All of my ancestors came from Norway -- most came here between about 1880 and 1910, but a few came here as early as the 1850s. I've been working on my family tree for 40 years. I'll begin with some very basic advice on tracing your Norwegian ancestors...

1. Start Your Search in the United States

Duh! This is the obvious first step for any American tracing their family tree (from any country). Start where you live, with people who are still alive. What do you (and your parents and grandparents) know? And what records do you have?

Talk to your family members and ask them questions. Look through any papers you can find. Ask older relatives who are still alive where they lived (the cities and states), where their grandparents, aunts and uncles and first and second cousins lived, and so on. Get all of the names and dates and locations.

A tape recorder is a good tool to use (or, perhaps, nowadays, a digital voice recorder or video recorder, even an iPhone or iPad or whatever). Get photographs your relatives might have and scan them into your computer. Find out where people were buried, if you can. Then verify the information they gave you by checking primary sources on the internet or in libraries: U.S. Census records, telephone books or city directories, newspaper articles/obituaries, cemetery records (an excellent source is Find A Grave), local history websites, historical societies, and various other records you can find. I'll explain more about primary sources below.

Make photocopies of records (birth certificates or obituaries or anything in between) or scan them into your computer. Then print them, just in case your computer crashes.

I have an interview with we did with my grandfather (saved on cassette tape nearly 30 years ago) about memories of his youth in Moorhead, MN. I was amazed to find out that he went to school with Warren Magnuson, a fine Norwegian-American who later grew up to be a U.S. Senator from Washington State.

Once you have a good number of American records, you can now jump across the ocean to Norway. The next step, of course, is...

2. Search the Norwegian Records

After you get the details about your family in the U.S., you can start searching in Norway. I have a mixture of some good news, a little mixed news, and a few bits of bad news about the Norwegian records.

Extremely Good News #1: A Huge Number of Norwegian Records Are on the Internet

You can find thousands of old Norwegian records on the internet and they go back to 1800. Actually, it's 1801 -- Norway conducted their first nationwide census in 1801. Before 1801, there were some censuses in certain areas, but nothing close to a nationwide census. Also before 1801 there were censuses (man tallies) that counted only men -- mainly for the purpose of finding men who could be drafted into the army. Plus there are quite a few church records and legal records before 1801. But the first big nationwide census was 1801.

The Norwegian government has collected a lot of records and put them on the internet in their archive here: Riksarkivet og Statsarkivene ("Rik" means kingdom (like the German word Reich) and "Stat" is state).

If you know the name of your ancestor's farm ("gaard" -- which is related to the English words "yard" and "garden" -- but it means "farm") and the name of the church parish ("prestegjeld" ("prest" means "priest")) and the name of the county/region ("fylke"), you can narrow down your search and zero in on your ancestor's farm. In addition to the censuses, the Norwegians have digitized a bunch of records from church books ("kirkebok"). If you're lucky, you might find a "bygdebok" (community book).

When I'm searching for someone, I like to start with the two country-wide comprehensive census reports, conducted in the years 1801 and 1865 (there are other censuses in 1875, 1885, and later -- but some of those happened after my ancestors had already emigrated). Plus, once you find the area your ancestors were from, you can search church books online (if you know the name of the church parish) which have  records of people being born ("født"), baptized ("døpt" -- dipped), confirmed ("konfirmeret"), married ("gifte"), dead ("dødt"), and buried/put in the grave ("begravet"). Plus, if your ancestor had children, you can maybe find the children being baptized, confirmed, married, and begraved.

Mixed News #1: Not All Records are Transcribed

Some records have been transcribed and are in ASCII/alphabetical format, so they're easy to search with a computer (which is usually good, unless you get a few thousand hits for Ole Olsen (which is the Norwegian version of "John Smith").

Unfortunately, many records aren't searchable. They're PDF files (digitized photographs) of handwritten records.

