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What's a Lag?

A little background....

Norway is a mountainous country, and the people in each of its valleys developed their own culture, dialect, and customs.  When the earliest Norwegian immigrants arrived in America, they settled with others from their local areas and continued to celebrate their special brand of "Norwegian-ness."  These immigrants had often known the families in their home communities for a century or more, and were often tied not only by experience but a rich oral tradition that explained and treasured their often complicated familial relationships.

As the decades past, individuals and small family units moved from the original "home" areas in Wisconsin and Minnesota to those areas where there was still land available to homestead, or to cities and towns where their specific skills could support them.  Although new immigrants were most likely welcomed into the home of a family member and still lived among Norwegians, these latter day Norwegian communities were usually more diverse, with families drawn from many Norse bygder (communities).

The Bygdelag Movement

Around the turn of the twentieth century, Norwegian immigrants began to create community organizations, or bygdelag, that offered an opportunity for those from a specific area of Norway to stay in touch.  Publications chronicled the lives of both Norwegian-Americans and their friends and family in Norway. At least once a year, people came together from all over the upper Midwest to speak the dialect, exchange news, share meals, and enjoy entertainment that reflected the specific customs and traditions of their original home area in Norway.  This also provided a means by which the immigrants could pass along their unique cultural heritage to succeeding generations. In the first two or three decades of the twentieth century, bygdelag stevner (community organization meetings) drew literally thousands of immigrants and their families.

As the original immigrants passed away, their descendants no longer felt the strong personal connection to the language and people from specific areas of Norway. Although many still married Norwegians, they did not always marry individuals from their ancestral bygd. The more general sense of being Norwegian displaced an identity tied to Hadeland, Valdres, or other specific geographic areas. Following World War II, the bygdelag suffered from a decline in interest and membership dwindled.  By the 1970's, most bygdelag were facing almost certain demise. 

The efforts of a few stalwart individuals in each of the lags led to their revitalization.  In the 80's and 90's the focus shifted from social interaction toward genealogical and historical research.  The bygdelag were in a unique position to share a specialized understanding and interest in the farms and families of specific areas of Norway.  Bygdelag now provide opportunities for those researching their family trees to learn more details about their ancestors' lives and come in contact with the descendants of their ancestors' families and friends.

Norwegians are alone in this organized focus on community roots. We may no longer speak the language of our ancestors, let alone the dialect, but members of the Hadeland Lag share an interest in learning more about their family roots in Gran, Brandbu, Jevnaker and Lunner and in the history and people that shared their ancestors' lives, both in Norway and in the pioneer communities of America.

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Interested in bygdelag representing other areas of Norway?

Visit the Bygdelagenes Fellesraad website




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Last update: May 01, 2022