Sunday, November 20, 2011

Uff Da!

Skar, Norway

Norwegian ancestry research can be confusing, funny, and extremely helpful all at the same time due to one itty bitty idiosyncrasy. (Actually variations of this little "problem" are found in many family histories around the world.) What is it?

The Traditional Norwegian Naming System 

If you've been reading my stuff lately, you already know that I've been writing the skeleton stories of the Skars who emigrated to Hawaii in the late 1800's from Norway.

When I started looking into my family history years ago and came across all the Norwegians with children who had different last names in the same family I was so perplexed. It took a few minutes looking at them in family groups to see the pattern. And then I was fine.

Here's what Rasmus and Thrine Jacobsen's family looked in the mid 1800's:

  • Johan Rasmussen Skar
  • Nils Jacob Rasmussen Skar
  • Ingeborg Marie Rasmusdatter Skar
  • Petra Rasmusdatter Skar
  • Elsa Rasmusdatter Skar
  • Hans Peder Rasmussen Skar

What I learned:

 Son       First Name                            Last Name
   1   Paternal Grandfather    Father's first name + sen/son
   2   Maternal Grandfather
   3   Father
    4   Father's Oldest Brother

Daughter        First Name                   Last name
   1    Maternal Grandmother  Fathers's first name + datter
   2    Paternal Grandmother
   3    Mother
   4    Mother's Oldest Sister

I guess this worked really well unless someone died, moved out of the country or thoroughly messed up and lost their inheritance. Names would be reused, again with a definite pattern (unless there were more than 4 children of one gender and then they'd go to great grandparents' name in no particular order!) ultimately confusing the likes of moi. Guess you have to have a flexible, open, and patient mind when you're researching these lines?! This is MY kind of entertainment. 

What about the name Skar? It wasn't actually a last name at all. It was a place name, Skar Farm, somewhere that he lived. It wasn't uncommon for one person to have several "last" names if he/she move a lot. And when my ancestors emigrated to the United States they kept the name "Skar" as their new surname like a lot of families did to remind them where they came from. It wasn't until 1923 that the law in Norway required families to choose a permanent surname. 
Wouldn't that be fun? 
I wonder what name I'd choose?

Another fun fact which, if you weren't aware of it, might make your million dollar trip to Norway to take a picture of your great great grandparents gravestone a waste of time and money. You see, when a whole family left Norway for good, and the 20-year grace period to pay for cemetery maintenance expired, the headstones would be removed and a new person would be buried right on top of the original person. Crazy, huh?!!

What do I love about all this? I love discovering the patterns in the apparent chaos. These people also seem to be fiercely independent and funny at the same time. They make up rules because they can! And I don't think they care if people are tearing their hair out trying to figure it out. They have a unique sense of humor. I admire that.

I also like the help I'm getting in my research as I fill in the blanks of first and last names provided by their traditional naming system.  

It would go like this  for Rasmus Jacobsen's family if everything followed the pattern:

Johan=         Ramus' father's father
Nils=            Ramus' mother's father
Ingeborg=    Thrine's mother's mother
Petra=          Thrine's father's mother
Elsa=            Thrine's mother 
Hans Peder=Ramus' father

And they all lived happily on Skar Farm!! least for a little bit!!

Now here's a little joke I found for you:

Little Ole and the Stork

Little Ole was sitting at the kitchen table doing his school homework. He had a puzzled look on his face at he considered the assignment that was due--writing an essay about his origin. He turned to question his mother. "Mama, vere did Grandma come from?" he asked. "Da stork brought her," answered mama Lena. "And vere did yew come from?" asked Little Ole. "Da stork brought me," his mother answered. "And vere did I come from?" Little Ole inquired. "Vell, son, da stork brought yew, tew," mama Lena replied. With a scowl on his face, Little Ole picked up his pencil, turned to his school tablet, and began writing his essay: "Dere have been no natural births in our family for three yenerations."


  1. I love your email on "Grave" Humor. Pretty good ;)

    Speaking of grave stones, the 20-year grace period you mentioned in this post is more than a bit morbid, yikes!

    About the names. Man, you do need an, "open, and patient mind when you're researching these lines!" I knew the Norwegians were a complex lot, but man, talk about putting in some work!

  2. Hey Craig,
    I think I love family history because it's so challenging and always teaching me something. Just when I think I've figured something out I come up against another brick wall. I've learned everything on my own (my own effort, not knowledge), making a lot of mistakes...just like in real life!
    Thanks for reading today, Craig!

  3. I wonder if it is the same in Sweden? Eg Svensdottir etc
    I'm of Swedish descent. Amongst over things.

  4. Jane,

    I have Swedish ancestry, too. I haven't noticed anything significant, yet! We'll see.

  5. Those crazy Norwegians; have you ever seen Jens Berget in his Speedo. I think they have 3 days of summer.

    Maybe Jens can weigh in on this and tell us about his family name, huh?

  6. Bill,
    I've heard you guys reference his Speedo. I'm not going there! I thought about asking him about the "Uff da", and whether or not it's a swear!

  7. Hi Betsy,

    I see Bill is still talking about the Speedo. I haven't got a Speedo, please believe me :-)

    "Uff da" is not a swear. It's more like ouch, or oh no. It's something Norwegians say (I don't think a lot of people actually say it) when they hear about something that went wrong. For instance, "My aunt Nelly sprained her ankle" then, the other person says; "Uff da" that had to hurt :)

  8. Jens,
    Another reason NOT to give to much credence to Wikipedia!! Thanks Jens. And I'm glad there is NO Speedo. Bill's a nut!


What do you think? I'd love to know.