Mixed News #2: Some Records Are Searchable (Mostly Good)

If the records (including the 1801 and 1865 censuses) have been converted to ASCII and are in a database, you can search for a specific name at a specific location. If you look at neighboring farms you'll often find other relatives (cousins and aunts and uncles) at the farms next door. That's good. But see my note below about spelling variations.

Mixed News #3: Some Records Aren't Searchable (Kind of Bad)

Some records are basically PDF files (digitized photographs) of church books or other records, so you find yourself zooming in and trying to read the handwriting of some prest (priest) or klokker (clerk/sexton). The records are all in a Norwegian dialect (sometimes with abbreviations). Sometimes the handwriting is impossible to decipher or too faint to read. When I'm able to easily read the records, I find myself thanking the priest from 150 years ago for having good handwriting and for using a good pen with dark ink.

It's frustrating if you can't find the object of your search when you think you have the right year and the right place. You find yourself searching forward (or back) one or two years at the same church for, let's say, a baptism, confirmation, or marriage, or then maybe you check other churches in the area -- because maybe one of the parents came from a different parish on the other side of the river. When you finally find the baptism or the marriage or whatever, you celebrate. If you're lucky, you can find church records for an ancestor's baptism, confirmation, marriage, and funeral. Sometimes you'll discover other records (military service, land sales, emigration records, etc.).

Mixed News #4: Before 1900, Norwegians Didn't Have a Last Name

I'm not kidding. Nobody had a last name. This tends to confuse Americans who are trying to trace their Olsen or Hansen ancestors. It's not quite as bad as you might think, however.

I think it was around 1920 or 1921 (I forget the exact year) that Norway passed a law that everyone should pick a last name that they would pass to their children. So you have to understand the rules for names...

Good News #2: Norwegian Naming Conventions

You might think not having a last name is bad news for a genealogist, but you need to understand the naming conventions. Before about 1900, all Norwegians had a first name (which they kept their whole life). They also had a patronymic name (which they also kept their whole life) which was based on their father's name. And they had a farm name (which changed when they moved to a new farm -- so if someone moved a lot, their farm name changed a lot).

For example: In my family tree, there's a guy named Andreas Hansen (son of Hans), whose father was Hans Jonsen (son of Jon), whose father was Jon Larsen (son of Lars) -- and so on. The women in those families would have been called Hansdatter (daughter of Hans), Jonsdatter, Larsdatter, etc.

Americans tend to think of people having a first name and last name -- but in the old days, Norwegians didn't really have a last name. Their given name and patronymic followed them their whole life (incidentally, this means that in the 1800s, Norwegian women didn't have a so-called "maiden name.") Your first name and patronymic were fixed and absolute. If a woman was Sonja Eriksdatter (Sonja, daughter of Erik), she'd have that name her whole life (unless she moved to America, where the rules were different).

In addition, quite often, Norwegian records almost always included the farm name (some people lived in cities, but most people, at least 80%, lived on farms). However, if you moved to a different farm, your farm name ("gardnavn" or "gardnamme") would change. If a man married a woman and then the two of them moved to the wife's parents' farm, the man would change his farm name to hers. It was more like an address than a last name. Imagine if, in America, Ole son-of-Lars from Chicago got married to a woman from Detroit and then changed his name to Ole son-of-Lars from Detroit.

In America, people have last names. So when Norwegians came to America, they had basically two or three choices for a last name. Sometimes Ole Larsen from Evje farm would come to America and take the name Ole Larsen (which means, from then on, his children and grandchildren would be called Larsen or Larson). And sometimes he would call himself Ole Evje (so his kids would be have the last name of Evje). The third possibility: If the father called himself Ole Larsen in America, his kids might get the (American) last name of Larsen, even though in Norway they might have been named Olsen (son of Ole). And adult's last name in America was almost always either the patronymic (Larsen, in this example) or the Norwegian farm name (Evje). Also, in some cases, Norwegians would Americanize their first name. So Gjertrud might become Gertrude, Mortinius became Martin, Jens became John, Berte became Bertha, and so on.

