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Church records [Kirkebøger] are excellent sources for accurate information on names, dates, and places of births, marriages, and deaths. Virtually every person who lived in Denmark was recorded in a church record.
Records of births, marriages, and deaths are commonly called vital records because critical events in a person's life are recorded in them. Church records are vital records made by the clergy. They are often referred to as parish registers or churchbooks. They include records of baptisms [døbte], marriages [copulerede], and burials [begravede]. In addition, church records may also include introductions, communions, absolutions, church accounts, confirmations, and lists of people moving into or out of the parish.
General Historical Background
On May 20, 1645 King Christian IV sent a royal decree to the Bishop of Sjælland with instruction to have the ministers keep a record of births, marriages, and deaths. The following year, the same decree was issued to the Bishops of Jylland, Skåne, and Fyn, along with the Duchies of Schleswig and Holstein. Some pastors began keeping records much earlier than this. The earliest parish record is for the city of Naksov, beginning in 1572.
Early on the Danish government recognized only the Evangelical Lutheran Church, with a few exceptions. The Reformed church was given official rights on 15 May 1747. The existing Mosaic (Jewish) congregations were officially recognized on 29 March 1814. The Catholics were served by the clergy attached to the Austrian Embassy. In the city of Fredericia, which enjoyed religious freedom from 1682, Catholic registers started in 1685.
Beginning in 1849, the Danish constitution recognized Christian dissenter churches. It did, however, require that everyone from all denominations notify the pastor of their local Lutheran parish of all births and death.
To guard against possible destruction or loss of church books, duplicate records were kept in separate places after 1814.
Information Recorded in Church Registers
At first the record-keeping requirement was limited to baptisms, marriages, and burials. Confirmation registers of many parishes date from as early as 1736.
Until a standard form was established in 1814, no directions were given on how to keep church records. Before that date, the records vary greatly.
Children were generally christened within a few days of birth. Christening registers usually give the infant's and parents' names, status of legitimacy, names of witnesses and godparents (and often their residences), and the christening date. You may also find the child's birth date, the father's occupation, and the family's place of residence. Earlier registers typically give less information, sometimes listing only the child's and father's names and the christening date. See article: Denmark: Birth / Christening Records for additional information.
Starting in 1736, the Danish church required that young people be instructed in Lutheran catechism and pass a test before taking their first communion. This usually took place between the ages of 14 and 17 years old.
Confirmation records kept during the 1700s generally lists the person's name, residence, and sometimes his or her age. After 1814, the parents' names, christening date and place, performance grade, and date of smallpox vaccination also appear. See article: Denmark: Confirmation Records for additional information.
Marriage registers give the marriage date and the names of the bride and groom and their respective residences. The record usually indicates whether they were single or widowed and gives the names of witnesses.
After 1814, the registers often include other information about the bride and groom, such as ages, occupations, names of fathers, and sometimes birthplaces.
Marriage records sometimes give the date of engagement and the three dates on which the marriage intentions were announced. These announcements, called banns, gave the opportunity for anyone to come forward who knew of any reason why the couple should not be married. Couples were generally married in the bride's home parish. Typically, the bride and groom were in their twenties when they married. See article: Denmark: Engagement and Marriage Records for additional information.
Burials were recorded in the church record of the parish where the person was buried. The burial usually took place within a few days of the death.
Burial registers give the deceased's name, death or burial date and place, and age. After 1814, the place of residence, cause of death, and names of survivors are often listed. Occasionally the deceased's birth date and place and parents' names are given.
Burial records may exist for individuals who were born before the earliest birth and marriage records. Stillbirths were usually recorded in church burial registers. See article: Denmark: Death / Burial Records for additional information.
Locating the parish to search the Church Records
To do effective research in church records, you must determine the parish that your ancestor's farm or village belonged to. To do so, see the postal guide listed in the "Gazetteers" section.
Parish boundary maps can help you determine which parish church records to search. They can also help you identify neighboring parishes if you need to search more than one parish in a region.
For more information, see the "Maps" section.
Danish Church Record Extracts
A good extract of Danish church records was compiled by Lengnick. This work, consisting of 77 volumes, lists persons using fixed surnames or persons with high social standing using patronymic surnames. These individuals are grouped by parish, and there is a separate index of names for each parish.
Accessing Danish Church Records
Family History Library
The Family History Library has many Danish church records on microfilm and microfiche. This collection continues to grow as new records are microfilmed. The collection includes all existing parish registers from when they begin until about 1920. In the Family History Library Catalog, look in the Place Search under DENMARK, [COUNTY], [PARISH] - CHURCH RECORDS.
The Danish Church Records on microfilm have been scanned by the Danish State Archives and are available online at: http://www.arkivalieronline.dk/. See article: Danish Church Records Online for more information about using the site.
Records Not at the Family History Library
Church records after about 1930 are located in the local parish offices in Denmark. You may write in English to local parishes. For addresses, see the "Archives and Libraries" section.
As the Evangelical Lutheran Church became the state or national church [Den Danske Folkekirke] after the Reformation in 1536, it is the arm of the national government that keeps the vital records. You can contact The Danish State Church at:
Det mellemkirkelige Råd
Peter Bangs Vej 1D
Telephone: 45 33 11 44 88
Fax: 45 33 11 95 88
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