Finding Norwegian Ancestors in Ringebu

This is the Ringebu Stavkirke in Oppland, Norway, where my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmother, Synnøve Eriksdatter Lunde, was buried on 9 May 1733. At least 48 76 of my ancestors (and more to find) were baptized, married, or buried from this church.

Finding Norwegian Ancestors in RingebuI know this, because I went there a few weeks ago, fulfilling a dream of mine for heritage travel. I didn’t expect to come home with 21 new generations –stretching back to 1220 and about the time the Ringebu church was finished – but thanks to the generosity of a local genealogist and other residents, that’s exactly what has happened.

The Ringebu Church

One of 29 surviving stave churches in Norway, the Ringebu example was built early in the 13th century. The stave church is a medieval wooden Christian church building style, once common in northwestern Europe. The name comes from the posts (stafr in Old Norse; stav in modern Norwegian) used in the timber framing. The 12th century soapstone font I saw was used to baptize my ancestors.

My immigrant greatFinding Norwegian Ancestors in Ringebu-grandmother, Ahne Andersdatter Flatmoen, was baptized at this church on 23 Mar 1856. She was confirmed there 18 May 1871. After working as a tjenestepige (hired girl) at a nearby farm, Ahne left for Chicago in 1882, where she met my Norwegian great-grandfather. They were married the following year and had six sons, all baptized at a Chicago Norwegian-language Lutheran church.

The Ringebu Farms

A few weeks ago, my husband and I rented a car in Oslo and made our way about 3 hours north to Ringebu (rhymes with peek-a-boo), still a small town in the heart of the unbelievably beautiful Gudbrandsdal valley north of Lillehammer. When our B&B host learned I was there to see my great-grandmother’s birthplace, she decided we must meet her friend Knut. Unbelievably, Knut rearranged his schedule and appeared about 15 minutes later.

He brought the second volume of the Ringebu bygdebok (farm book), Ringebu – Home and People. Vol. 2 – Kjønås, compiled and published in 2005, and showed me where my great-grandmother and her family appeared in this book. Then he showed me Utvandringa til Amerika frå Ringebu, documenting Ringebu inhabitants who emigrated to America. I was able to buy both books at the local bookstore.

Then we followed Knut up into the farmlands on the steep hillsides surrounding the village. He found my great-grandmother’s farm, Flatmoen, and even called ahead to his friend who lives there. Mr. Forkalsrud had copied the bygdebok entry for Flatmoen Finding Norwegian Ancestors in Ringebuand printed out a photo of the farm in the 1920s. He has two sons who live in Santa Barbara and we marveled at how small the world is. Knut took us two other farms nearby where my great-great-grandparents had lived.

After spending two hours with us looking at the gorgeous countryside at my ancestral farms, Knut showed me the most amazing database, Slekter fra Ringebu og Gudsbrandalen at www.onshus.no, compiled from baptism, confirmation, census, and land records for all of Ringebu. Before the trip, I had researched back to Ahne’s parents and grandparents, but the Onshus website is where I found 21 generations of my family at the three local parishes: Ringebu, Fåvang, and Venabygd.

It was all overwhelming in the best possible way, finally being in this place I’d looked at on the web so many times, meeting people with a shared obsession with the past and with family history. I learned about Norwegian culture, religion, language, food, and architecture, but mostly I learned about incredible generosity.

Finding Norwegian ancestors in Ringebu – that feeling of rootedness, of walking where my ancestors had walked – was even more satisfying than I ever dreamed.

Finding Norwegian Ancestors in Ringebu

Next up: my great-grandfather’s birthplace, Øvre Eiker, Buskerud.

Heritage travel completed:

  1. Ringebu, Norway
  2. Øvre Eiker, Norway
  3. Dunnottar, Scotland
  4. Tain, Scotland
  5. Ladis, Austria

About the Author:

Nancy Loe has an MA in American History and an MLS in Library Science and Archives. She has appeared on PBS’s American Experience, at Rootstech, SCGS Jamboree, and state and regional genealogy conferences. Her website was featured in Family Tree Magazine's “Social Media Mavericks: 40 to Follow.”

