A brief inspection of the churchbook where the christening of Kari Larsdatter’s illegitimate son was recorded in 1856 (born in November 1855) was a bit surprising to me. Here is where you can find the page, and browse the book yourself if you like. And here is a portion of the record:
In the right-hand column the mother is “Pige Kari Larsdatter Skurdalseiet.” Pige (modern spelling: Pike) means “girl” or “unmarried woman” (Kari was 25). And the father is “Ungkarl Rasmus Knudsen Kjorstadeiet,” Ungkarl meaning “bachelor.”
I looked through six or eight pages beginning with this one; each page had about ten records. I was surprised to find that almost every page had one or two records with “Pige + Ungkarl” parentage. So, it seems that at least 10 percent of the births recorded during that time period were to unwed parents, a much higher proportion than I would have expected.
Of course, just because it was common does *not* mean that the child and the family were not stigmatized by it. I can hardly imagine that it was socially more acceptable in the Norway of the 1850’s than it was, say, in America in the 1950’s.
Coincidentally, Lars Poulsen, Kari’s (and immigrant Ole’s) father, died about four months before this child was born. At least it *probably* was a coincidence. But one can imagine scenarios …
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Dec 21, 2008
This is an email from cousin Carmen, with some valuable insights on this issue:
One of the explanations I have read of so many babies being born before marriage of the parents was that a couple may be engaged to be married, but the ‘preacher’ was a circuit variety, and he only made an appearance in a community or farm at sporadic times, so weddings were performed while he was there. So, many couples didn’t/couldn’t wait for his arrival and hence the baby before the marriage!! For whatever reason, my Kari didn’t marry the father of her child. I appreciate your conjecturing as to the why’s and wherefore’s of a situation. That spurred my thinking and I discovered that Peter, Kari’s 2nd child was born directly after her marriage to Ole Nesseth, but she had only been in his community for a short while before their marriage.
Did he come originally from her area, and they had a relationship there and were reunited later in a new community? Guess we’ll never know the exact circumstances, but it does do something to one’s imagination.
Keep up the good work! Carmen