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Eilert Sundt


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1. INTRODUCTION taken from the publication The first Population Census in Norway 1769. NOS B 106, Statistics Norway 1980

The Population Census 1769

The first census of population in the kingdom Denmark-Norway was held 15 August 1769. The census also covered the duchies Schleswig and Holstein in North Germany, which at the time were under the Danish crown. In Denmark and Norway the census was carried out along the same guidelines, while in the duchies local political conditions determined the design.

Even if this was the first population census, 1769 was not the first time for a population count. But the previous censuses were counts of men, not total censuses. They were usually tax registrations, and comprised only persons subject to tax, not the whole population. The oldest preserved tax register dates back to 1514, but only from 1610 - 1620 are annual reports preserved. In 1663 and 1665, as well as in 1701 royal decrees imposed the establishment of a register with a clear military purpose. Only the rural districts came under this command, and only the male population was counted.

Such a comprehensive operation as a census could only be effected on two conditions. First there had to be a need which could be satisfied by the census. Second, there had to be awareness, that this need could be satisfied just by a census of all individuals in the nation. The second condition was satisfied in most West-European countries by the middle of the eighteenth century. The enlightened community was convinced that the power of a nation was partly based on its wealth in terms of population. In Prussia J.P. Süssmilch had already written his first treatises on demographic subjects, and before the turn of the century, Malthus formulated his theories on population development which are being discussed even today. In Denmark both political authorities and scholars were vividly engaged in population questions. A. Lassen has shown how it was tried in 1735 and 1751 to determine the size of the population on the basis of a multiplier for the annual number of births and deaths. Prizes for essays on population were announced.

What specific needs the 1769 census was intended to meet is not clear. We do not know much about the preparatory stages of this census. Recovered documents only date from the time after the plans were approved and the census was about to be carried out. The Exchequer's instructions to the administration of the dual monarchy were issued 27 May 1769, and the royal decree was passed 15 June In the decree there is no information as to the motive or the presumed need to effect the census, beyond its general utility. I.E. Momsen has related the census to two current and interrelated issues, land reform and the military services. The essence of the land reform was abolishment of the adscription. This was assumed to have side effects on defence, which were hard to evaluate. V Danish chancellery on 6 May 1769 asked for a respite in giving its opinion on the proposed land reform awaiting the results of the coming census. Thus, the census was expected to give answers to complicated political questions.

The Exchequer in Copenhagen on 27 May 1769 sent identical letters to the district commanders (Translator's note: Persons with military command over an area equal to a diocese. There were 4 dioceses in Norway in 1769) and the bishops in Norway. With each letter followed a suitable number of tables to be distributed to the magistrates in the towns and to the vicars in the rural districts. According tc the letter, 15 August should be the census day, and all documents should be filled in and returned by 31 October. Delays would not be tolerated, and enquiries and correspondence should not be allowed to cause any postponements. The correct procedure was described in the printed tables. 1: there was any doubt, one should act to the best of one's judgement, and enclose a notice on the doubt. The execution of the census for the country as a whole has not been the subject of research Sølvi Bauge Sogner has studied the performance for Akershus stift (i.e. diocese, covering the whole area of Eastern Norway). in general the census seems to have been carried out according to the intentions. The district commanders distributed the tables to the magistrates, and the bishops se them through the deans to the vicars. The magistrates were to appoint two reliable men to carry c the census in each quarter of the town; in the country each vicar had to do it himself. With some delays, all tables were returned in completed form to district commander and bishop. General tables were completed in duplo on the basis of the parish and town tables and the tables were mailed to Copenhagen. There were some delays in the mail. The results from Finnmark and Iceland had not yet reached Copenhagen as late as 5 February 1770.

For each parish two printed forms should be completed, one specified by age, and one by occupation, both with distribution by sex. The age tables are identical for towns and rural districts. The occupation tables are differently designed in order to meet differing structures of occupation. The age tables have 7 age groups, each of 8 years, except for the last one, which includes all ages over 48. The sexes are summed up separately, and by correct addition inconsistency is not possible. The table is simple and can not be misinterpreted, which is truly a risk with the occupation table. Here there is no space for summing up, as it is in the age table. Those who made the tables did not think of double entry book-keeping, even when the figures follow a natural adding order. One of the paragraphs, no.6, does not concern occupation at all, but "all unmarried persons". As can be expected, the totals of the age and occupation tables do not correspond. For the whole country, the age tables give a higher total than the occupation tables. For Akershus diocese a series of varieties of differences between the two tables were found by Sogner. The differences seem to originate from variations among the vicars' in their opinions on how to interpret and fill in the occupation tables. By studying each table closely, we may "decipher" the vicars' interpretations, and thus establish a basis for comparing the occupation and age tables. It turns out that the age tables and the "corrected" figures from the occupation tables correspond fairly well. Of a total population upward of 300 000 in the diocese, a remainder of some 900 "insane and infirm" must be added to complete the puzzle.

