Here you can find short descriptions of some of the important subjects when it comes to Danish ancestry.
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.
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.
Only 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.
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.
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 childs christening, see “Churching of women” on this page.
See an example of a christening record here.
The content of the church books has varied considerably over time. The very first church books are from the 16th century. In 1645, the keeping of church books was required by law. 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 early church books. In most cases, the church books were kept in one copy only. Therefore, in many cases, they 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.
By 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).
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 are 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. Afterwards 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.
At the beginning of the 1900’s the ritual faded out, though there are some instances where it was used even decades after that period.
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.
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 edification of youth and the congregation present.
Other 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 a 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.
Det Centrale Personregister
It is a national register with basic personal information about anyone who has a social security number.
All people with residence in Denmark Denmark since April 1, 1968 (Greenland May 1, 1972) are in the register which is updated continuously.
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.
The Danish alphabet contains 29 letters where the last three are specificly Danish
- Æ – æ
- Ø – ø
- Å – å
æ = ae
Has its roots in Latin, and have been part of the Danish language for about a thousand years.
ø = oe
As ‘æ’ it has its roots in Latin, and have been part of the Danish language for about a thousand years.
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 percieved to be a little more sophisticated by many people.
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 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 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. Spelling of the names was quite inconsistent in the earlier days.
See the list of the most common family names here.
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 good (Pretty good)
- Mdl = Mådeligt (Mediocre)
- Slet = Slet (Bad)
The scale was in use 1805-1963.
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 offence to have intercourse outside of marriage. The man could be sentenced to marry the woman or to provide an 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 were prison for 8 days, and until 1812, they were also fined. Soldiers and sailors in navy where 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.
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.
See an example of a levy roll here.
Denmark has 2,169 parishes, varying a lot in size; a little more that 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 parish differed from the ecclesiastical ones.
From the Middle Ages and well into the 1900’s; 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 to 14, seven years, and were split up into a “small grade” and a “big grade” for small/big children. The pupils were taught reading, writing, mathematics, Bible history and the shorter catechism, and there was an examination every year.
The children attended school every other day, so that they could help out at home. Most people attended countryside schools, though these schools were generally poorer equipped and attendance lasted fewer years than was the case with schools in the cities.
Conditions were quite harsh; corporal punishment of different kinds were common, many schools weren’t cleaned properly, and the classrooms often over crowded. However, one of the bright spots of going to school, was going on the yearly school excursion, where the pupils got a break from studying, and got to visit some interesting or charming place.
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.
According to “Danske Lov” [Danish Law, a nationwide law from 1683], those who were to bear witness or be sponsors/Godparents at a christening, had to be honest people, and there could be no more than five sponsors all in all. Their duty was to make sure that the child was raised as a proper Christian, but they did not have to take care of the child, should the parents die. Sponsors were often family members, coworkers or friends of the family.
This day today the sponsors/Godparents have still the same duty. To this day the sponsors/Godparents have still the same duty.
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. Othervise, the mother were to name the child after herself, or after the place of birth. These rules, however, were not strictly abided by all of the time.
The silver cross of the Order of Dannebrog was instituted 1808 by King Frederik 6. It was bestowed on “anyone who, by wise and reasonable pursuit of the brothers’ well-being and by noble deed, has benefited the mother country”. The cross, which is entirely of 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 during the period of 1924 to 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.
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 in until the could be placed in a foster family or were adopted.
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 gotten a vaccination.
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.
Widows of masters of a craft, i.e. master baker, master carpenter and so on, 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.
The ten most used names were all Christian names borrowed from biblical women or saints.
More than 80% of the women had one of the names as their first Christian name in
Top-10 women’s names 1801/03:
- Anne (144,000)
- Maren (62,000)
- Karen (49,000)
- Kirsten (32,000)
- Maria (29,000)
- Mette (24,000)
- Johanne (22,000)
- Else (12,000)
- Catharina (12,000)
- Ellen (10,000)
The spelling of all these names could vary significantly.
The most common names in the beginning of the 1800s are still familiar today. Only Maren and Catharina haven’t been popular during a certian period in the 1900s.
Working conditions were still harsh for the workers and smallholders in the last half of the 1800’s, and in some cases well into the new century. The workdays were long and the work was gruelling 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.