During my studies I have come to appreciate confirmation records as a valuable genealogical source. It is a source that is often overlooked and undervalued.
The Danish-Norwegian king Christian V decided in 1687 that all persons who had attained a “certain level of maturity” and gained a certain understanding of their religion should partake of communion at least once a year. The parishioners were then told all who partook of the communion had to have been confirmed, and in 1736 it was decided by law that youth had to be confirmed.
The children were to meet with the local priest when they were around 14-15 years old to be taught in the Lutheran catechism. That took place twice a year, during spring and fall. It was very important to take part in this ordinance. The punishment for choosing not to be confirmed was that you would not be allowed to get married, testify in court, join the military, or be a godparent at a child’s christening. A fine could be levied if you were not confirmed by age 19.
It was the responsibility of the parish priest to make sure that all youth were adequately taught, and were able to pass the examination at the end of the term. Sometimes his warden or clerk would teach as well. Part of the curriculum was learning the Ten Commandments, The Lord’s Prayer, The Creed, The Sacrament of the Holy Baptism, etc.
At the end of the term an examination took place in the church. It was witnessed by parents and local parishioners, and was both very solemn and very stressful. (Spoken by someone who has gone through the process!) Some did not pass, and had to go through the process again the next year.
The priest would give the children two grades, one for knowledge, and one for behavior. There were times he would also write down a comment or two about the child and the circumstances surrounding him or her. For example, the priest in Rakkestad, Østfold County in Norway described some of the youth in his confirmation classes as “human cattle”, “naturally stupid”, and “neglected and can never be any better.” The priest also gives an account of a deaf and dumb girl wanting to be confirmed and writes of her tears when she is allowed to be.
Information in confirmation records can give you a small “peek” into the child and the life he or she was living. This is information not usually given in other sources.
I would strongly encourage all researchers to include the confirmation records in their family research.