Troublesome widows and widowers

I am often asked by readers about the changing of person names in Norwegian records.

Featured photo: Tresfjord Church (1828) By Henny Stokseth (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 no], via Wikimedia Commons

Sometimes we find the same person with what seems like different names in different records. It is important to remember that what might look like a surname, is the name of the farm where the person lived at the time the record was made. This means that the last name actually is the person’s address. The name changes can be confusing and even more so if our ancestors was a widow or widower.

If you are not familiar with Norwegian naming practice, I suggest you begin by reading my article on the topic.

When going back through the generations we want to find a couple’s wedding records. This is part of the vital information. It is sometimes necessary to find this information to be able to link a person to her/his parents.

Every case is different, but based on this example, I share a few things to keep in mind when trying to sort out the name changes.

You can enlarge the scans from the church records by hovering your mouse over them.

Source: SAT, Ministerialprotokoller, klokkerbøker og fødselsregistre – Møre og Romsdal, 547/L0601: Parish register (official) no. 547A03, 1799-1818, p. 115 Quick link:

In the example above, we see Anders Nielsen from the farm Hoem marrying Gunnild Eriksdatter from the farm Kirke Sylte.

In this case, it would be natural to look for Gunnild’s parents at the farm Kirke Sylte. It is, however, important to note that Gunnild was a widow – “Enke” when she married Anders. This makes us suspect that Kirke Sylte might not be the farm where Gunnild was born, but rather where she and her late husband lived.

This means we have to look for Gunnild’s previous marriage. In this case, the easiest way is to have a look at the census from 1801. Here we find Gunnild Eriksdatter at the Kirke Sylte (Kirkesylte) farm.

She is married to Ole Madsen.  Gunild is “Gift 1ste gang” meaning this is her first marriage. Her husband is “Gift 2den gang” meaning he is in his second marriage.

Their oldest child Ingeborg is 15 years old in 1801, i.e. born ca. 1786. Starting a search for their marriage a couple of years before this seems like a good idea.

Source: SAT, Ministerialprotokoller, klokkerbøker og fødselsregistre – Møre og Romsdal, 547/L0600: Parish register (official) no. 547A02, 1765-1799, p. 294-295
Quick link:

November 7th, 1785 we find widower Ole Madsen Kirke Sylte and the girl Gunnild Erichsdatter Søer Sylte (Sør Sylte). The words “the girl” confirmes that Gunnild was not previously married and this leads us to think that she might have been born at the farm Sør Sylte. This is not always the case though, as we sometimes see e.g. servants listed with the farm name where they worked (we remember that the farm name is actually an address).

The 1801 census tells us that Gunild was born ca 1758. A search in the church records gives us Gunild daughter of Erich Knudsen Sør Sylte baptized September 2. 1759.

Source: SAT, Ministerialprotokoller, klokkerbøker og fødselsregistre – Møre og Romsdal, 547/L0599: Parish register (official) no. 547A01, 1721-1764, p. 458-459
Quick link:

In the event that there were two Gunild Erichsdatters born about the same time, we have to start to look for additional information. In this case, we note the best men from the 1809 wedding record. It turns out that Niels Erichsen and Aslach Erichsen are Gunild’s brothers.

In the wedding record from 1785, we saw that Ole Madsen Kirke Sylte was listed as a widower – “Enkemand” (enkemann). This leads us to ask if he was born at Kirke Sylte or if he married a daughter or widow at the farm. From the census record, we learned that he was born ca 1728.

Source: SAT, Ministerialprotokoller, klokkerbøker og fødselsregistre – Møre og Romsdal, 547/L0599: Parish register (official) no. 547A01, 1721-1764, p. 96-97
Quick link:

17th Sunday after Trinity → September 19., 1728 we find Mads Sylte’s son Ole baptized. After a lengthy search, I found Ole’s first marriage to Ingeborg Jonsdatter Bårdsnes on November 7th 1750. Here Ole is listed as Ole Madssen Kirkesylte. Ingeborg Jonsdatter was born at the Bårdsnes farm, but of course, when she married and moved in with Ole, she became Ingeborg Jonsdatter Kirkesylte.

As we have seen; a person’s “identification information” may change several times during their life. Hopefully, this article has given you some things to keep in mind when trying to navigate the different records and “name changes”.

5 thoughts on “Troublesome widows and widowers

  • November 29, 2018 at 2:36 pm

    Thanks, Martin. This is a good account of Norwegian naming practices and should be very helpful to new genealogists.

  • November 29, 2018 at 4:45 pm

    Thanks I need all of the help that I get! I am still looking for my G,G, Grandfather Nels Nelson, born in Norway on Oct 15, 1818, that is what is in his tombstone in WI. Cummings cemetery.

  • December 1, 2018 at 1:50 am

    Thanks Martin, naming practices in Norway were confusing. You have done a lot to help me understand.


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