A Guide to Danish Ancestry

Useful facts about Danish Ancestry

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The List of Accession is a section of the church book. In principle, the list should include information on all persons who have moved to the parish; but there is some difference in how the priests registered the information. Thus, in many cases, only servants are on the list, while farmers and other self-employed people are not listed. Similarly, in some parishes, only the head of the household is registered, while the wife and/or children are missing. In other parishes, all people were listed.

It also differs from parish to parish when the lists began. This usually happened between 1814 and 1830. In contrast, all lists in the cities ceased in 1854 and in the parishes in 1873.

The accession list contains the following information for each person:

  • Name
  • Date of arrival to the parish
  • Age
  • Occupation, employment
  • The parish from which the person came
  • A reference to the Comparison Directory in the church book
  • Remarks. Here the place of birth may be listed

Moving into parish


Until the middle of the 19th century, adoption was rare. It was typically foster children. Eventually, a more formal affiliation was introduced but mostly foster children were adopted; for instance, family members who had taken care of an illegitimate child. But there were also anonymous adoptions, where the child was handed over to unknown adoptive parents.

In any case, it was entered in the parish register that the child was adopted.



The adscription, introduced in 1733, tied males of the peasant class, aged 14-36 to the estate they belonged.


In 1742, the age limit was expanded further so it now included males from age 9-40, and in 1764 it was expanded even further to the age 4-40.


The adscription was officially abolished in 1788, but it took until 1800 before all peasants were free.

Boy Names

The 10 most common boy names in 1801/1803 were :

  1. Peder (Peter, Petter)
  2. Hans (Hanss)
  3. Jens (Jenss)
  4. Niels (Nils, Njels, Nels)
  5. Christen (Kristen, Kresten, Cresten)
  6. Anders (Anners)
  7. Rasmus (Rassmus, Rasmuss)
  8. Søren (Sören, Sørren)
  9. Lars
  10. Christian (Cristian, Kristian)

Variations of the names in ( ).

Half of the old names are still on today’s Top-10 boy names (number of people with the name):

  1. Peter
  2. Jens
  3. Michael
  4. Lars
  5. Thomas
  6. Henrik
  7. Søren
  8. Christian
  9. Jan
  10. Martin

But none of the old names is on Top-10 for boys born in 2018:

  1. William
  2. Noah
  3. Oscar
  4. Lucas
  5. Victor
  6. Malthe
  7. Oliver
  8. Alfred
  9. Carl
  10. Valdemar

Of the names on the old Top-10, Christian is ranked highest in 2018 as No. 24.

Burial Place

Preservation periods

There is a limit to how long a burial place will be preserved, depending on several factors, i.e. if it is holding a coffin or an urn and also the material of the coffin and the soil conditions.

The preservation period for a burial place holding a coffin must be at least 20 years and at least 10 years for urns. Periods of 25 and 30 years are common though. The descendants of the deceased may prolong the preservation period by payment.


Unique headstones or monuments of closed burial places are saved. They will be in a special place in the cemetery, most often along the inside of the cemetery wall.


Danish censuses 1787-1970

The first census in the Kingdom of Denmark was 1787; followed by 1801, 1834, 1840, 1845, 1850, 1855, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1885 (only Copenhagen), 1890, 1895, 1901, 1906, 1911, 1916, 1921, 1925, 1930, 1940, 1950, 1955 (lost), 1960 and 1970. The censuses 1950-1970 are not yet public.

The contents of the censuses vary significantly from one census to the next.

Censuses were also conducted in Schleswig, Holstein, Lauenburg, Greenland, The Faroe Islands, The Virgin Islands, Trankebar, and Frederiksnagor but not that often and in other years than the ones above.

The information in the censuses differs very much from one census to the next. Generally, the newer census the more facts. One should keep in mind that some of the information in the censuses may be inaccurate.

Danish census 1850

he census record for Copenhagen 1850 holds this information about the person of the birth record:

  • Andersen was 45 years old, single and an author
  • He was born in Odense
  • He was a tenant at shipmaster and innkeeper Johannes Auholm
  • He was living at Nyhavn 34
  • Besides the innkeeper’s family and servant, there were other tenants, i.e. a principal, a student in arts, a journeyman grocer who was in the navy at the time of the census, and a navy lieutenant

Danish census record Copenhagen

Central People Register (CPR)

It is a national register with basic personal information about anyone who has a social security number.