The results of the census and the assessment of posterity

Once the census results had arrived in the government offices in Copenhagen, the task of processing them was given to the stiftsamtmann (district commissioner), professor of botany, G.C. Oeder. His report begins with the suggestive words: "Nach langes mühsamer Bearbeitung (After a long and troublesome processing). The troubles he got into have left their traces in his valuation of the census results. His opinions have shown an astonishing ability to survive and even develop. The census saw its first publication in 1786 in "Materialien zur Statistik der Däneschen Staaten", 2. band, Flensburg and Leipzig. This issue was anonymous, but based on Oeder's manuscript. A new issue, with Oeder's name, came in 1789. Since later objections for the most can be traced back to Oeder, it might be of interest to see what were his disapprovals.

1. He is uncertain as regards the number of military persons being excepted:

"Theils hat man den ganzen Kriegsstat übergangen, der Himmel weis, aus welches Staatspolitik". (Partly has the whole armed forces been left out, heaven knows for what political reason).

This is a well-founded scepticism as far as Schleswig-Ho19tein is concerned. For the rest of the kingdom the criteria for being counted or let out are so clear that any error can easily be corrected. Those who should be left out were enlisted soldiers and non-commissioned officers in the national regiments. officers in all units and national private soldiers (conscripts) should be counted). Sogncr has found nothing suspicious in the Akershus census material. It seems that Oeder's criticism is misplaced in regard to Norway.

2. The time of the census - 15 August - was a bad choice. Many persons were temporarily absent, especially sailors and fishermen. The criticism may be more to the point in this respect. But what are the results of mis-registration, over- or under-registration? The tables give explicit instruction to include also temporarily absent sailors and fishermen. It is appropriate here to remember that the table makers had no insight in the problem that census takers must face even today: what population is to be counted, the present one or the resident one? The tables may be - and have been - interpreted both ways. Oeder, however, saw this as a problem of under-registration only. He found support in the higher figure for women than for men, and erroneously assumed that the men had not been counted when they were absent. The sex distribution in the 1769 census is, however, not more biassed than can be expected with today's knowledge of the population. A criticism of this aspect of the census must return to the sources and separate the over- and underregistrations. It is obvious that both have occurred. Som parishes have an obviously too low share of men in working age: e.g. Vanse parish in Lister and Mandal bailiff district. But the cause of this bias has never been studied. Were there particular reasons, for example emigration to the Netherlands? We know that there was a significant export of "migrant workers" from this district to the Netherlands at that time. We also know that the crew of the joint Danish-Norwegian navy, being stationed in Copenhagen, were drafted from the coastal districts. Also an assessment of the problem of overregistration, for example of seasonal agricultural workers, would require a closer investigation.

3. Some people might be "kopfseheu" (shy about their heads), which means that they tried to escape the census because they thought it might be a tax registration. In particular the surtax of 1762 is believed to have made people "kopfscheu". The wish to dodge taxes is a well known human feature. However - this was no tax registration; and there is no reason to believe that people thought it was. The population census is clearly different from the head tax registers which were made up annually since 1762. But the same persons were responsible for the tax registration and the census, and 7 years' experience to count and keep registers is no poor qualification for carrying out the census. In this respect it is worth mentioning that historians who distrust the results of the census, have nothing but appreciative words for the king's secular and clerical servants. M. Drake joins a contemporary judgement of the Danish-Norwegian priests, they were "hard working, conscientious and thoroughly competent".

4. The census should have been better organized. What Oeder had in mind at this point is [lard to say, because his proposition for improvement is nothing but a description of how we must assume the census was actually carried through; house by house, "durch eine unmittelbare Veranstaltung der nächsten obrichkeitlichen Person". What he intends to criticize is possibly that lists were not made up for each house separately. However, this was in all probability done - only these lists were not expected to be returned. That is why they did not come to Copenhagen. And from the usual centralistic perspective, it was assumed that what does not exist ill Copenhagen does not exist at all, (Statistisk Bureau 1894). It was concluded that the lists had been sent in and discarded, alternatively that they had never been set up.

It seems today that the situation is improving - in Denmark. I.E. Momsen (1974), mentions a certain number of known (name)lists and presumes there are more in local archives. At the University of Copenhagen the 1769 Census is now being processed by modern demographic methods, and it is reported (1978), that a considerable number of name lists are used as basic material.

What with the situation in Norway? Since long it has been known that a small number of name lists is filed together with the tables from 1769 in Riksarkivet (National Archive of Norway). Less known is it apparently that name lists for Hålogaland diocese are filed in the Regional Archive of Norway in Trondheim. How these lists were found and were collected we do not know. They were sent to the National Archive from headmaster Just Quigstad in Tromsø through the archdeacon Kristian Nissen, Tromsø, in 1936, and transferred from the National Archive to the Regional Archive in Trondheim 31 December 1964.

Lists with names and age for each person 15 August 1769 exist for Vega, Vefsn, Lurøy and Træna, and for the parishes Tromsø and Helgø. For Kvæfjord, Trondenes, Bjarkøy, Tromsøy, Torsken and Gryllefjord, and Lenvik and Hillesøy, name lists exist for 1770. The name lists for Torsken and Gryllefjord give the age of each person, while age is given by groups or is completely missing in the other lists.