For example, one of my Norsk ancestors was born with the name Anna Marcelie Andreasdatter Ryggen (this means Anna Marcelie lived at the Ryggen farm and she was the daughter of Andreas). She married Anton Helmer Arntsen Næsset and she moved to that farm, so now her farm name was Næsset. But her first husband died in a tragic accident. Her husband, Anton, was only 25 years old when his fishing boat sank and he died. Anton's first and only baby was only six months old. The boat sank with Anna's husband Anton and several members of Anton's family -- brothers, cousins, uncles, so Anna got remarried to a man from the Leiseth farm (so now her farm name and her infant son's farm name changed to Leiseth) and she had lots of children with her second husband. In just a few years, Anna's farm name changed from Ryggen to Næsset to Leiseth. This all happened on the Atlantic ocean (near Uthaug/Ørland, not far from Trondheim). There are several families of Leiseths around my home town in Minnesota, and most of their Leiseth ancestors were half-brothers to my ancestor -- same mother, but different father.

Good News #3: Norwegian Children Were Often Named After Their Grandparents

It wasn't a hard and fast rule, but in Norway parents quite often named the first boy and first girl after the father's parents. Then the second boy and second girl were named after the mother's parents.

This is very useful to know because it means you can often cross-reference the names and make some educated guesses. Let's say Olaf Olafsen (son of Olaf) married Kristina Larsdatter (daughter of Lars). It's very likely that their first two boys will be named Olaf and Lars (after their grandfathers). But let's say that the first two girls are named Valfrid and Gjertrud. Chances are very good those are the grandmothers' names -- because the first two girls would be named after their grandmothers. Another common tradition: Sometimes if a man's first wife died and then he remarried, his first daughter in the second marriage would be named after his first wife. Or if a woman's husband died and she married a second husband, she might name the next boy after her dead husband.

Sometimes you'll see the names of the oldest boys alternating over several generations. So I have an ancestor Klemmet Andersson, the oldest son of Anders Klemmetson, who's the oldest son of Klemmet Anderson, the oldest boy of Anders Klemmetson (but this guy wasn't the oldest son). His father was Clemed (aka Klemmet) Ingebresen (so the alternating chain is broken because Clemed wasn't the oldest son of Ingebret).

Bad news #1: You'll need to learn a few Norwegian words/abbreviations

If you dig through the internet records from the old days, you'll need to figure out some Norwegian words. But it's not really very hard. And there are websites that explain the words. Google Translate works pretty well most of the time. You need to learn, for example, some initials: "k" is wife, "s" is son, "d" is daughter, "f" is born, "d" ("døpt") means baptized but "d" (dødt) also means dead, "c" is confirmed, "ægte" means born in wedlock, "uægte" means born out of wedlock, "b" means begraved (laid in the grave), "g" is married, "ug" is unmarried. And so on. Also, sometimes the church records use the church calendar, so you might see 3 Sondag (third Sunday) etter (after) Trinitas (Trinity) or something like Maria Bebudelsdag, because the priest or sexton used the names from the church calendar instead of actual dates. There's a website that translates church dates here: Moveable Feast Day Calendar for Norway. You can click on 1844 and figure out when Easter (Paaske) was. It was 7 April in 1844.

Also it's very important to know that Norwegian records use the European convention for dates, so "12-3" means 12 March, not December 3. Norwegian records put the date first, then the month (this is a thing that drives me nuts when I'm looking at ancestor records on that Mormon genealogy website -- Americans who copy information from Norwegian websites assume 12-3 means December 3, but in Norway, 12-3 means 12 March).

Bad news #2: Spelling Varies A Lot

Americans spell their names one and only one way. John Smith. Or Evelyn Wawafellira. That's the spelling on your credit card and on your driver's license -- and so on.