All people with residence in Denmark since April 1, 1968 (Greenland May 1, 1972) are in the register which is updated continuously.


Danske Lov

According to “Danske Lov” [Danish Law, a nationwide law from 1863] a child had to be christened before eight days had passed since its birth. If the parents failed to have the child christened or to notify the church during this time, they were fined.

Private christening

Children who were privately christened because of weak health were to have their christening confirmed in the church as soon as possible. In 1828 the laws were changed so that the child had to be christened no later than eight weeks after its birth, which made it easier for the mother to attend the child’s christening, see “Churching of women” on this page.

Church Register

Since 1574

The content of the church registers has varied considerably over time. The very first church registers are from the 16th century. In 1645, it was required by law to keep the church registers. However, the law did not lay down any detailed rules on how church records should be kept. Therefore, there is great variation in the content of the church books before 1814. In most cases, the church registers were kept in one copy only which is why many of them have been lost due to poor storage conditions, parsonage fires, etc.

The oldest preserved church book is from Østrup parish, and the oldest entries in the Østrup book are from 1574 and thus originated long before, it was required to keep church books in Denmark.

Standardized 1813

By an ordinance of December 13, 1812, it was decided that the church books should be kept in duplicate: “Hovedministerialbogen” and “Kontraministerialbogen”. At the same time, it was decided that they should be kept in printed registers.

Since 1813 the church books have been preserved in all parishes (except one).

Churching of Women

The ”churching of women” ritual is a custom that has ties to the Old Testament, specifically the Leviticus. According to it, a woman that has given birth to a son is unclean for seven days and then has to stay at home for another 33 days, making a total of 40 days. If she gives birth to a daughter, the number of days is doubled; a total of 80 days. However, the then Catholic Denmark did not follow the rule of 80 days, but only the 40.

In the church

When the 40 days were up, the woman in confinement would go to the church, kneeling before the priest outside of it. The priest would sprinkle her with holy water and say prayers. Afterward, the woman would be handed a wax candle as a sign of her reentering the Kingdom of God. The candle would be lit if the child was alive, and unlit if it was dead. The mother would often get a candle with her in the casket if she had died in childbirth.

The woman was now considered cleansed, and the priest would lead her inside the church, where she would make a sacrifice, often consisting of wax candles and money.

Later on, when Denmark became Protestant, the churching was reinterpreted as a Lutheran thanksgiving and admonition ritual, reminding the woman of her responsibility as a mother.

The 1900s

At the beginning of the 1900s, the ritual faded out, though there are some instances where it was used even decades after that period.


To be confirmed, a child should be at least 14 years old. If not, the bishop had to issue a dispensation.

Fundamental rights

Until the middle of the 19th century, the confirmation was an extremely serious affair. Not only should the children confirm their Christian baptism. They also had to pass a rigorous exam, which included both a test in Christianity and an assessment of whether they were mature, sensible, and well-dressed enough to step into the ranks of adults and obtain some fundamental civil rights.

If one wasn’t confirmed or didn’t pass the knowledge test, one couldn’t for instance:

  • Terminate schooling
  • Marry in a church
  • Seek work outside own parish

Thus, it was to be understood quite literally that the Confirmand entered the ranks of the adults.

The right to take a child out of school continued to be associated with the confirmation right up to the 1960s. Some children from low-income families stopped as soon as they were confirmed because their working power was needed.

Local ritual

After the June Constitution of 1849, the link between confirmation and civil rights became looser, but it was not until 1909 with the “Royal Order on Confirmation” that the modern confirmation was born. Now school and church were separated, so the confirmation alone was an ecclesiastical act and a ritual in the local community.

An important provision was that the priest observes that the exam should not be a test of knowledge, but a conversation for the edification of youth and the congregation present.

Another paragraph stated that the priest and church attendant could not require payment for the preparation or the confirmation.

The last thing was to tone down the confirmation as proof of the family’s financial capacity. But even though the payment to the priest lapsed, it did not change the fact that the confirmation continued to be a ritual that marked not only the Christian faith and the transition to adulthood but also the ability of the family to afford a beautiful set of clothes and a party.

The “Royal Order on Confirmation” designated two regular annual confirmation Sundays, Sunday after Easter in the spring and Sunday after Mikkel’s day in the fall.

Copenhagen Police’s Census

Copenhagen Police kept census records of all citizens 14 years or older during the period 1890-1923. Children were registered together with their father.

