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Olaf Morgan Norlie (1876-1962)
Decades before digital technology and big data, O. M. Norlie gathered and published masses of information about American Lutheranism. He was an author, a historian, a librarian, an editor, and a statistician. By his own estimate he spent 200,000 hours in this work and produced some 232,000 pages of published and unpublished material.
In the preface to Norlie’s two volume bibliography of his work, his colleague Alf Houkom observed: “Nothing seems to discourage Dr. Norlie, nothing seems to exhaust his endurance. . . . Infinite patience, attention to the minutest details, and systematic arrangement of the material are shown on every page.”
The Lutheran Almanac presented information about the whole sweep of Lutheranism, but Norwegian-American Lutherans were the primary subject of several of Norlie’s publications. Among these his directories of pastors, teachers, and congregations remain monumental accomplishments.
For Norske lutherske menigheter i Amerika Norlie and his assistants collected information about 6,764 congregations and ministries in forty states, the District of Columbia, and Canada. Along with dates of founding (and closure), he identifies pastors, reports on membership, lists organizations, and gives financial information. Many entries include a photograph of the building. Locations are often approximate rather than precise addresses. In addition to noting congregations’ synodical affiliations, Norlie includes sections on each synod. Following a directory of prominent laymen, the second volume concludes with chronological, geographical, alphabetical, and pastoral registers.