to 50 000 years ago.

HVR1 + HVR2:
The common direct maternal ancestor could have lived many thousand years ago

FMS/Full Sequence test:
The common direct maternal ancestor could have lived from recently to about 3000 years ago.

Consequently: to use mtDNA for genealogical purposes, the FMS test is usually necessary.

Prices at Family Tree DNA (edited):
* HVR1 "mtDNA": not offered after May 2013
* HVR1 + HVR2 "mtDNA Plus": $49
* FMS ("Mega") - the Full Sequence of the mitochondria: $299 or lower, check the price list

Results: What do they mean?
Please study Family Tree DNA’s FAQ page on mtDNA results:
"The answers to questions about mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) test results. What do your mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) results mean? What should you do next? How recently are you related to your matches? Should you upgrade?"

mtDNA Haplogroups
There are many mt-haplogroups (not to be mixed up with Y-DNA haplogroups), and for people with European ancestry there are about ten different ones that are common. One of these, H, includes about half of all people with European ancestry.

The different haplogroup definitions can be found in the phylotree, which is updated regularly with new research.

mtDNA and Ethnic Ancestry
Your mitochondrial DNA is only a tiny part of your genetic make-up. Typically our mtDNA haplogroup reveals our ancestry in the direct maternal line some 5000-50 000 years back. If you look at your full ancestry tree, this is just the thin line at the very end of the ancestral fan, following the mothers only. Imagine how tiny a portion of your ancestry this is 5000 years ago.

Thus an mtDNA-test can only tell you something about this tiny, narrow line.

If you wish to have an estimate of your ethnic origin, try the extensive autosomal tests like Family Finder (FTDNA) or Relative Finder (23andMe), which test some 700 000 – 1 000 000 SNPs across your autosomes.

Your mtDNA pages at FTDNA
If you have tested with Family Tree DNA, check out the MyFTDNA User Guide:

There is a lot of information to be found on your pages.

What can my mtDNA test not tell me?
Eye, hair and skin colour, what food you can eat and not, how tall you are, your blood type: all these traits are decided by several genes on your autosomes, and not your mitochondrial DNA.

Comparing to other testers: mitosearch
Independent of your testing company, it is recommended that your results are uploaded or entered to mitosearch, a free and open database for everyone who has tested mtDNA.

You can enter your HVR1 results (note that the 16- is not entered, only the last three digits) and your HVR2 results. If you also wish to share your Coding Region this can be entered in the Additional information section.

A few notes:
* If you tested with FTDNA your results can be automatically uploaded when you are logged in - but note that HVR2-mutations will normally have to be entered manually
* If you tested with 23andMe, you did not test the complete HVR1 and HVR2, so it is difficult to enter results, however you may find some of the numbers in your mtDNA raw data file - study the comparison table between 23andMe (Yoruba Reference Sequence) and other companies (Cambridge Reference Sequence), from SNPedia.

Contribute to Research
If you have done a Full Sequence test (FMS) you can donate your sequence to GenBank to contribute to research. This will help define further subclades of your haplogroup. It is especially important if you have few or no matches, and if you have many mutations that are not yet defining a subclade of your haplogroup. Ian Logan has created a how to on his web page.

If you have completed the FMS at FTDNA you will probably be asked to fill in a "New Survey" about your maternal line and be asked to release the sequence to FTDNA's researchers. 

"Fast Mutators"
There are a few SNPs that are considered to mutate frequently, and it can be useful to disregard these when comparing results. The list is found on phylotree, above the actual tree structure.

The SNPs disregarded in phylogeny are:
* 309.1C(C)
* 315.1C
* 523-524d (aka 522-523d)
* 16182
* 16183C
* 16193.1C(C)
* 16519

Prices and Recommendations

EDIT: FTDNA has changed its pricing policy from May 2013, and HVR1 only is not offered any longer, HVR1+2 (formerly mtDNAplus) is now $49. 

The Full Sequence test is expensive, but there are sales a few times a year, and it is a good idea to take advantage of these. Family Tree DNA is far cheaper than Genebase.

In general a Full Sequence test is necessary to use mtDNA for genealogical purposes. A "simple test", HVR normally only gives you your haplogroup and the "long lines".

Normally it is cheaper to buy the full test at once than to purchase the test in three steps:

Three steps:
mtDNA (HVR1): $99
mtDNA plus upgrade "mtDNA refine" (HVR2): $85
mtDNA "Mega" upgrade (FMS) from HVR2: $239
Total for FMS: $423

Two steps:
mtDNA (HVR1): $99
mtDNA "Mega" upgrade from HVR1: $265
Total for FMS:  $364

Two steps:
mtDNA plus (HVR1+2): $159
mtDNA "Mega" upgrade from HVR2: $239
Total: $ 398

One step:
mtDNA Full Sequence:
$289 (for existing customers with other tests)
$299 (for new customers)
$199-$219 (various sale prices)

So you see why it is recommended to get the full test at once, and to look for sales!

07 August 2011

What is "arvegods"?

A simple translation into English would suggest "heritage", "heirloom" or "inheritance of value". The word is from the Scandinavian languages.

The themes here are:
1: genetic genealogy: DNA-testing for genealogists and people who are interested in understanding their ancestry.
2: Norwegian genealogy: How to research ancestry in Norway.

I will try to post here occasionally - stuff I have not quite completed but that could be a draft or part of an article, or some thoughts I wish to share via links and that could be of interest to the public.