Record of the Copenhagen Police census

The record is for Anna Augusta Adolfine Adolfsen and says:

  • Born: 29 Oct 1882 in Vetlanda, Sweden
  • Gender: Woman
  • Occopation: Servant
  • Her addresses:
    • 15 Nov 1900: From Sweden to I.E. Ohlsensgade 2, 3rd floor, at Olsen
    • 06 May 1902: Upsalagade 10, 1st floor, at Lange
    • 04 Nov 1902: I.E. Ohlensgade 2, 2nd floor, at Pedersen
    • 05 May 1903: Moved from Copenhagen to Hellerup, Margrethevej 5
    • 05 Oct 1908: Nyhavn 23, 2nd floor, at Pedersen
    • 27 Nov 1908: Sankt Knuds Vej 23, 2nd floor, at widow Hansen

Census record by Copenhagen Police

Counties 1662-2006

The county is a term for administrative division, which was used in Denmark from 1662 through to 2007, after which the county structure was replaced by a new structure based on a division of Denmark into 5 regions.

Read about the changes over time

49 counties 1662-1793:

Åstrup, Sejlstrup, Børglum
Dueholm, Ørum, Vestervig
Mariager Kloster
Halsted Kloster
Haderslev Øster (opretter 1789)
Haderslev Vester (opretter 1789)
Åbenrå og Løgum Kloster
Sønderborg og Nordborg

24 counties 1793-1970:

Skanderborg (1824-1867, 1942-1970)
Tønder (1920-)
Haderslev (1920-)
Åbenrå (1920-)
Sønderborg (1920-)
Roskilde (before 1808)
Præstø (1803-)

14 counties 1970-2006:

Københavns municipality
Frederiksberg municipality
Københavns county
Frederiksborg county
Roskilde county
Vestsjælland county
Storstrøms county
Fyns county
Sønderjyllands county
Ribe county
Vejle county
Ringkjøbing county
Viborg county
Nordjyllands county
Århus county
Bornholms county

5 regions 2007-

The capital

Danish National Church

The Danish National Evangelical Lutheran Church (Folkekirken) has typically one church in each parish. A few parishes have more than one church, though.

Earlier there was one and only one incumbent in each parish. Today a parish can have more incumbents of which one will be appointed to be responsible for the church book. And an incumbent can serve more than one parish.

Danish Letters

The Danish alphabet contains 29 letters where the last three are specifically Danish

  • Æ – æ
  • Ø – ø
  • Å – å

æ = ae

Has its roots in Latin, and has been part of the Danish language for about a thousand years.

ø = oe

As ‘æ’ it has its roots in Latin and has been part of the Danish language for about a thousand years.

å =aa

Until 1948, the letter was officially written as “aa”, but now “å” is the official spelling, although many names of cities or families are being spelled with “aa” (the city of Aalborg for example). It is believed to be a little more sophisticated by many people.

Death Record

The death record has the following information about the deceased:

  • Her full name, Olga Marie Andersen
  • She was 2 months old when she died
  • Daughter to a timber merchant [no name of the father]
  • The cause of death was acute enteritis
  • She died 1 July 1908 after having been ill for 8 days
  • The doctor who treated her made an inspection of her body the next day

Death certificate with cause of death


Between 1868 and 1914 around one out of ten, or 287,000 Danes emigrated. Most of the people entered into a contract with an agent who made all the arrangements but not all did. The police wanted to watch the agents and their businesses and as of May 1, 1868, the agents were ordered to share copies of their contracts with emigrants. These registrations are available for genealogists today. Other sources are passenger lists of the shipping companies, lists of expunctions of the church books, and the authorities at the arriving destinations like Ellis Island.

Many different routes

Basically, emigrants traveled directly from Denmark to the destination non-stop or indirectly from Copenhagen to another European harbor, e.g. Hamburg, Liverpool, Rotterdam, Bremen (Bremerhaven), Christania (Oslo).

The journey

During the second half of the 1800’s emigrants eventually traveled by trains from their native soil to the departure harbor and they crossed the Atlantic Sea by steamboat. This reduced the traveling time from around 3 months to 2-3 weeks from their home in Denmark and to their new home in America.

On top of that, the costs of the ticket decreased and were around 125 Danish kroner – compared to a skilled worker’s average yearly income of around 600 kroner.

De facto expulsions

The Copenhagen Police urged quite a few criminals, dropouts, and potential troublemakers to emigrate to America, Canada, or South America.

