Household Marks

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Bumerke (plural bumerker) means home or household mark, a unique symbol or combination of symbols, not unlike an American cattle brand, used to sign a person’s name in the days before literacy was widespread.  The bumerke was normally incorporated along with the person’s initials into a signet ring or stamp.  Often, this included the initial of the person’s given name, the initial of the father’s given name, and an S (-sen) or D (-datter) depending on whether it was owned by a man or woman.  Occasionally, as in the example below, the father’s initial was replaced by the first letter of the farm name.

Few of these signets survive because they were normally buried with the owner to prevent misuse, however the designs survive in wax or paper impressions from old documents.  Parish histories (bygdebøker) in Norway frequently contain drawings or photographs of these impressions, and Kristoffer Rein’s Stadsbygd history is no exception.

One of these drawings in the Stadsbygd bygdebøker is that of the signet used by Peder Zachariassen Haarsager, 1653-1733.  Peder was a juror (lagrettemann) and his stamped “signature” survives on at least one legal document.

Peder was one of my 5th great (five greats) grandfathers (4.tipp-oldefar).  In 1679, he moved from the Vaarvig farm where he was born Rissa to Håssåker (then spelled Haarsager) to join his brother Kristen (1655-1696) in farming half of the gard.  Kristen had married the widow of the previous farmer in 1675.  Peder had seven children with two wives, Ragnhild Svendsdatter (died in 1700) and Marit (dates unknown).  Peder and Marit’s 2nd son Kristen (1707-1766) took over the farm in 1734 and it is from him and his wife, Ingeborg Ellingsdatter Lein (1709-1778) that I and the current farmers there are descended.

The picture above is of a ring that I had made in 2002 as a replica of Peder’s bumerke in a signet.  The letters are, of course, reversed so that they can make the proper impression in wax.  The bumerke without the three cross marks in this case is the rune for T, but it was meant to represent that or just be indicative of an arrow is unknown.  Another ancestor, Rolf Erichsen Rein (ca. 1590-1659) had a similar bumerke, but the arrow was pointing to the left and there were only two cross marks.  The cross marks were probably to differentiate a bumerke from one used previously.  My ring is of a modern design and was cast from sterling silver.

The signet ring above was found about 1970 in a potato field in Hasselvik, a settlement about 10 miles (16 km) northwest of the middle of Stadsbygd.  It is likely to have been the signet ring of Nils Hansen Haarberg, who farmed the Hårberg farm there from 1617-1624.

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