Reading church registers where everything is written with unfamiliar letters in a foreign language can be a very difficult and time-consuming task. In many cases it's unnecessary to invest so much time and energy into such a job. Other people may already have done this work - and published the results in a book. In Norway we call it a 'bygdebok'. (In this context 'bygd' means 'parish').
A 'bygdebok' is a valuable source for every genealogist who tries to trace Norwegian ancestry. These books constitutes a very special breed of historical literature, but it is also a very heterogeneous collection. In the following I'll try to describe different types of 'bygdebøker' (as the Norwegian plural is).
Most 'bygdebøker' can be characterized by these four points:
1. The geographic and thematic scope is limited to one 'kommune' (which can be more than one parish).
2. As a rule the books aim at covering every family who lived in this 'kommune' during a certain period (but this is of course an unreachable goal!),
3. In most books the history is narrated chronologically, and in a descriptive way.
4. The books are written for the local population as the main market.
The contents of a 'bygdebok' can consist of one or more of these three themes:
a) A broad 'general history' ('generell historie') covering many hundred years,
b) a 'farm history' ('gårdshistorie'), going back as far as there exist sources,
c) a 'genealogy' part ('slektshistorie'), as a rule going back to 1600.
The general history (the first theme) is narrated in certain ways:
- The books are divided into chapters containing time periods or special parts of society life, or a combination of these two principles,
- there is very little genealogy.
The other two themes - b) and c) - are often found combined into 'farm and family history' ('gårds- og slektshistorie'). If the farm history is missing, the book may be called only 'family book' ('slektsbok'). Typical features for the 'farm and family' books are these:
- Each chapter covers one main farm,
- the perspective is based upon the farm and the household,
- all persons (or rather all households) who have lived on the farm, will be mentioned (as far as it's possible!),
- genealogy constitutes a vital part of each chapter.
If you are a genealogist, then the 'farm and family' books will give you the best information. The Norwegian libraries have registers with every 'bygdebok' that has been published. Of course you can also buy the books, but it can often be difficult to find out where they are sold.
Most 'bygdebøker' have lots of pictures. If you hit the right book you may find photos of your relatives and the places where they lived. The text will be in Norwegian, of course, but some 'bygdebøker' have included an English summary and explanations of special Norwegian words.