In total, 1,101 unwanted people were supported ‘morally’ and economically by the Copenhagen Police. This approach was illegal and was rapped by the receiving countries.

Emigration Ships to America

During the period 1880-1895, these ships took Danish emigrants to America

  • 1880-1881 Harald
  • 1880-1900 Thingvalla
  • 1882-1888 Geisir
  • 1882-1904 Island
  • 1882-1883 Hekla 1
  • 1883-1884 Heimdal
  • 1884-1905 Hekla 2
  • 1889-1889 Danmark
  • 1889-1904 Norge
  • 1893-1897 Amerika
  • 1901-1930 Oscar II
  • 1902-1931 Hellig Olav
  • 1903-1925 United States
  • 1906-1913 C.F. Tietgen
  • 1913-1935 Frederik VIII



The List of Expunction is a section of the church book. In principle, the list should include information on all persons who have moved out of the parish; but there is some difference in how the priests registered the information. Thus, in many cases, only servants are on the list, while farmers and other self-employed people are not listed. Similarly, in some parishes, only the head of the household is registered, while the wife and/or children are missing. In other parishes, all people were listed.

It also differs from parish to parish when the lists began. This usually happened between 1814 and 1830. In contrast, all lists in the cities ceased in 1854 and in the parishes in 1873.

The accession list contains the following information for each person:

  • Name
  • Date of leaving the parish
  • Age
  • Occupation, employment
  • The parish to which the person moved to
  • A reference to the Comparison Directory in the church book
  • Remarks. Here the place of birth may be listed

Moving out of the parish

Family Names

The 10 most common family names in 1801/1803 were:

  1. Jensen (Jenssen)
  2. Nielsen (Nilsen)
  3. Pedersen (Petersen, Pettersen)
  4. Hansen (Hanssen)
  5. Christensen (Kristensen, Chrestensen)
  6. Andersen (Anderssen)
  7. Larsen (Larssen)
  8. Sørensen (Sörensen)
  9. Rasmussen (Rasmusen)
  10. Jørgensen

Most names can be spelled in different ways, see the examples in ( ).

The Top-10 was the same in 2008.

Today’s Top-10 has the same names but the order is a little different; most importantly, Nielsen now the most common family name.

In total, there are around 147,000 different family names in Denmark of which 12,000 are patronymic family names (-sen).

More than half the Danish population has a patronymic family name.

Read more about it in the section Family Naming.

Family Naming

Originally, children’s family names were patronyms, i.e. -søn and later -sen (son) for boys and -datter (daughter) for girls.

1828 – Free choice of the family name

A law in 1828 stated that all children should be christened with both a Christian (first) name and a family name. The father of the child determined the child’s family name:

  • his own surname
  • his own first name plus -sen (patronym)
  • the name of a place which the family was connected to (for instance the name of a farm or a specific location).

All siblings had to have the same family name which meant that girls should have the same patronym as their brothers.

There was some resistance to the law, especially in the countryside, and in many parishes, the law was wrongly interpreted as a new family name could be chosen for each generation.

1856 – Same family name for future generations

Therefore, in 1856 it was emphasized that the family name chosen according to the 1828-law was to be the family name in the future; not just for one generation. However, the implementation of these new naming rules was still hesitant in many rural parishes and the naming practice for children born in the second half of the 19th Century differed from parish to parish.

Due to the naming changes some women would eventually change the family name from -datter to -sen. A girl christened Cathrine Pedersdatter could for instance be Cathrine Pedersen at her death.

If a person had more than one given name, it could vary which name(s) were used as well as the order of the names. The spelling of the names was quite inconsistent in the earlier days.

Girl Names

The 10 most common girl names in 1801/1803 were:

  1. Anne (Ane, Anna, Ana, An, Ann) – 144,028
  2. Maren (Marn, Marren) – 62,066
  3. Karen (Caren, Karn, Karren) – 48,695
  4. Kirsten (Kiersten, Kiesten, Kisten, Kjersten, Kjesten) – 32,320
  5. Maria (Marie, Mari) – 28,676
  6. Mette (Methe, Mætte, Metthe, Mett, Met) – 23,996
  7. Johanne (Johane, Johanna, Johana) – 21,711
  8. Else (Elsa) 12,311
  9. Catharina (Catarina, Catarine, Catarin, Catharine, Chatarina, Katarina, Katharina) – 12,223
  10. Ellen (Ellin, Ellien) – 9,596

(Variants of spelling)

The ten most used names were all Christian names borrowed from biblical women or saints. The spelling of all these names could vary significantly.

