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Using Parish Records to Locate Previously-Unknown Children

Genealogists get excited when they discover a previously-unknown child in a family tree. Often we do not know about those babies who were born and passed away between takings of the census. This week, I found two such unknown children.

According to my Norwegian great-aunt Signe, my ancestors Sivert Knudsen and Martha Hansdatter of Nordland, Norway had twelve children of whom only four survived to adulthood. Signe had no information about the eight who had died, so I set out to find them. I knew that the online birth and death records of the Norwegian Lutheran Church likely contained this information. But these records are not indexed, so I needed a research plan.

I took these steps:

  1. Time Line–I placed the birth dates of the known surviving children on a timeline to establish a range of dates to search. The mother was unwed and 20 years old when her first surviving child was born in 1861. She was 37 at the birth of the last in 1878. Large gaps existed between the births, so I found I needed to search all her theoretical child-bearing years, say, 1857 when Martha was 15 until 1891 when Martha would have been 50 years old.
  2. Location–I identified the likely parishes where the unknown children would have been recorded. Early in their marriage, Sivert and Martha lived in Øksnes parish, Nordland. By the time the third surviving child was born, they had moved to Hadsel parish. I needed to search the records of both parishes. I could begin in Øksnes and search from 1857 until 1870 when the third survivor was baptized in Hadsel. I would then search Hadsel records from 1870 to 1891.
  3. Search–I examined the birth and death records of these parishes year-by-year, looking for any previously-unknown children born to Sivert and Martha. On the first pass, I discovered three, born in 1868, 1872, and 1882.
  4. Search Again–This week I searched the Norwegian index that is coming online at Family Search for any records mentioning the parents Martha Hansdatter or Sivert Knudsen. There I found references to two stillborn children in Hadsel in 1874 and 1876. I had missed them earlier because I had not realized the parish death form used in those years listed stillbirths in a separate column from the other deaths. Lesson learned. Thanks, husband/tech advisor for pointing this out to me.

I still do not have the information on all twelve of the reported children in this family. But I have made progress by adding two more this week. So far, I know of nine of the Sivertsen children:

  1. 1861    Johan Andreas Martinsen
  2. 1866    Kaspara Helmine Sivertsdatter
  3. 1868    Anna Marie Birgitte Siversdatter ( died in 1869)
  4. 1870    Hans Edvard Sivertsen
  5. 1872    Karl Nordal Sivertsen (died in 1872)
  6. 1874    unnamed Sivertsdatter (stillborn)
  7. 1876    unnamed Sivertsen (stillborn)
  8. 1878    Sofie Marie Sivertsdatter—my great-grandmother who looks like a “miracle baby”
  9. 1882    unnamed Sivertsdatter (stillborn)

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