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It is estimated that about 300,000 Danes left Denmark from 1868-1900 and settled in America. Even though small settlements sprang up in Iowa, Illinois, and New York, the Danes seemed to prefer assimilations as quickly as possible, contrary to what their Scandinavian neighbors had done.
In order to trace your Danish ancestors back to Denmark, you need to have the name of the place where they lived, were born, or married in Denmark. To do that, you need an understanding of what sources are available both in the United States and Denmark.
SEARCH AMERICAN RECORDS
Search American records to find out everything you can about your Danish ancestor. Search:
- For personal information in sources you may have at home or at the home of relatives, such as vital records, Bibles, journals, letters, pictures, funeral home records, or naturalization records.
- Immigration records.
- Other records where your ancestor lived in the United States, such as court records, county histories, cemeteries, or phone directories.
SEARCH DANISH–AMERICAN RECORDS
Some of the following sources may have information about your ancestor. Search:
- Danish American Lutheran Churches: Archives of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) http://www.elca.org
- Danish American Societies: The Danish Immigrant Museum and Family History & Genealogy Center http://www.danishmuseum.org.
- Danish American Heritage Society http://www.danishamericanheritagesociety.org.
- Archives and Libraries: The Danish Emigration Archives http://www.emiarch.dk/search.php3?l=en.
- Historical Societies: County historical societies where your Danish ancestors lived.
After having used American sources and Danish American sources, you should now hopefully have a place-name to tie your family to a specific place in Denmark. Many Scandinavians used place-names as their last names, or give reference to a place in journals, letters, etc. If you are lucky enough to have a place-name reference, Danish gazetteers will help you place a locality in a parish or at least a county. http://www.krabsen.dk/stednavnebase (Danish place-names gazetteer online)
SEARCH DANISH RECORDS
Once you have determined where your ancestor is from in Denmark, you can use Danish records to continue finding out information about him or her.
As you begin your research in the Danish records, you will soon realize that the writing is different. The records were kept in the Scandinavian Gothic script and are quite different from our modern Latin writing. For help reading Danish and understanding handwriting, see Reading Danish Records on http://www.familysearch.org. With patience and practice, you will soon feel comfortable searching the records.
If your family left Denmark from 1869-1908, you should be able to find them in the emigration records. The emigration records will give you information on the last place of residence and sometimes a place of birth in Denmark. Use http://www.ddd.dda.dk.
The Lutheran state church is the record- keeping jurisdiction. The parish priest, with the help from his warden, was responsible for keeping these records: birth or christening, confirmations, engagements and marriages, death or burials, moving in and out of parishes, introductions, absolutions, and vaccinations. The priest could be responsible for more than one parish.
After 1812 a law was put in place where there had to be books kept of the same record. The priest and his clerk would each keep one record. At the end of the year they would get together and compare their entries. (This was great for the researchers; the clerk could have “better handwriting” than the priest. You now had two chances to decipher the same record!) In 1812, standardized or printed forms were introduced. These Danish Church Records are on the internet: http://www.arkivalieronline.dk.
Birth or christening records (Fødte or Døbte)
Birth records are available for nearly everyone in Denmark from the late 1600s to early 1900s. They can be found online at http://www.arkivalieronline.dk.
Using the Family History Library Catalog, search for the parish in Denmark where your ancestor was born. Content of the record may include:
- Child’s name.
- Parents names (older records may only include the name of father, father’s occupation, and place where the family was residing at the time of the child’s birth.
- Names of godparents.
- Birth or christening dates.
- Whether legitimate or illegitimate.
- Date of mother’s introduction.
- Infant’s death date and stillborns.
Engagement or marriage records (Copulerede or Viede)
In earlier times, the engagement and marriage records were kept separately. Make sure both are searched. In many instances, you can find more information in the engagement records than in the marriage records. Find a couple’s marriage date and place and their ages.
To find a marriage record, look in the parish where the first child was born. Then look in parishes where the parents were born (as listed in the census records), then nearby parishes. Content of the records may include:
- Name of groom, age, his occupation, and residence.
- Name of bride, age, occupation, and residence.
- Date of engagement.
- Dates of reading of banns.
- Date of marriage.
- Names of bondsmen or sponsors. (Could be fathers or brother; had to know the persons enough to know their character and whether or not they were closely related and “ok to marry.”
- If either had been married previously, you might find date of probate.
Death or burial records (Døde or Begravede)
Content of the record may include:
- Name of the deceased, age, and occupation.
- Residence at the time of death.
- Death or burial date.
- Cause of death.
Mothers were considered “unclean” after having given birth. After about 6 weeks, they were formally reintroduced back in to the congregation by the parish priest. Mothers of illegitimate children were introduced separately.
Confirmation records (Confirmerede)
In order to take part in the communion and be permitted to get married, the persons had to show proof of their confirmation. Youth were usually confirmed at the ages of 14-17. I have seen records of ages 13 and late 20s as well. Information given in these records can be:
- The name of the youth being confirmed.
- Their ages and residence.
- Their “grades” on understanding or knowledge of their catechism, and on behavior
Moving records (Afgange or Inkomne; Accessions or Expunctions)
Started around 1812, and were kept sporadically. Some parishes started keeping these records much later, and they can be very unreliable. Content could be:
- Names, ages, and residence.
- Coming in from.
- Moving to.
- Reasons why moving.
A pardoning by the church for an offense done by a parishioner, usually with regards to premarital sex resulting in a child; also for theft and murder.
Danish Government Records
Census Records 1787 to 1911 (Folketelling)
Find family members of the household. You will be able to learn the names, ages, birthplaces of brothers, sisters, parents, grandparents, and so on. Censuses were kept on a county level. Information found could be:
- Birthplaces (beginning with the 1845 census).
Danish censuses are available for these years:
1787, 1801, 1834, 1840, 1845, 1850, 1855, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1890, 1901, 1906, 1911. They can be found online at http://www.ddd.dda.dk.
Other Government Records.
Other government records include:
- Probate records were kept on the parish level.
- Military levying rolls were kept on the county level.