Only Maren and Catharina haven’t been popular during a certain period in the 1900s.

The most common names at the beginning of the 1800s are still familiar today. Four of the old names are still on today’s Top-10 girl names (number of people with the name):

  1. Anne
  2. Kirsten
  3. Mette
  4. Hanne
  5. Helle
  6. Anna
  7. Susanne
  8. Lene
  9. Maria
  10. Marianne

Only one of the old names is on Top-10 for girls born in 2018, i.e. No 9 Anna:

  1. Ida
  2. Emma
  3. Alma
  4. Ella
  5. Sofia
  6. Freja
  7. Josefine
  8. Clara
  9. Anna
  10. Karla

Godmother / -father

A godmother or godfather is the person who carries the child to the christening and responds “Yes” to being christened on behalf of the child.

Often it is one of the child’s parents or one of the sponsors. An unchristened mother can’t carry her child herself, as both the person carrying the child and the sponsors must be christened with the Christian faith, but membership of the Danish National Evangelical Lutheran Church is not a prerequisite. For example, a Catholic christened can both carry and be a sponsor at a christening in Danish National Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Grades (at confirmation)

When a child was confirmed, one set of grades was given for each of Knowledge and Conduct on the scale:

  • Ug = Udmærket godt (Outstanding)
  • Mg = Meget godt (Very good)
  • G = Godt (Good)
  • Tg = Temmeligt godt (Pretty good)
  • Mdl = Mådeligt (Mediocre)
  • Slet = Slet (Bad)

The scale was also used at schools and was in use from 1805 through to 1963.

Illegitimate Children

Originally, the term ”illegitimate children” wasn’t used, but rather two different terms:

  • “Slegfredbørn” (“bastards” according to the dictionary)
  • “Horebørn” (No term given in the dictionary, literally translates to “whorechildren”)

Slegfredbørn were children of parents who lived together but weren’t married, and horebørn were children where one or both the parents were married to someone else. They didn’t have the same legal status; horebørn were less favored.

Legitimate child or not?

The term “illegitimate children” is introduced with the Christening Decree of May 30th, 1828. The legitimacy of the child was determined by the marital status of the parents at the time of the christening. If they married the same day (but before) the child was christened, it would be a legitimate child.


According to Danske Lov [Danish Law] of 1683, it was a punishable offense to have intercourse outside of marriage. The man could be sentenced to marry the woman or to provide annual alimony to her to help provide for the child.


Until 1767, the mother of an illegitimate child had to make a public confession to the congregation, and the alleged father had to either acknowledge his fatherhood or swear that he wasn’t the father of the child.

After 1767, the punishment for both parents was 8 days imprisonment; and until 1812, they were also fined. Soldiers and sailors in the navy were exempt from the fines the first time they had a child out of wedlock, however.


From 1866 and all the way up to 1933, the offended party in a marriage could demand that the spouse be punished with jail or fines.

Illegitimate children’s Family Names

In the case of a child being born out of wedlock, the alleged father would have to give his consent for the child to carry his family name or patronymic. Otherwise, the mother was to name the child after herself, her father, or after the place of birth. These rules, however, were not strictly abided by all of the time.

Levy Rolls

A levy roll is an index of people bound for conscription, going back to 1789.


From 1789-1848, all boys of the peasant class were entered into the levy rolls from birth.


In 1849 a law on general conscription were instated, meaning that all males were now entered into the rolls, but only after they had been confirmed [usually at age 13-15].


Between 1860-1869, boys were entered into the rolls at the age of 16.


From 1869 they were entered at age 18.

The entries are registered per recruiting area which since 1788 usually is the same as the parishes.

The levy rolls have information about:

  • The number of the recruiting area
  • The boy’s old and new number
  • The names of the boy and his parents
  • The boy’s parish of birth
  • His year of birth
  • His height (Danish inches)
  • His whereabouts
  • Notes with information about his military services

When a man is no longer fit for military service (for instance due to his age), his name is crossed out.

The levy rolls ate often very difficult to interpret due to the many abbreviations.

Order of Dannebrog

The silver cross of the Order of Dannebrog was instituted in 1808 by King Frederik 6. It was bestowed on “anyone who, by the wise and reasonable pursuit of the brothers’ well-being and by a noble deed, has benefited the mother country”. The cross, which is entire silver, bears the same motto and inscriptions as the Knight’s Cross and is worn in the same kind of ribbon without rosette on the left dress look.

