Registry of literacy and religion – Sjeleregister

Registry of literacy and religion is another source to search for ancestors in Norway

The Norwegian name of this source is “sjeleregister” → registry of souls.

The purpose of this registry was to evaluate the literacy among the people in the parish. This is, however, not a homogeneous source. While the majority of these did register religious matters, there are also some initiated by the secular administration (Helgheim 1977: 269). The latter sometimes resemble the male censuses from 1663-1666 and 1701.

Today, unfortunately, only a few of these registers are still available. At the time of this writing, a search in the Digital archive gives us 135 hits. The oldest one is Nes parish in Akershus county from 1660. The search reveals that most of these sources are from the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. One going to 1870.

Johannes Helgheim divides the registers into two categories (Helgheim 1977:270):

A : Soul registers where parents, elderly, young people, servants and children are included.

B : Soul registers that only includes children, youth, unmarried and servants.

We see that not all the people in the parish were necessarily listed in the register.

Here is an example from Vågan parish, Nordland county 1749

Here is an explanation of the columns:

  1. starts with the name of the farm Ulfvogen (Ulvåg) and then goes on to list the names of the four inhabitants.
  2. age (alder).
  3. if they can read in a book?
  4. have they taken part in holy communion?
  5. do they know Luther’s catechism?
  6. do they know the explanation to the catechism?

Another example from Jelsa parish in Rogaland county 1758:

The columns are:

  1. Farmname
  2. Name and age of men and women
  3. Children of both genders
  4. Servants of both genders
  5. Lodgers
  6. The lodgers’ children

Finally an example from Norddal parish, Møre og Romsdal county from 1788:This is just a list of the name of the different farms and the youth who is confirmed. Seen here is the farm names Dahlle (Dale) and Engeset. We note that this list is called “Designation” → designation.

In the original source, the registry can have many different names (Helgheim: 1977:269) The Digital archive has gathered them under the topic “Registry of literacy and religion”

These are just a few examples of the many variations of this source. Only a few of the register of souls are transcribed and searchable.

We can see the available sources by following this link

We find the explanation of these sources in the Digital Archives (in Norwegian) at



Information about “Sjeleregister” presented only in Norwegian on Digitalarkivet (publ 26.4.2018)

Johannes Helgheim: Sjeleregister som kjeldemateriale i Heimen 1977 XVII

Jostein Fet: Lesande bønder, litterær kultur i norske allmugesamfunn før 1840 Universitetsforlaget, Oslo 1995

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