14 Comments

  1. Jen Eksund Lannholm 10 February 2018 at 1:39 PM - Reply

    Fabulous find. My ancestry also traces back to the Stav Church in Ringebu. My Great-great grandfather, Peder Arnesen Bakke was born 5 May 1817 and baptisted at the Fåvang chuch near by. Later in life Peder was a bellringer, singer and teacher at the Ringebu Stave, in fact, he and family lived in a home by the Church. He was buried there on 2 Jun 1890 and I hope to visit soon.

    • Nancy Loe 10 February 2018 at 2:08 PM - Reply

      I loved every minute in Ringebu, so go as soon as you can, Jen. I have ancestors at Fåvang, too, but not Bakkes, unfortunately.

  2. lindacue 26 December 2017 at 1:49 PM - Reply

    How do you record Norwegian names in your genealogy software? The patronymic name is what is indexed on Ancestry and FamilySearch; a mix of patronymics and farm names is found at MyHeritage. I am about to start documenting my Norwegian ancestors in Reunion, and I would like to be consistent. Also, should I be consistent with -sen, -son, -dr, -dtr, datter? What do you recommend we do in our genealogy with these pesky Norwegians???

    • Nancy Loe 28 December 2017 at 11:10 AM - Reply

      Pesky Norwegian patronymics is right! Before I went to Norway and met some newly discovered relations, I was putting the patronymic in the surname field of Reunion. I noticed on MyHeritage that Norwegians sharing trees used the farm name as the surname, so I asked my new friends and they confirmed that the farm name belongs in the surname field. So I changed the ones I knew about, moving the -datters and -sens to be middle names instead.

      So my great-grandmother, Ahne Andersdatter, born in Flatmoen, is now Ahne Andersdatter FLATMOEN in my tree; her mother is now Mari Andersdatter SMESTADMOEN. It does help to keep better track of similarly named people, even if Ancestry barks at me every time that the child’s name should be the same as the father’s name.

      I do keep my Norwegian -datters and -sens name endings, especially because I also have a Swedish line full of -dotters and -sons. One other rule I’ve made is to record the names of children as they appear in baptismal and census records. Some families used the father’s existing surname instead of changing to the forename patronymic, so I put it that way too when I find it.

  3. Heritage Travel 5 August 2016 at 1:12 PM - Reply

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  4. Susan Crosson 30 July 2016 at 10:58 AM - Reply

    Neither. I do have a Norwegian-English dictionary. Gunnar is fluent in English and Google Translate helps.

  5. Anonymous 30 July 2016 at 10:57 AM - Reply

    I am glad your trip was so successful. I would suggest you send the names of both books to the LDS in Salt Lake so they get them on the shelves.

    • Nancy 30 July 2016 at 10:59 AM - Reply

      That’s a great idea. Will do!

  6. Anonymous 30 July 2016 at 10:42 AM - Reply

    How wonderful for you. Thank you so much for sharing your history. Can you speak or have an understanding of the language?

    • Nancy 30 July 2016 at 10:59 AM - Reply

      I can read a little Norwegian in parish records, but otherwise no, I don’t speak Norwegian. Everyone, and I mean everyone, speaks English in Norway. I did attempt thank you and please on a regular basis. Norwegians were very kind, but I could tell I was murdering their language!

  7. Susan Crosson 30 July 2016 at 10:41 AM - Reply

    She left Norway in 1867 or 1868, but I’ll check just in case that date is incorrect. Thanks.

  8. Susan 30 July 2016 at 9:51 AM - Reply

    What a nice surprise! My maternal great grandmother, Karen Marie Aaboe John, left Norway at age 11 after her parents died. A cousin in Norway and I connected. He has extensive family history from his ancestors and I found her in Kansas where she married James John, but we’re still trying to trace her journey in between.

    • Nancy 30 July 2016 at 10:36 AM - Reply

      Thanks, Susan. The passenger lists on the U.S./Canada side for Norwegian immigrants seem lacking to me. I’ve found exactly one ancestor in a Canadian passenger list. Sweden doesn’t seem to present the same problems. Have you tried Emigranter over Kristiania (Emigrants of Kristiania), 1871-1930 at the national archives? http://bit.ly/2aogb4M

      • Nancy 30 July 2016 at 11:22 AM

        Another thought, Susan: have you tried the moving out parish registers for her birthplace?

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