In 19th century Norway and before, most people didn't worry very much about how to spell their name (it's not like they had credit cards or driver's licenses or checking accounts) . So if you were Olaf Andersen (Olaf, the son of Anders), you'd get baptized or confirmed or married or buried. And everyone could pronounce your name. But the official records were written down by people -- census takers (or other government officials) or church officials -- who often made their own decision on how to spell your name . Depending on if they were educated in Denmark or Sweden, they might write Olaf or Olav or Oluf or maybe even Ollef for your first name. And your patronymic might be spelled Anderson, Andersson, Andersen, or Andresen. Basic rule: The person who wrote it down made his own decision on how to spell a name. The farm names were spelled in many unique and creative ways over the years, as well.

I have one female ancestor whose name is spelled either Welgjerd or Velgier in different records. And John could be Johan, Johannes, Joen, or Jon. Farm names changed spelling a bit (Leiseth or Leseth or Leset -- Hegge or Hege or Heggie). A first name could be Thor or Tor or Thore. So when you're searching through the databases, you have to be flexible and try different spellings. Kristian or Christian or Kristen (sometimes even Xian!) is another one.

Sometimes You Can Find a Ton of Information From A Secondary Source

Both of my grandparents on my father's side graduated from St. Olaf College (Northfield, MN)in 1928 and both Nanny and Pop (as we grandchildren called them) wrote about their family trees for a college class. My grandparents talked to their grandparents and wrote down their family trees back in the 1920s. Then, in the 1970s, when I was at St. Olaf, I photocopied their essays. Yes, they were secondary sources (which I'll define a few paragaphs below this), but I got a lot of excellent information there. Some of it was wrong, but you expect that from a secondary source.

On my mother's side, I have a second cousin (my mother's father's sister's child), who actually went to Norway and dug into the records there. He emailed me his research. And I'll be forever indebted to him for doing all that work.

And my mother's mother's family lived at Haugdahl (or Hodal) farm, near Trondheim and Steinkjer on the lake called Leksdalvatnet, and I got photocopies of the bygdebok (community book) that traced the family back for several generations.

Now I have to complain a bit about why secondary sources can't always be trusted...

You Can't Always Believe Secondary Sources Prima Facie

This is a basic rule of writing about history. Ronald Reagan once said, "Trust but verify." Always keep this in mind. Your grandmother might tell you something grandmother told her -- but that doesn't mean it's automatically true.

A primary historical source is something like a census report or a church record about a baptism/marriage/funeral, or a ship's register of emigrants who were on a ship coming to America. That's firsthand evidence, a primary source. You can usually trust the information there (although the spellings might vary a bit).

On the other hand, a secondary source is inherently less trustworthy. So, for example, you can't necessarily trust notes found in a family Bible. I found several mistakes in my grandmother's 1927 college-class essay about her ancestors (which was based on her talking to her grandmother). I might even call that a tertiary source. It was hearsay about hearsay. My grandmother got lots of the names and other information right, but she got a few things wrong -- so I went off on a few wild goose chases before I could track it all down. I verified most of the information, but here and there, some of what my grandmother heard from her grandmother was wrong.

This warning about secondary sources goes double for internet websites. I will never blindly trust websites such as or the Mormon website -- yes, they look very organized (and they're on a computer!), but if they don't give the primary source, I wouldn't automatically trust any information I find there. I write down the information with a question mark and then try to verify it. If someone posts incorrect information on the internet (from a family Bible, let's say), twenty people -- various cousins and second cousins -- will copy that information and it will multiply all over the internet. Or if someone is looking for a someone named Ole Hansen and finds the wrong person (because Ole Hansen was a very common name in 1800s Norway), they'll put that information on their family tree. Once one person puts the wrong information on the internet, it spreads like wildfire. Like a contagious disease.

Just because you found some family tree information from some guy on the internet, it doesn't mean you can trust the information. Sometimes the internet is wrong. Always check the primary sources. Once in a while I've found contradictory information. For example, somebody lists a mother and child, but the mother died in 1792 and her child was born in 1794. Which doesn't make sense. Or maybe it says the father was born in 1803, and his first child was born in 1808 (when the father was only five years old?).

