Exploring Your Danish Heritage

May 8, 2019  - by 
a family has fun on a dock in denmark.

Denmark is a country that may sometimes be overlooked, but recently it has started attracting more of the limelight. Lonely Planet picked Copenhagen as its top city to visit in 2019. After all, doesn’t a country that consistently finishes in the top 5 in the World Happiness Report deserve a little attention?  

So what’s great about Denmark? As the land of Viking explorers, LEGO bricks, Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid, and smørrebrød sandwiches, Denmark has a rich heritage. It also has one of the highest standards of living in the world.  

If you have Danish ancestors, FamilySearch has a strong collection of online Danish records that can help you find them. With immigration records, thorough church records, and even government census records available to you, your search efforts to are likely to yield positive results!  

But before you jump into locating names and dates, take a moment to learn a little more about your Danish heritage. 

A History of Denmark 

Although Denmark may be an exemplar of peace and prosperity now, this hasn’t always been the case. Much of Denmark’s history is entangled with other Scandinavian countries. These countries shared an early Viking history, a period and people known for raids and war. 

 In 1397, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Iceland united in the Kalmar Union. This union lasted well over 100 years until Sweden declared its independence. A series of wars followed.  

In the 1814 Congress of Vienna at the conclusion of the Napoleonic wars, Denmark was forced to give up Norway. Iceland gained independence in the 20th century. But Greenland, colonized by Denmark in 1721, remains officially part of the kingdom of Denmark. Understanding these border changes can be important in locating records about your family.  

Because of the importance of church records in tracing ancestors, a basic understanding of religion in Denmark is also useful. Christianity entered Denmark in 965. In the 1520s, the Reformation swept through with vigor. Denmark officially became Lutheran in 1536. Even today, 74 percent of Danes identify as Lutheran.  

Many of Denmark’s church records have been preserved and are indexed. However, keep in mind that using church records takes some familiarity with reading the Gothic script as well as with the patronymic naming system in which children took on a form of their father’s first name instead of his last name.   

Life in Denmark Today 

Today, the concept of hygge is at the center of Danish life and culture. Hygge is a word meant to capture coziness or the good things in life—friends, family, relaxing, gathering.  

Many people attribute Denmark’s hygge and high happiness ratings to its egalitarian society, which gives everyone free access to quality education and healthcare. Others link it partially to a slower pace of life. The average workweek in Denmark is 37 hours, and more people ride bikes than drive cars in Copenhagen. Collectively, Danes bike about 1.6 kilometers per day.  

Interested in visiting Denmark to discover more about your heritage? Check out the travel guide below to get the most of your experience. You can find our other travel guides on our heritage travel page.

Denmark Travel Guide

Two danish boys play by a castle

Danish Emigration  

Although few Danes are looking to leave their country now, Denmark experienced a strong emigration movement in the 19th century. Today, 5 million Danes live outside of Denmark, including 1.4 million in the United States and 50,000 in Germany. 

Danish emigration started as early as the 1600s but was only a trickle until the 1850s. Emigration gradually increased during the next decades, peaking in the 1880s. For many emigrants, the motivation was economic. The population had increased rapidly, decreasing the amount of land available.  

The promise of land in the United States proved an irresistible draw for some. Many Danes settled in the Midwestern United States, where farmland abounded. Copenhagen was the most popular port for Danes to leave from. Records here begin in 1869 and are available on FamilySearch.org and in other places. However, keep in mind that some Danes did leave through Hamburg or other ports.  

Ready to learn even more about your own Danish heritage? Follow the links below, and start looking for new Danish ancestors to add to your family tree. 

Danish Church and Census Records

two danish men ride bicycles.

Leslie Albrecht Huber

Leslie Albrecht Huber has written for dozens of magazines and journals on genealogy and other topics. She currently does communications consulting and contract work for nonprofit organizations. Leslie received a bachelor's degree in history from Brigham Young University and a Master of Public Affairs (MPA) from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has worked as a professional genealogist, helpingothers trace their families, and has spoken on genealogy and history topics to groups across the United States.

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  1. I’m happy to find this site about Danish Genealogy. Of all people, this is where I need to be because all my ancestors come from Denmark on my Father and Mother sides. Aside from my brothers and sisters, I know of no other 100% Danish Americans.

  2. Hans Christen Andersen is spelled with an en not on. It’s an easy mistake but as an Andersen myself I wish it could be spelled correctly. Thx

  3. Sandra Hargis, age 67, GA United States
    I would like to find my family origin.
    Was I a Harjes that migrated to Normandie, France to London, England; and to Colonial Maryland?
    Any help, I welcome. Thank you.

  4. I would like to know more about my great grandparents. They left Denmark and went to Miller, South Damota