Originally, the cross was in practice awarded as an appreciation for an effort that did not qualify to the lowest degree of the Knight’s Cross, and it was typically given to lower-ranking officials, e.g. parish bailiffs, superintendents, station managers, councilors, postmasters, lighthouse keepers, etc.

The silver cross of the Order of Dannebrog was also awarded to veterans of the Three-Year War (1848-1850) and the Second Schleswig War (1864) in a special edition in which the gaps between the crowns of the crown were not cut.

During these Schleswig wars of 1848-1850 and 1864, around 2,200 crosses were awarded to brave soldiers. Around 1,600 surviving veterans received the cross from 1924 through 1928.

The Danish Royal Court has biographies of many men of the silver cross Order of Dannebrog. The biographies are shared to direct descendants on inquiry.


Denmark has 2,169 parishes, varying a lot in size; a little more than 100 parishes have less than 200 parishioners while a little less than 100 parishes have more than 20,000. Today, the biggest parish is Vesterbro in Copenhagen with around 45,000 people.

The parishes have also been part of the temporal administration, eventually, some of the temporal parishes differed from the ecclesiastical ones.

Royal Maternity Hospital & Orphanage

The Royal Maternity Hospital & Orphanage (Den Kgl. Fødsels- og Plejestiftelse) was established in 1785 and was a parish by itself.

The Maternity Hospital made sure that women could give birth anonymously and in a proper environment. Both unmarried and married women could give birth in the hospital and they could keep secret the father’s name and their own if they wished.

An orphanage was also part of the hospital, where the children who were left by their mothers could live until they could be placed in a foster family or were adopted.

School Attendance

From the Middle Ages and well into the 1900s; the church was in charge of the schools, and the minister or the rural dean acted as the teachers’ superiors.

In 1814, compulsory school attendance was introduced in Denmark. School attendance lasted from age 7 until they were confirmed, typically at the age of 14.

The schooling in the towns was very different from that in the countryside: There were fewer children in the classes in the common schools of the towns than the schools in the countryside, where several age groups were gathered in each class. The village schools had typically only two classes and the children were divided according to age.

Most children attended countryside schools, though these schools were generally poorer equipped and attendance lasted fewer years than was the case with schools in the towns.

It was determined that the schools should be placed so that no child had more than a quarter-mile [almost 2 km as 1 Danish mile = about 7.5 km] to school. In sparsely populated areas, a teacher could instead go around and teach the local children 2-3 different places. In return, the teacher would enjoy shelter and catering where the teaching took place.

There was a difference in how long the children went to school. In the towns, they had to go all weekdays, while the rural children could do with three days a week. The village schools were closed for four weeks from the start of the harvest. On top of that, parents and husbands had the right to keep children (including service boys and girls) over 10 years at home from school for 2-3 weeks in the spring and 3-4 weeks in the autumn, when there was a clear need for labor in farming.

It was clear that the legislators did not believe that children in the countryside needed the same sophisticated education as the children of the towns, but they took also into account the needs of the peasants for labor.

The special form of schooling in the countryside survived in some areas until well into the 1950s.

The children were taught reading, writing, mathematics, Bible history, and the shorter catechism, and there was an examination every year. The children in the towns had subjects that were considered unnecessary for village children.

Conditions were quite harsh; corporal punishment of different kinds was common, many schools weren’t cleaned properly, and the classrooms often overcrowded. However, one of the bright spots of going to school was going on the yearly school excursion, where the children got a break from studying and got to visit some interesting or charming places.

Servant’s Conduct Book

Every servant had to have a servant’s conduct book. Before use, it must be provided with a seal from either the police authority (in Copenhagen and in the market towns) or from the incumbent (in the rural areas). In 1742, the age limit was expanded further so it then included males from age 9-40, and in 1764 it was expanded even further to the age 4-40.

A child who wanted to serve after having completed school, had to obtain a servant’s conduct book if they didn’t already have one, and the book should be provided with their school certificate, when and where the child was born, if the child was christened and confirmed, and if that was the case, where and when.

Any householder who employed a servant, had to provide the servant’s conduct book with information on the when the servant worked for him, what the pay was, and what kind of work was provided. Anyone who moved to a market town or cure where they haven’t been before, to work as a servant, had to notify either the police authority or the incumbent so they could certify the servant’s conduct book.