Sometimes you can get lucky on the internet. I have one ancestor who was a dead end. His name was Olav Hansen (son of Hans Olsen). Olav was born just after 1865 (which means he didn't appear in the 1865 census). I had found at least ten people named Hans Olsen from that time who might or might not be his father. Plus the Norwegian church records from Biri Kirke were destroyed when the church burned down, so I couldn't find the parents' marriage or the baptism of the child. I was lucky in my Google searches when I found a distant Norwegian cousin who was related to the sister of the wife of Hans Olsen (and thus he was able to fill in the details via email).

And now here's one final rant. I'll tell you why most Norwegians don't have royal blood. Or, even if they might have royal blood, they probably can't prove it.

And now...

Why You're Probably Not Descended From a Viking-Era King

If someone (a cousin, maybe) tells you that your Norwegian ancestors had royal blood based on something they found on the internet, you should read this essay (nine pages of PDF files -- and you'll need Adobe to read it):

Norwegian Kings and Vikings: Do They Belong in Your Family Tree?.

This was a speech given in 1991 by Lars Løberg, who at the time was the Vice Consul of Norway. He's a smart guy -- a diplomat from Norway.

I'll explain just a few of the reasons you probably don't have royal blood:

1. Sometimes Cousins Get Married.

People do some math and think they have two parents and four grandparents, then 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, and so on and so on. 16 generations back would be 65,536 ancestors. So somewhere you'll find a king in the woodpile, right? Nope. Wrong.

Here's what Løberg says about King Harald, the current king of Norway, who has only ten great grandparents (not sixteen):

Let me use the present Norwegian King Harald V, as an example of how the number of ancestors are limited. Like everyone else he had two parents. He even has the theoretical maximum of four grandparents. But, since his parents, Olav and Märtha, were first cousins, he had only six great–grandparents. Thus, already in the fourth generation he has lost 25% of his ancestors. King Olav's parents, Haakon and Maud, were also first cousins, which gives King Harald ten instead of sixteen great-greatgrandparents.

I know, from my own Norwegian family tree, that sometimes first or second or third cousins get married. So going back 16 generations, you might have 64K lines of descent, but eventually a lot of them overlap. I know of one ancestor (a long time ago) who had two boys and a girl and all three of those kids are my ancestors because at some point their descendants married a distant cousin.

2. In Medieval Times, People Often Lied about Being Descended from Kings.

Here's Løberg again (incidentally, the word "agnatic" means descended through male ancestors (son of a son of a son)):

To be a pretender [to the throne] one had to be of the royal family, but it did not matter whether the connection was legitimate or illegitimate, as long as it was agnatic. Two such pretenders from an obscure origin even succeeded in being kings and part founders of the royal dynasty. Those were Harald Gille, who was Irish born and pretended to be the son of King Magnus Barefoot. He established his assertion by carrying a redhot iron without being burned. An impressive proof, but hardly as convincing as the analysis of blood tests that one uses today. The other, and politically much more important pretender, was King Sverre. He grew up at the Faroe Islands as the son of Unas Kambrare (or comb–maker), the brother of bishop Roe. He studied theology and was ordained minister before 1175. According to his own saga, which he himself dictated the beginning of, his mother got regrets in her older days and went to Rome to see the Pope and received absolution for her great sin: Hiding the secret that her son Sverre actually was the son of King Sigurd Munn. The Pope gave her absolution and told her to go back and tell her son the truth. That changed the history of Norway.

Løberg then explains that there are three excellent reasons Sverre could not have been the illegitimate son of King Sigurd Munn: 1) King Sigurd would have been 12 years old when he fathered Sverre. 2) The Pope didn't actually live in Rome during the time when Sverre's mother said she visited the Pope in Rome. And 3) Even if she met the Pope, the Pope almost certainly wouldn't have supported a bastard pretender to the throne. Thus, Sverre's mother's story ("His father was a king!") is  probably a big fat lie. And yet, Sverre became king.

