The Norwegian Farm - The Gard

A proper understanding of the Norwegian farm ("gard") begins with a look at the broader political/geographical picture. Norway is divided into 19 "fylkes", which are roughly equivalent to America's states. A "fylk" can have regional divisions that are not necessarily political. Each "fylk" is subdivided into "kommunes", which are similar to the counties of America. Finally, each kommune is divided into "gards" - the Norwegian farm. For ease in identification, census and taxation, a "mattrikkelnummer" was assigned to each farm. This numbering system was introduced in the early 1700s and was revised in the late 1830s.

The gard varied greatly in size, from one acre to forty. As Norway is a land of fjords and mountains, often this large acreage had very little arable land. When the gard was originally settled, the name given by the owner generally stayed with the place, even after hundreds of years and through multiple owners. Parts of the gard might be sold; the smaller units were known as "bruk". The gard name would stay the same; each bruk would receive a number for identification. An example from the Fristad family; Johann lived in the fylke of Sogn og Fjordane, in the Sunnfjord region, in the kommune of Askvoll, on the Fristad gard.

The "gardmann" (farmer) was the owner of the gard, with rights of ownership and cultivation of resources. If the amount of land the gardmann owned was greater than his family's ability to maximize production, he would rent portions of the land to a "husmann" (cottage-holder). His rent might take the form of cash (if he had a profession such as a cobbler or fisherman), or he might pay rent by working a specified number of days for the gardmann. In return, the husmann had the right to build on and use the land for his family's benefit. The larger the farm, the greater the number of potential husmann. Also on the farm were "Innerst" (lodgers) who would have a room in the cottage of the gardmann or husmann.

A large percentage of Norway's population in the late 1800s was rural; perhaps as much as 75%. Work for the husmann and innerst on the gard was strenuous, with long hours of difficult manual labor. Looking for an easier life for their families, many left the gard for Norway's cities. Many left for America - like Johannes!

An excellent and very detailed description of the farm system may be found here.

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