Researching your Danish Roots – Family history

If you have or suspect your family originated from Denmark, there is a surprising amount of information on the net to help you in this search. Danes started recording all individuals, in their kingdom around 1787 but church records sometimes go back further, depending on each family. I have found research that can trace my family back to 1620, as, during that era, they were parish priests or clergyman, and thus were literate and often collated census material themselves. This can be a wonderful tool for the family researcher. Emigration records also record those that left for the “New Worlds”, mostly never to return to their homeland.   Is this something we in the “New World” ponder about?

Danish Census and Emigration records online Haderslev gamle  hus

Some useful background information and tips to keep in mind when researching:


  • Birth and Christening

Births were generally at home until the 20th century. Infants were christened at home, and re-christened in the church. The christening was often 5-6 weeks after the birth. This can be a kind of tradition in some European cultures where the Mums are to stay home and not have visitors until the baby is 6 weeks of age. (see note * below under females for more explanation)

  • Confirmation

Confirmation took place usually between the ages of 14 – 19. It was necessary before participating in communion, being a godparent, or getting married. It was also considered a social passage into young adulthood. It is still very much active today in modern Scandinavia, especially Denmark.  A coming of age celebration.

  • Engagement records (pre-1799)

Although by law (Danske Lov of 1683) a male had to be at least 20 years old, and females 16 years old before marriage, young adults tended to marry when they were more established with work. This was often when a person was in the mid to late 20’s. Many years in age between the groom or bride (or bride and groom) are not uncommon, especially before the early 1800’s.

  • Marriage

Marriage took place after completing the engagement, and public banns. Long engagements were not common. Although civil marriages began in 1851, the majority of marriages were performed by a parish priest.

  • Birth and Christening of Children

Parents would take their children to the parish for the official christening. Each christening identifies the fathers’ residence at that particular time and place.

  • Death and Burial

Deaths generally took place at home until the 20th century. Burials were in the church yard (unless it was not permitted due to circumstances). The burial ceremony was performed by a parish priest.

Cemeteries: Like all cemeteries, you can usually find the death information of the individual on the headstone. However, it is important to note that in Denmark, a person only remains buried while the family pays for the grave. When there is no one else to pay for the grave the body and headstone is usually removed and taken to the catacombs or crematorium. The headstone is usually recycled!!

Other possible recorded events:

  • Censuses

The Dane’s started keeping censuses that recorded all individuals in the kingdom as early as 1787.

  • Military Levying Rolls

Between 1789 and 1849 the registration of males for military service (in the army) took place at birth. In 1849 the registration age was moved up to about 15 years old. In 1869 the registration age was changed to 17 years old.

Military Levying Rolls: If an ancestor was still included in the military rolls when they died, their name will usually be crossed out and a death date written in the notes column.

  • Possible probate

The probate system in Denmark was designed to settle the financial matters of the deceased and distribute inheritance to the heirs. This is especially true when there are children under the age of 25 years old at the time of either parent’s death.

  • Records associated to occupation (land, copyholder, guild, etc.)


  • Mothers Introduction after the Birth of Children

* Up until the 20th century, women were re-introduced into society about 5 – 6 weeks after giving birth. There are different levels of religious and social reasons tied to this practice. Some believed that the postpartum mother was being followed by evil spirits which might put others in society at risk. After 5-6 weeks from giving birth, the mother would be re-introduced in the parish church. This introduction officially welcomed the mother back into mainstream society.


  • The younger working class (after confirmation but before marriage) can be difficult to follow as they moved around more freely in search of work.
  • Until the industrial revolution of the late 1800’s, the majority of Dane’s worked with agriculture in rural settings. The remaining population worked with manufacturing, distribution, or trade.
  • Moving varies family to family as some stayed in a close area, and others moved further away. Residents in the cities moved the most.
  • Often people of advanced age are recorded as living with one of their children. This post is continued here:

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