If you have spent any time in the Bygdeboks of Norway, you find a wealth of information but also find that these books are in Norwegian. This is as it should be since they were written and created in Norwegian communities. It does prove a challenge for those of us not gifted in the Norwegian language but here are some tips and sites to help.
I’ve mentioned in past blogs that I have used Microsoft Translator or Google Translate when faced with non-English verbiage in a document or book. They are my first line of action. It is worth mentioning that they do not translate the same document identically. Once you have the translations, compare the two. I have found that where they are different often addresses that one phrase or word that the translation tools stumble over. It is not because the tools themselves are lacking, rather it is because the local dialect doesn’t translate using textbook Norwegian. So, what are we to do?
First translate the Norwegian using Microsoft Translator and/or Google Translator. Then carefully read through the English translation to see if it makes sense. Usually there is a phrase or a sentence that doesn’t translate correctly. It could be because the word order is not consistent with English sentence structure and word shuffling is required or perhaps the word referenced is an old term or measurement that it no longer in use.
To give you an idea about how “off” these translations can be, let’s look at a recent example I attempted to translate using Microsoft Translator. Most of this translation was accurate but when it came to the story of the pig, it fell short.
Garden ble i 1866 satt til 104 mål, fødde 1 hest, 4 kyr og 6 sauer, skogen ga 3 tylfter årlig til salg, en plass, samla verdi på jord, skog og havn 1300 spd. Han fabro (Kristian) sku te Sverige etter gris. Han va her (Sø-Asen) om sindan. Uti vikua sku'n te Strand og skjera ein gris. Der seig'n dø ne. Detta va døm så førundra over. De va så sjelden følk døe tå slag denti.
Translation via Microsoft Translator.
Garden was in 1866 set to 104 goals, fed 1 horse, 4 cows and 6 sheep, the forest gave 3 typhoons annually to sales, a place, Samla value on Earth, forest and Port 1300 SPD. He Fabro (Kristian) SKU te Sweden after pig. He's here (Sø-Asen) about Sindan. Uti Vikua was a tea beach and a pig. Where the See'n die NE. That's what I'm going to do before. They were so seldom--
Translation by a native Norwegian.
In 1866 the farm was measured to 25,698 acres [104 square kilometers], it fed 1 horse, 4 cows and 6 sheep, the forest gave 3 twelves [tylft means twelve, typically used about timber] annually to sell, one tenant’s croft, total value of fields, forest and quay 1300 spd [spd = spesidaler, old Norwegian currency, today’s value approx. USD 38,030]. Uncle (Kristian) went to Sweden for a pig. Eventually he came here (Sø-Asen). A few days into the week he went to Strand to cut up a pig. There he fell down dead. This astonished them. People seldom died from stroke in those days.
This little snippet of information is a treasure for a family historian. In these early years, typically you do not get the cause of death in the Norwegian records or in the Bygdeboks. However, in this case, Kristian was a young man of 39 so when he died suddenly of a stroke, the event stood out in the mind of the people being interviewed for the Bygdebok. You can see that if I’d just given up, that interesting tidbit would not have found its way to my client. The additional explanations/terms that were included with the translation were also so valuable. That information has helped me as I translate other documents.
Regretfully, I cannot ask my Norwegian speaker to translate all my documents. Instead, I have found some additional sites that provide key words that were used in genealogical documents or were old terms that are not familiar to the translation tools. I hope you find these sites as helpful as I have.
Norwegian-American on OJs Homepage – This site includes an alphabetized list of Norwegian words and their English translations. In addition, there is an article about Norwegian naming practices and other links that will be helpful with the language and culture.
Norwegian Genealogical Terms – This list is found on the Norwegian American Genealogical Center & Naeseth Library. This robust site will be useful in searching your Norwegian roots with its many links, research tips, naming patterns article and much more.
Common Genealogical Terms—This list is provided on the Hadelandlag site. I found terms here that I didn’t see elsewhere so it does pay to look at a few sites for an elusive term.
Norwegian Genealogy Dictionary – I’ve mentioned Martin Roe Eidhammer’s site in past blogs. He is knowledgeable and readily shares great articles to help you research Norwegian roots. His articles are thorough and informative. This list of words has been useful when figuring out the dialect that isn’t translated through the tools.
Hopefully this short list of sites will help you tackle that odd word or phrase that just doesn’t translate well with online tools. Remember it is well-worth persevering to uncover what was said in a document or record. You don’t need to be a native speaker to translate (although that helps!) but you can discover great snippets of family history when you take the time to translate your Norwegian records. Good luck! Lykke til!
“Words travel worlds. Translators do the driving.”
--Anna Rusconi, Translator
With a lifelong passion for genealogy and history, the author enjoys the opportunity to share genealogy tidbits, inspiring others to research and write their family story.