The existence of so many lists from Hålogaland diocese indicates a much higher percentage of survival than previously assumed for the name lists. If a corresponding number can be produced from the other dioceses, we will have a workable basis for a more careful examination of the 1769 census.

The population figures for Norway in 1769, have been employed in several historical presentations without any detailed discussion of their tenability. To the extent that criticism has been raised, the arguments have been inherited from Oeder. Lately M. Drake has made closer inquiries regarding Norway, Sølvi B. Sogner has studied Akershus diocese and I.E. Momsen has analysed the census for Schleswig-Holstein drawing appropriate parallels to Denmark-Norway. Two of these authors take a positive attitude to the quality of the census, while M. Drake meets regional variations that he cannot explain. He finds a too big net in-migration to Trondheim diocese in the period 1769 - 1801. But several conditions are not taken into his consideration. First, there was a mass migration to Northern Norway during that period. The settlement in the Bardu-Målselv district had started. This has not been quantified. The same applies to the Swedish immigration to Northern Norway. It seems that Drake is too quick in rejecting the census results as untenable. He also rejects A.N. Kiær's retrospective estimates of the population backwards from the 1801 census, based on annual excesses of births over deaths. His argument is that Kiær gives no other reason for accepting the 1769 census than its agreement with his own calculations. Whether it is Kiær's calculations or Drake's regional variations which do not hold water, we leave to the future to answer. For Akershus diocese Sølvi Sogner has found a high degree of reliability in the census. She has also demonstrated how inconsistencies can be easily analysed and corrected, mostly by applying some clerical common sense. I. - E. Momsen is also positive to the census. His most critical remarks apply to the particular design of the census in Schleswig-Holstein, and do in general not concern Denmark-Norway. But his assertion that the Census as source material is rising in importance to the degree that name lists can be retrieved is obviously valid even here.

Only the future can show if the opinions given on the census up to this day will prevail. Research is needed, and as a research object the 1769 Census is a gold mine. We hope that this publication of the Census will be an incentive to further research.

The processing of the 1769 census by the Central Bureau of Statistics in 1881 - 1890

Mr. N.R. Bull was responsible for the processing of the 1769 census in the Central Bureau of Statistics in the period 1881 -1890. In 1881 he requests from the National Archive copies of the census instructions directed to district commander Storm and bishop Nannestad. These instructions and the census forms were printed as annexes to a chapter of "Bidrag til en norsk Befolkningsstatistikk", ("Contributions to Norwegian Population Statistics"), Norway's Official Statistics C 1 1882. The chapter is called "Information concerning the Operational Procedures in the 9 General Population Censuses Conducted in Norway in the Period 1769 - 1876" and was written by N.R. Bull.

The renewed interest in the 1769 Census was apparently connected with Kiær's interest in earlier times and with the Bureau's preparation of the population registers for the use of the historian T.H. Aschehoug. Aschehoug's "Statistiske Studier over Folkemængde og Jordbrug i Norges Landdistrikter i det syttende og attende Aarhundre" ("Statistical Studies of Population and Agriculture in Norwegian Rural Districts in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries"), came in 1890.

The 1880's was an active period. J.N. Mohn's "Folkemængdens Forandringer i forskjellige Dele av Riget siden 1769, delvis 1665" ("Changes in Population in Various Parts of the Kingdom since 1769, partly since 1665"), came in 1882, and in 1887 T. Lindstøl wrote "Mandtallet i Norge, 170l" ("The registration of persons in Norway 1701").

It is more obscure why the publishing plans were shelved. Bull refers to Aschehoug's statistical work" in his undated report on the 1769 census, which is reproduced in the present issue. Bull must consequently have worked on the census after Aschehoug published his work. And thus, the Bureau's publishing plans seem to have been unaffected by the fact that Aschehoug published his figures first. Bull notes that the Census is not nominative, but that the vicars and magistrates bave reported summary data;" .... and as these, quite reasonably, are of a highly varying value, and not rarely turn out to be very insufficient, the total census material will be inhomogeneous, and encumbered with errors". It is, however, unlikely that the Bureau stopped the publishing because the material was encumbered with errors. This was obvious to the Bureau quite early, in particular as it was responsible for the preparation for Aschehoug.

We believe that the reason for not completing the publishing work must be sought in the Central Bureau of Statistics itself. In its records for the period in question, 1880 - 1890, the Bureau has only its external correspondence and has no reference to this problem. As it is, we can only guess at the reasons for not completing the work. It is possible that N.R. Bull's appointment to senior secretary is important. This new position may have included tasks which took precedence over the census work. The appointment was effected in October 1889. Nevertheless, the appointment is hardly an adequate explanation. We are therefore left with almost nothing to go on, and the question why the publishing plans were shelved must be left open.

Bjørn Bjørnstad

Norwegian Historical Data Centre (NHDC)
The Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Tromsų N-9037 Tromsų, NORWAY
Updated: November 10th 2004