Norwegian genealogy, emigration, and transmigration

Liv Marit Haakenstad tours US with new book

Business & Sports Editor
The Norwegian American

Liv Marit Haakenstad came to Norway House in Minneapolis flying over the route many Norwegian and Scandinavian immigrants took west. She took her audience on that path the immigrants took, from leaving Norway, the different waves of emigration, different routes, various shipping lines, conditions on the ships, the ports of entry in New York, first Castle Garden, then Ellis Island; the push west and all the different places Norwegians settled. In addition, she talked about sources of information she used and genealogical resources. All of this and more is part of her recently published book, A Guidebook to Norwegian Genealogy, Emigration, and Transmigration (Independently published, 419 pages, available on Amazon, $35 hard cover, $25 paperback).

Haakenstad is an internationally renowned genealogy researcher, consultant, and presenter.

There were four major waves of immigration from Norway: 1866-1873; 1880-1893, 1900-1914, and 1920-1929. Major events intersected these eras: Civil War ended in 1865; a long depression between 1873-79; World War I, 1914-18, panics in 1907 and 1911; the Immigration Act of 1924. In 1882, 1.5% of the Norwegian population—about 28,800—immigrated to America.

“Those events were reasons for Norwegians immigrants to stay at home,” she said. “Then, the U.S. Immigration Act of 1924 pretty much shut everything down.

“Around 150,000 people total entered the United States.”

To contrast Norwegian immigration with Europe, Haakenstad revealed 841,000 Norwegians immigrated to the United States between 1851 and1930; Sweden 1.3 million; Denmark 369,000; Germany 4.8 million, the United Kingdom and Ireland 18 million, the latter largely because of the potato famine in Ireland.

Leaving Norway was different than other European countries. “Norway had an agency system,” said Haakenstad, while showing a slide of an 1869 ticket to America. “There was a main agent and general agent. They were looking over the cases. The one who sold the tickets was also the one who had the general store. He could sell sugar that the buyer could take to America. From 1869, they sold a ticket straight to America, all connections, because it was somebody who wanted to make more business from the immigrants.

“Many people couldn’t read or write. So, officials could come over to them and say ‘your ticket isn’t valid. You have to get another one.’ Immigrants might get stuck somewhere.”

From 1825 to 1860, Norwegian immigrants came from four major areas: Stavanger; Bergen, Hardanger, Voss and Sogn; Telemark and Numedal; and Biri, Valdres, and Hadeland. Starting in the 1850s, boats could travel directly from Norway to America, but the Navigation Act of 1849 opened up routes from England to Quebec. Ships would travel from Oslo-Kristiansand-Hull-Liverpool and take boats to Quebec, Montreal, Halifiax. Other immigration landing spots were Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, New Orleans, and Galveston, Texas.

“There were bigger ships leaving from Liverpool, but they also offered other destinations to go to,” said Haakenstad.

Ships’ manifests of passenger names are good sources when studying one’s roots, but Haakenstad offered some caution. “If the Norwegians went from Hamburg, I have seen them listed as Germans,” she said. “Just have that in mind. They are Norwegians. It seems like they could be Germans on the list, but believe yourself this is the one. I’ve had to go back on that several times.

“They had a system on all these boats and I started looking into this, the immigration and transmigration, 20 years ago. One line, the name of the boat almost always ends with the letter ‘o.’ Many times, the line isn’t mentioned, but the ship is.

“So, that’s the way to convert it. It’s a system. I had a Sunday in Newcastle where the library was open and I looked at the advertising and it said when a ship is coming in. You had to know what line they were from to understand the roots of everything. So, everything had to be converted back. To understand Norway, you need to know the system and then go back to the line.”

Often at ports of entry, officials would anglicize or Americanize an immigrant’s name. Or later, the immigrant would change it. Haakenstad traced a Lie family that became Lee. Census data, church records, gravestones are other good sources of information.

About the author

Liv Marit Haakenstad, AG® was born 1965 in Lillehammer, Norway, and grew up in Biri, Norway. At the age of 12, she started doing genealogy research, and she has worked as a professional genealogist and author for many years. She has written more than 100 genealogy articles on computers and genealogy, Norwegian emigration, genealogy, and genealogy technology, and nine books on Norwegian genealogy. She is often assisting international heir research firms and is working as a forensic genealogist. 

Haakenstad has been a consultant for several genealogical TV shows, including Who Do you Think You Are? BBC and Canada, and Norwegian Anno. Haakenstad is an international genealogy presenter who has given more than 150 lectures throughout Norway, the United States, and England. She was a speaker at the Who Do you Think You Are? Live conference in Birmingham, United Kingdom, in 2015. She was a featured speaker at the RootsTech London Conference in 2019 and was a speaker at RootsTech Connect 2021. 

Haakenstad has a master’s degree in nonfiction writing from the University of South-Eastern Norway.

Learn more about Liv at

Websites for researching your Norwegian family history

Norway’s digital archives

Norwegian historical data center

Norwegian documentation project

Family Search


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This article originally appeared in the October 7, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American.

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Michael Kleiner

Michael Kleiner, business and sports editor, has more than three decades of experience as an award-winning journalist and public relations professional. He has operated his own PR and web design business for small businesses, authors and community organizations in Philadelphia since 1999. Not of Norwegian descent, he lived in Norway for a year with his family at age 11 and has returned as an adult. He is the author of a memoir, Beyond the Cold: An American’s Warm Portrait of Norway, and a member of NorCham Philadelphia. Visit;