3. Of 100 Possible Royal  Norwegian Lines, Probably Only 5 are Legitimate.

Løberg says Norwegians in Medieval times were mostly rural farmers or coastal fishermen. Just ordinary people scraping by, trying not to die from an epidemic. Therefore, most Norwegian ancestors could be considered middle class or lower class. Most of them weren't nobility.

Here's Lars Løberg on those various royal lines:

We have perhaps 100 different lines going through these rural farmer families back to the old Norwegian kings and vikings. 80 of these lines are based on a dangerous combination of fraudulence and wishful thinking, 15 may be possible, but impossible to substantiate, and thus only about 5 out of 100 lines are interesting in a genealogical point of view.

He then goes into more detail about those five lines that might possibly be royal lines. If you're still convinced that you're descended from royalty, you should read his nine-page speech. He also points out that...

A Lot of Royal Lines Died Off

Again, from the Løberg speech:

The daughters of the royal family were all parts of the political game that took place. Sverre's daughter Kristin was given to the leader of the opposition party, King Philippus, in 1208 to settle the dispute between the Baglers and the Birkebeiners. She left no issue. ["No issue" means no children, which means that line died off.]

Håkon The Great had only one daughter, whose name was the same as his aunt's. This Kristin (or Kristina) was used to strengthen foreign relations; she was given to the Spanish Prince Don Filipus of Castilla. [Which means that particular royal line left Norway and all of her descendants were born in Spain.]

King Eirik was married twice, and he had one daughter in each marriage. His first wife was the only daughter of the Scottish King Alexander III. When the last of her 2 brothers died in 1284, she became the heir to the Scottish throne, and when she herself died later in the same year, their baby daughter Margaret became the heir. In fact, she inherited the Scottish throne when 3 years old in 1286. To prevent civil war in Scotland, she was to be brought under the custody of the English King Edward I, and, later on, to be married to his son. Alas, the young Queen died during the journey to Scotland.

The King's second daughter [King Eirik's daughter], Ingebjørg, was also used for political purposes. She was, after her father's death given to the Swedish Prince Valdemar, who was challenging his brother, King Birger, and she was eventually killed. Thus, none of Eirik's daughters left any issue in Norway. [Which means his line died.]

King Håkon Haleggr also had 2 daughters. Ingeborg was married to the Swedish Prince Erik, the brother of Prince Valdemar whose destiny he also joined. She had 2 children to whom I will return later on. The elder of the daughters, Agnes, was born out of wedlock, and was thus useless for international relations. She was instead as an infant married to a high nobility Norwegian, and became the progenitor of the most important Norwegian high nobility clan in the Medieval Ages.

You can see that it was not unusual for a line to die off -- or for a child to move to another country to continue the royal line outside of Norway.

Three More Important Things to Consider

Around 1350 (mid-14th century) The Black Death (aka "The Plague") spread throughout Europe and once it arrived in Norway, it killed tons of Norwegians. In fact, if you know a Norwegian-American named Ødegård (or Odegard or Odegaard) -- the word øde means "abandoned" or "empty" and gaard means "farm" -- so it means everyone who lived at the farm died of the plague. Later on, people moved to the abandoned farm and took the farm name Odegard. A lot of families died off around that time. And lots of records were lost at that time. It's nearly impossible to trace Norwegian ancestors (royal or not) back before the 14th century.

Then, in 1536, Norway became part of Denmark. After the 1500s, the royal bigwigs mostly lived in Denmark. There were no Kings of Norway after that, for almost 400 years, until Norway became an independent country in the early 20th century.

The Denmark/Norway alliance lasted until the early 1800s, when Napoleon was defeated. Denmark was allied with France (the Emperor Napoleon) but Sweden was allied with Russia (the Czar). When Napoleon's army marched into Russia and was defeated, Denmark signed a treaty and gave Norway to Sweden. Norway was then part of Sweden for about 100 years (which means that during that period, the royal families lived in Sweden). Norway got its independence in the early 20th century.

