This text will try to explain the Norwegian administrative units, and it is aimed at people who want to know where to look for genealogy resources. First of all four important facts:
1. There are three 'secular' levels: The state at the top, the county ('fylke') in the middle and the local administration ('kommune') at the bottom.
2. There are also three 'clerikal' levels: The state at the top (Norway still has a state church), the diocese ('bispedømme') in the middle, and the parish ('prestegjeld') at the bottom.
3. 'Secular' units and 'church' units at the same level may have different borders.
4. During the last four hundred years most of the units have changed borders and names.
Here are some basic points about the secular units: Norway is divided into 19 counties. The Norwegian word is 'fylke' (pl. 'fylker'). Once they were called 'amt', and their individual names have changed, too. Here are the names we use today: Østfold, Akershus, Oslo, Hedmark, Oppland, Buskerud, Vestfold, Telemark, Aust-Agder, Vest-Agder, Rogaland, Hordaland, Sogn og Fjordane, Møre og Romsdal, Sør-Trøndelag, Nord-Trøndelag, Nordland, Troms, Finnmark. (Look at the map page!)
Each county consists of local administrative units called 'kommune' (pl. 'kommuner'). This level was created in 1837, but then they were called 'herred' or 'herad' (pl. 'herreder' or 'herad'). Oslo fylke has only one 'kommune', Nordland fylke tops the list with 45. In 1964 the total number of 'kommuner' was reduced from nearly 750 to 440. In many cases the borders were adjusted in the same process to better suit todays communications.
In the church administration the diocese ('bispedømme') is roughly speaking an equivalent to the county. There are however only ten dioceses, here listed in the same geographical progression as the counties: Borg, Oslo, Hamar, Tunsberg, Agder, Stavanger, Bjørgvin, Møre, Nidaros, Sør-Hålogaland, Nord-Hålogaland.
The local level equivalent to the 'kommune' is the parish. There are two kinds of parishes in Norway:
- 'Prestegjeld', in most cases identical with the 'kommune' in extent and name.
- If there were more than one church ('kirke') in the 'prestegjeld' in earlier centuries, there will usually also be a 'kirkesokn' or 'sokn' for each church, each with a separate name.
The church registers may contain information from the whole 'prestegjeld' or only a 'kirkesokn' (click here to see a list over the oldest church register in every Norwegian parish).
A table may give a better overview:
|Secular administration||Church administration|
|Top level||The state||The state|
|Regional level||Fylke (amt)||Bispedømme|
|Local level||Kommune (herred)||Prestegjeld/(kirke-)sokn|
For the genealogist the parishes are the most important and interesting units. Most of the Norwegians (94%) belong to the Evangelical Lutheran church today. A hundred years ago and earlier the percentage was even higher than that. Therefore, the main problem for the genealogist is not to find what kind of church his or her ancestors belonged to, but to identify which church building they used.
To find the right parish when an old name is the only clue, you must solve two questions:
- What name does it have today? You will discover that 'kommune' and parish names are not unique. This create problems even for the Norwegian genealogist. In censuses you may meet another problem: Different spellings of the same name.
- Which 'kommune' contains this parish? Here the border revisions can create some confusion: An old parish may be divided between two or more 'kommuner'.
Don't despair! Every state archive in Norway has a very detailed information about the borders of the administrative units and how they have changed. Therefore there in one more question to solve:
- Which state archive does the parish you are interested in belong to? Of course that's also where you'll find most of the genealogy resources you need.
Here are the Norwegian state archives ('statsarkiv') and the counties that belong to each of them:
- Statsarkivet i Oslo: Oslo, Akershus, Østfold
- Statsarkivet i Hamar: Hedmark, Oppland
- Statsarkivet i Kongsberg: Buskerud, Vestfold, Telemark
- Statsarkivet i Kristiansand: Aust-Agder, Vest-Agder
- Statsarkivet i Stavanger: Rogaland
- Statsarkivet i Bergen: Hordaland, Sogn og Fjordane
- Statsarkivet i Trondheim: Møre og Romsdal, Sør-Trøndelag, Nord-Trøndelag, Nordland
- Statsarkivet i Tromsø: Troms, Finnmark
- And don't forget the top level archive: Riksarkivet (Oslo).