Getting into the Norwegian census
By Michael Drake, Open University
The first national census took place in Norway in 1769. Not until 1801, however, was the first nominative census produced. Unfortunately this major breakthrough (few nominative censuses at a national level were produced as early as this) was not repeated until 1865. From then on such censuses became the norm. They also became widespread throughout Europe. Because the civil servants in charge of the national censuses got together on occasion, as well as corresponding with each other, a code of best practice was devised for what questions should appear on the household schedules. Not surprisingly few countries managed to live up to the code in its entirety but, as Table 1 shows, by the period 1860–80, many sought answers to the same questions i.e. surname and first name; sex; age; relationship to head of household; civil status; occupation; religious affiliation; place of birth.
That the same questions were asked obvious helps us undertake comparative studies, with all the advantages they bring. There is, however, another feature of the nominative census schedules which works towards the same end, namely that many of the replies cover a relatively small register. This means that only limited linguistic skill is required in order to read and analyze the returns. For example sex is either male or female: civil status is either single, married, widowed, separated or divorced; relationship to head of household/family is, in the overwhelming majority of cases his/her wife/husband, son, daughter, servant, lodger, father, mother, grandson or granddaughter. Place of birth in most cases again requires but a gazetteer and/or an atlas. Age is reported numerically in years or months and poses no problem so far as reading is concerned: its accuracy is another matter. Religion is also confined to a limited number of alternatives, as is ethnic origin and the ability to read or write. There is, however, one rubric common to all the nominative censuses that does pose linguistic problems, namely occupation.
The core problem encountered when ‘reading' the census schedules is the sheer variety of the occupations one encounters. This is compounded - especially in the countryside - by the fact that the same occupation could be - and was - described in several different ways. In the smaller Norwegian towns, like Tromsø, this particular problem does not appear to be so acute. Whether this was due to a genuine difference between urban and rural occupational nomenclature, or was due to the way the enumeration was carried out, is not clear. The fact that the same occupation could be spelled in different ways e.g. skibscaptein, skibskaptein or skomagersvend, skomagersvenn also produces a slight problem. To overcome the above problems a dictionary has been prepared to cover every single variant of occupational description. The scale of the problem is immediately apparent when it is realized that in the relatively small town of Tromsø in 1865 (population 4,073) some 461 occupational variants appeared on the schedules. On close inspection, however, a very high proportion of these are variants of the same occupation.
The Tromsø census of 1865The printed version of the census prepared by the Norwegian Historical Data Centre at the University of Tromsø contains the following information heads (see Table 2).
1 Mtr No 30 - Løbe No 144 - StorgadenBoth urban and rural property in Norway appeared in a national register (the Matrikkel) with each entity being assigned a number. No infrequently property was divided e.g. another residence was built on the plot, entailing the use of a suffix i.e. a, b, c, etc. In the towns the local tax collector was assigned the task of distributing the census schedules to each householder and of collecting them once they had been completed. The heads of households were themselves supposed to complete the schedules, though in Tromsø the job was often undertaken by others. We know this because whoever completed the schedule had to append his signature to it. A street name (Gatenavn) and number was supposed to be entered on each schedule. In Tromsø only the street names were given. In order to make sure that all the schedules were completed they were each given a ‘running' number (løpenummer) when they were distributed. It was then a relatively easy matter to check that all the schedules that went out were also gathered in. In fact in Tromsø there is some doubt as to whether this was the case.
2 Names and relation to head of householdFixed surnames were more common in the towns than in the countryside. All appearing in these two households had them with the possible exception of Samuel Olsen. However it was still not uncommon for males to create a surname by adding ‘sen' (‘son of') or, for females, ‘dotre' (‘daughter of') to their father's Christian name. Thus Ole Mortensen would be the son of, for example, Morten Hanssen. In this case the former's sons would, in turn, be called e.g. Jon or Jens etc. Olsen, his daughters e.g. Maria or Petra Olsen. Note too that a woman kept her maiden name after marriage, a distinct advantage for those now engaged in genealogical research or other nominal record linkage work.
The head of the household was usually male, hence husfader (house-father) but could be female, in which case husmoder (house-mother) would appear. Sometimes neither husfader nor husmoder was entered. The list continued with (hans) kone (his wife), søn (son), datter (daughter). Other terms to be found occasionally in this column were:
Antaget barn = Adopted child
3 Dyr: svin 2The 1865 population census also required householders to provide information as to the number and kind of animals they kept and the quantity and type of crops they sowed. Mostly this data was supplied by farmers but as some townspeople also kept animals and planted potatoes, for instance, they were not the only people to do so. Where space permits the full name of the animal or crop appears in the RHD edition of the census, but sometimes only the first two letters are given (see the list below with the abbreviated form in bold). Note that the variety of animals and crops was limited.
HEste = Horse
The unit of measurement was the tønne (pl. tønner) the equivalent of 4 bushels. thus po 1/2 means 2 bushels of potatoes planted.
4 OccupationsFor a translation into English of the terms used under this rubric see below.
5 Civil statusG(ifte) = Married
U(gifte) = Unmarried
E(nke) E(nkemand) = Widow, widower
F(raskilt) = Divorced
6 AgeIn years at next birthday.
7 SexM(ann) = Male
K(vinne) = Female
U(kjent) = Unknown
8 BirthplaceUsually the parish (præstegjeld) is given or, if born abroad, the country. A blank space indicates the person was born in the place of the census. Additional information appears occasionally on the extreme right of the census schedule. This concerned ethnicity; health; linguistic ability; number of years immigrants had resided in Norway; languages spoken; membership of non-State Church congregations etc.
Antaget barn = Adopted child
Registreringssentral for historiske data
Universitetet i Tromsø, N-9037 Tromsø
Oppdatert: 10. november 2004