Records and registries
The Danish National Archives contain many different types of records and registries that could prove to be useful when you are conducting a genealogical research. Find information about some of the basic records.
There are also many other records that could help you trace your Danish ancestors. For instance, member lists from guilds, records from counties and many municipalities, estates and institutions, etc., as well as military service records. But in order to use these, it is necessary to have a very good knowledge of Danish.
Starting in 1645, all pastors in Denmark have been obliged by law to keep Parish Registers. Most of these have survived from around the 1750s. Some are older and date back to the 1670s or even earlier. Other parishes have been less fortunate and fires, mice, insects etc., destroyed all church records prior to 1814.
Parish Registers from 1812-1814 until now
1812-1814 are important years for Danish genealogists. That is when Danish pastors were instructed to keep two separate copies of Parish Registers – and never to keep them in the same location overnight. For this reason, nearly all parishes have records from those dates onwards!
These Parish Registers are also more “user friendly”. After 1812-1814 the Registers were, for the first time, kept in ledgers designed especially for that purpose. These ‘newer’ Registers contain columns with printed headings, which facilitate searching for particular information without the need to read through the entire volume.
Parish Registers before 1812-1814
Before 1812-1814 most pastors recorded information in some kind of notebook that they had purchased themselves. Normally these older registers were kept chronologically, making the search difficult for people who do not have good knowledge of Danish, and, at the very least, some basic understanding of how to decipher the obsolete style of handwriting that was commonly used in Denmark prior to 1875.
What information do Parish Registers hold?
The Parish Register will provide information regarding anyone who was born/baptised, confirmed (after 1737), married or died/buried in that particular parish. Only information relating to the particular religious ceremony in question will be recorded there. For example, for a baptism, you will find the date of birth, date of baptism, name of the child, names, occupation and residence of the parents, and names of sponsors and the godmother. But the entry will not tell you who the child later married, or where she/he died. That information must be found where the events took place.
After 1812-14 the registers were kept in forms. Older records may have a more “individual” character. Usually, a parish register can provide you with this information:
Birth – Baptism
- Name of the child
- Names, occupation and residence of parents, godmother, sponsors
- Name of young person
- Place of birth
- Name, occupation and residence of parents or employer
- Names of the bride and groom
- Places and dates of birth for the bride and groom
- Parents of bride and groom
- Residence and occupation
- Marriage witnesses
- Name of the deceased
- Date of death and funeral
- Age of the deceased
- Occupation and residence
- Place of birth – names of parents
- Name of husband or wife
The Danish National Archives have preserved microfiche copies of all Danish Parish Registers until 1891. Original Church Registers from parishes within the district, through until approximately 1950, are kept at the Provincial Archives.
Records of birth, confirmation and marriage become accessible after 50 years. Records of death are officially accessible after 10 years (although the Archives may not yet have received these records).
Censuses have been held in Denmark at various intervals. The first census of interest to the Genealogist was held in 1787, and thereafter in 1801, 1834, 1840, 1845, 1850, 1855, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1890, 1901, 1911, 1916, 1921, 1925, 1930, 1940 and 1950.
The census of 1845 is of particular interest, since this was the first census to provide a very important detail for the people listed: “place of birth”.
The census is usually reliable, but…
For the most part the information found in census records is reliable. There are, however, several things that should be noted. The ages recorded in the census – especially the older censuses – may be misleading, particularly if the person listed was elderly. People did not always remember exactly how old they were – in those days there might not have been much difference between 70 and 80.
You may also see “place of birth” where the village name was mistaken for the parish name.
Names may shrink
In the more recent census records one sometimes finds that not all of a person’s names have been listed. From around the 1880s it became quite fashionable to have three, four (or even more!) Christian names. In the census you may find only that name which is in daily use. Thus, Anna Kirstine Olivia Augusta Hansen might simply be listed as “Kirstine Hansen” or even by the abbreviation “Stine Hansen”. If “Stine” was a young child living with her parents, her surname might be omitted altogether and only the surnames of her parents would be recorded.
Information in the census
The census will generally provide the following information:
- Position in household
- Marital status
- Place of birth (only after 1845)
- Note (handicaps, etc.)
The Danish National Archives have microfiche copies of Danish census records for the period 1787-1890. Additionally, the Provincial Archives may have records for their specific region. Census lists generally become accessible when they are 75 years old. Lists dating from 1860 onwards are preserved at the National Archives both on film and in the original version.
The Probate Court Records are often vital for the Genealogist since they contain the names and additional details regarding relatives of a deceased person who may be entitled to an inheritance. Most Protocols include a name index, but in order to read the actual text about a specific estate a good knowledge of Danish is essential.
A walk through time
Especially prior to the 1840s, Probate Court Records were often very informative. In addition to the names of heirs and the total value of the Estate, the Protocol often listed and valued all of the deceased’s possessions: furniture, pots and pans, clothes, pillows, sheets, candlesticks, cows, pigs, beehives, etc. A record of this kind is like visiting the home of relatives who have been dead for centuries!
The Probate Court Records will generally provide the following information:
- Name of the deceased
- His or her residence and occupation
- Name of the surviving spouse
- Names of heirs (children, siblings, etc.)
- Names of Guardians
- Account of the Estate
The original Probate Court Records can be found, dating from about 1760-1800 through until the period between 1930 and 1950. Of course, not all older Protocols have been preserved. The Danish National Archives has a number of the older Probate Court Records on microfilm.
Probate Court Records generally become accessible when they are 75 years old.
If your ancestors emigrated after 1868 you may be able to find information regarding them in the Copenhagen Police Records of Emigrants. They would, however, only be listed if they purchased a contract-ticket from an Emigration Agent with an office in Copenhagen.
Why are emigrants listed in Police Archives?
The records kept by the Police were not actually of the emigrants themselves – but rather, of all contracts signed between agents and emigrants. This was done to prevent “crooked” agents from cheating emigrants by taking their money and then “forgetting” to purchase the tickets or help with travel arrangements, etc.
Not all emigrants can be found in the Police Records of Emigrants
If your ancestor – for any reason – travelled independently, you will not find their name listed in the Record of Emigrants! Most people, but not all, contracted with an agent. Sometimes one or two family members (perhaps a father and a grown son, or two brothers, etc.) would be the first to emigrate, and they would later send tickets for the rest of the family.
See and search an online emigration list:
What information can be found in the Emigration Records?
If you find your ancestor listed in the emigration records, you will also find the following information:
- Full name
- Place of birth and last place of residence
- Contract number
- Date of listing in the Copenhagen Police Records of Emigrants
- Name of the ship