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Probing Scandinavian Probates: Norway

Probates are important in doing genealogical research in many countries. They are among the top four record sources in the U.S. In Norway they are among the top three recommended for use in finding genealogical information.


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In the Scandinavian countries of Norway, Denmark, and Sweden, probates are a very important source. That is because one of the primary reasons for keeping them was to record guardianship. They served other purposes as well, including the expected division of the estate, but guardianship was the main motivation behind them.

In Norway before 1690, the division of the estate could be done privately after paying off the debts before at least two witnesses. These proceedings were usually recorded with the deeds in the court records. In 1685 the government put forth a law that both mandated probate court records to be kept and established better organization in the courts and their records.

In 1690, Norway began keeping probate records entirely separate from other court proceedings and land records. A copy was also made after this time and was to be kept in the probate register (skifteprotokol).

In 1701 the laws directed that all original documents and probate matters were to be registered within six weeks. Soon after this law, another was put into force that changed the period from six weeks to immediately, and all matters dealing with the probate were recorded in one book chronologically as they occurred, or with the probate registrations and business meetings kept separately. Because they were allowed to record the events separately, there are two different records for some places, the skifteprotokoller, which contained the registration of the original letter of probate and additional documents, and the skiftebehandlingsprotokoller, which included records from the business meetings.

The system underwent changes once again in the 1830s that continues to this day. This system produces registreringsprotokoller, which are the original letters of probate; the skiftebehandlings og skifteforhandlingsprotokoller, the proceedings from subsequent business meetings; skifteslutings or skifteundlodningsprotokoller which contain summaries of the estate divisions to heirs and creditors and the closing of the probate dealings; and skifteprotokoller, which was the final or summary registration made of the proceedings recorded shortly after the probate closed.

To find the actual records, it is important to know which jurisdiction the proceedings were recorded in. Remember that some cities had their own probate jurisdictions before 1850 when you are searching for the correct one. A list of these jurisdictions can be found in the publication entitled "Scandinavian Genealogical Research," published by Thomsen's Genealogical Center.

As mentioned before, the primary reason for keeping them was to record guardianship. Those under the age of 25 were considered minors and were put in the charge of the nearest male relative of the deceased. The name and relation of the guardian is usually recorded in the probate entry. Additional information that can usually be found in these records is the name of the deceased's wife, children, grandchildren, and possibly nieces and nephews. An entry may indicate prior marriages or any which were planned. It may also list the siblings of the deceased.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2005.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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