The servant had to also notify the proper authorities when moving from the market town or cure. Not having or updating the information in the servant’s conduct book properly was punished with fines. Removing pages or purposefully making information in the book illegible is punished with either fines or prison.

Smallpox Vaccination

For centuries, smallpox (variola) had ravaged most of the world. It was a highly contagious infectious disease that resulted in high fever and blisters all over the body. Mortality was often 10-25%. If one survived, one was subsequently immune to the disease. Folklore believed that the body’s unclean fluids tried to get out using the smallpox bladders, and if they did not come out, one could become leprous. Various treatments were tried, ranging from leeches and cupping, which were to take the unclean liquid, to the risky inoculation, in which matter was inoculated from a diseased smallpox bladder into a healthy human being.

The children of Denmark have been vaccinated against smallpox since 1810. In order to be able to go to school, get married, and serve in military amongst other things, you were required to document that you had either overcome a variolous disease or get a vaccination.

In 1871 the vaccination was compulsory when a child reached 7 years. If a child was not vaccinated, the parents were fined.

For genealogists, vaccination can be a useful tool to confirm you have the right person, as both confirmation registrations and marriage registrations often show when the person in question was vaccinated and by whom.


There is a great number of Danish genealogy sources. Some of them are online but even more are available at the Danish archives. Rigsarkivet [The National Archive] in the center of Copenhagen has the greatest collection of sources available to the public. Fortunately, My Danish Roots is located near the archive.

Nonetheless, the church books and the censuses form the starting point of most genealogy research as these sources hold a lot of information about the individuals.

The content of these records changed significantly over time. A record of more recent date generally has more details than older ones.

We substantiate all our findings with similar copies of the source records. They will, of course, come in higher resolution and be readable.

We copy the full page of the source and name the files with the full information about it:
Church book: NAME OF PERSON, Event, Date, County, Parish, Period, View#, Entry on page
Census: Year, CENSUS, Date, Name of key person, County, Parish/Address, View#, Entry on page

Sponsors at Christenings

Children who are christened in the Danish National Evangelical Lutheran Church must have a number of sponsors who have the task of being christening witnesses and caring for the child’s upbringing in the Christian faith in case the parents die before the child “comes to years of discretion” (i.e. until the child has been confirmed).

This appears from the sponsorship indictment of the christening ritual, but the educational function does not have much practical significance, as the children’s upbringing – also regarding the religious aspects – is entrusted to the person or persons who are given custody after the parents’ death.

Parents must choose a minimum of two and a maximum of five sponsors. It can be family members or friends, but in any case it should be people who share the parents’ values and have their great trust.

One must have at least the normal confirmation age to be able to be a sponsor, ie. at least 14 years old.

According to “Danske Lov” [Danish Law, a nationwide law from 1683], those who were to bear witness or be sponsors at a christening, had to be honest people

This day today the sponsors/Godparents have still the same duty. To this day the sponsors/Godparents have still the same duty.

Sponsors at Weddings

The sponsors at a wedding acted as an official witness to ensure that the bride and groom were legally married and not too closely related to each other.

Typically, it was the father, a brother or a full-grown son to the bride and groom, respectively. On the bride’s side, it was originally the person that gave his daughter/sister/mother in marriage.

Women’s Rights

Widows of masters of a craft, i.e. master baker, master carpenter, etc. were allowed, under certain conditions, to continue their late husbands’ trade. Most often she would be required to hire a qualified journeyman to assist with the day-to-day work though.

Women gained the right to vote in 1915.

Married women only gained the same rights as their husbands in 1925.

Working Conditions

Working conditions were still harsh for the workers and smallholders in the last half of the 1800s, and well into the new century. The workdays were long and the work was grueling and exhausting. The wages of the servants, both in the cities and in the countryside were negotiable, there were no collective agreements or tariffs; supply and demand dictated the size of the pay.

In 1872, the Ministry of the Interior researched the conditions of the city- and farmworkers, and came to the conclusion that only in one single county – the county of Copenhagen – could a farmworker manage to make a – poor – living for a wife and two children, and only if he could work all year with no period(s) of unemployment along the way, which was quite unlikely. The wife and children of a family could work as well, and often did, to one degree or another, but this could in turn cause problems with the keeping of the household and children. Many wives of smallholders and farmworkers had jobs they could do at home, like spinning and sewing for small companies, but the pay was poor.

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