So, here's the bottom line: With a little bit of work, you can trace your Norwegian ancestors back to the 1801 census. Most of them will be farmers or fishermen (and maybe a few preachers or teachers or soldiers or various other occupations such as carpenters, blacksmiths, or shoemakers) Before 1801, if you search very hard, you can maybe find some church records or some tax records going back to about the 1600s. But before about 1500, it's all darkness and shadow. And before the Black Plague of 1350, it's almost impossible to find your Norwegian ancestors.

If someone in your family tells you you're related to some Viking or Norwegian king (or a saint) from the year 1000 or before, they're almost certainly wrong. If you have some relative who hired a genealogist who claimed you're descended from St. Olaf, you should check every single ancestor and examine the primary sources.

I'll finish with this:

Two Embarassing Stories About My Own Genealogy

Maybe ten years ago, when I was enthusiastically and wholeheartedly searching for ancestors, I was looking for more information about some ancestor from about 1500 or 1600 (and I was reasonably sure he was an ancestor of mine). I found my guy on some website. I started copying the information. And I discovered (on this website) that I was related to St. Olaf (who brought Christianity to Norway around 1000 AD)! That's kind of fun to know. Also I was related to St. Vladimir the Great (who brought Christianity to Russia)! And I was related to Charlemagne and some Roman Emperors and Moses and Noah and, OMG, Adam and Eve. Eventually I realized this was pure bullshit and I stopped copying down the information from this idiot on the internet. I learned a valuable lesson. Even if it looks like a real family tree, sometimes people who post family trees on the internet are huge liars. With pants are on fire. They're just faking it.

Another story: When I was a child, my grandparents told me that we were descended from one of Napoleon's generals (not exactly royalty, but it's a pretty good story, don't you think?). That's pretty exciting. As I worked on the family tree, I kept trying to find a French general. The closest I got was a woman with a child born out of wedlock in the area around Stavanger, Norway. As far as I can tell, she met a soldier (perhaps a low-ranking French officer -- this was around the time of Napoleon) who got her pregnant and then abandoned her and the child. I think that, over the years, the family lore turned this lowly French soldier into "one of Napoleon's generals." So the family story of Napoleon's general was just smoke and fog. Pure hearsay. A cute, but ultimately false, story handed down through the generations. My grandparents (who told me this story) died before I could tell them that it wasn't true.

A Final Question

I have traced my ancestry back to approximately 980 Norwegians who are my direct ancestors. One of these days, with a litle bit of work, I might get the number up to the magical number of 1000. Some lines go back to the 1500s or 1600s. I'll freely admit that I'm counting some people about whom I know very little. So, maybe Ole Gundersen -- Ole, the son of Gunder -- is a dead end, but his father must have been named Gunder (which means some guy named Gunder, with just a first name, is listed in my family tree, but I don't know when he was born or when he died or who he married). When you're tracing your family tree, every branch inevitably ends with a question mark.

Almost all of my Norwegian ancestors were either farmers or fishermen -- because in the old days that's how Norwegians made a living. Here and there I have someone who is a teacher, a preacher, a merchant mariner, a railroad worker, a shop owner, a soldier, or whatever. Which is fine. A few of them were well-educated, but many weren't. A small number had a decent amount of money or land; many didn't.

The final question I want to ask is this: Why do people care about royal blood? I don't yearn for a connection to royal blood. A lot of those old kings from 1000 years ago were bloodthirsty tyrants. Why would I want to be related to them, anyway? I'm proud to be descended from working-class people like farmers and fishermen.

Having said all of this, I predict that now a few people will reply and say, "No really, my cousin traced our family back to some Viking King from the year 900." I suppose that's a good story to tell your children. You can believe that it's true if you want to, but I'm pretty sure you're probably wrong.