One million emigration registers from Norway from 1867–1973 are now available at MyHeritage. During the 19th and 20th centuries, an estimated 800,000 Norwegians left their homeland largely for economic reasons. Many who worked on farms lost their jobs due to the industrialization of agriculture, and many people were seeking better opportunities elsewhere.
The majority of these emigrants settled in the United States although significant numbers also went to Canada, Australia, and other countries.
The data set was created between 1867 and 1973 by local police departments tasked with assisting emigrants leaving Norway for foreign ports. As such, the records are sometimes referred to as the Norwegian Police Emigration Lists (Emigrasjonsprotokoll in Norwegian).
For each emigrant the records list a name, gender, departure date or year and last known residence. Other details may also appear depending on the time period: the emigrant’s birth date and birth place, marital status and declared destination, as well as the ship or shipping line that was to transport them from Norway.
Starting in 1867, the police in Norway were tasked with ensuring that emigrants were being treated fairly, as unethical practices had developed among some of the companies and their agents selling tickets to carry passengers abroad. Emigrants were being placed on dangerously overcrowded vessels and some were being tricked into signing contracts to cover some or all of the cost of their ticket through unscrupulous and abusive labor requirements upon arrival at their destination. The reforms instituted by the Norwegian government between 1867 and 1869 were designed to prevent such predatory practices against emigrants departing from Norwegian ports.
These records are not “passenger lists,” but rather registers of people declaring their intention to emigrate through purchasing tickets and showing the accompanying contracts required by Norwegian law since 1867. The process of purchasing a ticket included appearing at the police station with an approved agent and an approved contract, which were inspected by the police. Emigrants were entered into these registers as they appeared at the police station, so they are not grouped according to the ships they were to take, the date of departure, or the designated destination; they are simply listed by order of appearance. Usually, emigrants departed within a few days of their enrollment in these registers.
About twenty five per cent of the migrants eventually returned home. Nevertheless, the vast majority of Norwegians have at least one ancestor who traveled and established themselves in the United States or abroad.
Image: Gustav Wentzel’s painting “Emigrants” from 1903, an iconic depiction of Norwegian emigration. (Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons).