Danish Research: Tips for Beginners

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Basics of Research

Decide What You Want to Learn

Begin with a goal in mind.  You may want to find an ancestor's parents, birth date, or death date.  Decide on a specific goal.

Know What You Know

You cannot simply say, "I'm going to find my great-great-great-grandfather," and expect to meet with any success.  You have to have some clues to get you started. You may have many clues that you don't even recognize.  Most of these clues will come from previous generations of ancestors.

Step Backward before Stepping Forward

Remember that we are building family "trees" here.  You cannot hang apples on a tree that has no branches.  Look at the associated information to the problem.  The best clues for any ancestor are usually found by looking at their immediate family members.  For example: If your goal is to find the parents of an individual (who is one of the end of lines on your Pedigree Chart), take the time to look at all the associated clues to the known individual. Do you know the name of a child (learn about the Danish Naming Laws)?  In Denmark, a child's surname frequently gives a clue about the father's given name.  Do you know where a child was born?  This means you also know where the child's parents lived.  It’s a process of understanding the known before moving to the unknown. If you gather everything you know about that individual, and your information is still very sketchy (meaning you really don’t know much) you should probably move your goal:  research the previous generation more thoroughly until you know enough to build on.

Understand Where You Have Checked

Document everything you do.  If you look through a collection of records and find nothing--document it so you don't look through them again!  If you do find a record, make sure to record everything about the record so you can easily locate the record again, if needed.  Sometimes there will be information on the record which seems insignificant at one time, but will prove invaluable at another time.  Evaluate what you have already checked. This is a lot easier if you have documented your sources during your research activities.

Danish Research Basics

Understand the Danish Naming Tradition

Surnames were not always used in Denmark.  When Danish law finally required surnames to be used, most of the people used patronyms as surnames.  A patronym is formed by taking the father's name and adding the suffix -sen (which means son in Danish) or -datter (which means daughter in Danish).  For example, a man named Hans Pedersen would be the son of a man named Peder.  Also our Hans Pedersen would have sons surnamed "Hansen" and daughters surnamed "Hansdatter". 

Denmark also did not use "married" names until almost the 20th century.  A woman kept her maiden surname throughout her life.  It is also helpful to understand that daughters were less strict about the use of their surname--a daughter with the surname Hansdatter can sometimes jump back and forth between Hansdatter and Hansen.

There are also times in Danish history when individuals may have adopted other surnames.  Sometimes a man could have taken on the additional surname of the parish where he lived or another trait that described him.  This surname would typically be added on after the patronym.

The bottom line is this:  be flexible when searching for a surname--explore multiple spellings and options.

Using Available Online Danish Resources


The first problem many English speaking researchers encounter is the fact that they don't speak the Danish language.  Fortunately, there are now many Danish translating programs available online.  Check out the following website:  http://translate.google.com/.  Type the Danish phrase you wish to translate into the box to the left.  Above the box, there is a dropdown menu which states "From: Detect Language".  Select Danish from that menu.  This should give you a fairly good translation of the Danish phrase you need translated.  Keep in mind that this is a computer--sentences particularly are not always translated exactly the way a person would translate them.  However, this will give an idea of what is intended to be said.

Dansk Demografisk Database

The Danish Archives has been scanning and placing original Danish records online. There are two main sites where these can be reached.

The Dansk Demografisk Database (http://www.ddd.dda.dk/) contains Danish Census Records from 1787 and onwards as well as other features.  The Danish State Archives are in the process of indexing the Census records, but the indexing is not complete for all years.  This website is given in both Danish and English.  To access the English version, click on the British flag that appears in the upper right hand corner of the webpage.  There is a link to the census records (the word "census" appears with red highlights) along the left hand side of the page, or you can go directly to the page by clicking here (http://www.ddd.dda.dk/kiplink_en.htm).  The searching options will appear on the upper left hand side of the page.  Either "Search for Individuals" or "Advanced search" will bring up fields to help narrow your search.  The "What is in the database" link will help you search to find which censuses have been indexed.  If you search for an individual and get no returns, it may be you are using the wrong spelling for the name (you MUST use the Danish alphabet AND spell the name correctly) or the name may not have been indexed yet.  You can use "wildcards" for your census searches.  An underscore _ subsitutes one charager and a percent sign % substitutes multiple characters.  Remember that a lot is still to be transcribed, so check back later if you are not initially successful.

If you are able to locate an ancestor in these census records, you will then know the place the ancestor lived, the age of the individual, and possibly family members.  Please remember that people were listed on the census according to where they were working.  An occupation is usually listed--children are specifically listed as children, and servants are specifically listed as servants.  The censuses beginning in 1845 also list a birthplace.


The second helpful website is called arkivalieronline.dk (http://www.sa.dk/ao/).  This website does not have an English translation other than an overall English description found here (http://www.sa.dk/ao/English/default.aspx).  At one time, it was required to register to use this website, but that is no longer necessary.  This website accesses original scans of the census records and the church records.  These are NOT indexed, so the only way to use them is to actually look through all the records.  However, they are categorized by location and year. 

Don't be intimidated by the fact this website is in Danish.  Use the translator mentioned above (http://translate.google.com/) and copy and paste the words.  You will eventually become familiar with the basic Danish terms needed for research.

The church records (Kirkebøger) are extremely useful.  They include the original parish birth records, confirmation records, marriage records, and death records.  Birth records always list parents' names.  Death records frequently list parents' names or a spouse.  Marriage records frequently give the fathers' names.  Because these are not indexed, it is usually easiest to use these records in conjunction with the already indexed census records from the Dansk Demografisk Database(http://www.ddd.dda.dk/kiplink_en.htm) described above.  The census record can help you determine an approximate birth year and birth location for an individual.  The birth year and location will help you determine which church records to check.  

It is worth noting the way these church records are organized.  When you search the church records (søg i kirkebøger), you are able to select the location for the records.  You can select the county (Amt), the township (Herred), and the parish (Sogn).  Once you have selected each of those location requirements, a list of all the records for that location will appear on the screen.  These records will specify a range of years they cover and the types of records contained therein.  For example, the records for 1781-1814 might contain only birth and marriage records, while the records from 1814-1830 might contain birth, confirmation, marriage, death, and departure lists.  The records are arranged in a "spreadsheet" format--the location and years appear in the far left column, the type of record appears across the top (F=birth, K=confirmation, V=marriage, D=death, J=Listings, A=departure lists, T=supply lists). 

Once you decide which records to view, click on the link to open the actual records.  These records are saved in Java format.  Follow the instructions given by your computer to open the records.  Once you arrive at an open page, you'll see the word "opslag" followed by a number appearing in the far left column.  Each "opslag" represents a page of the records.  Clicking on the "opslag" link will open the page.  Once opened, the "opslag" will be turned green to show you've opened it.

These records typically appear in a certain order.  The birth records always appear first, followed by the confirmations.  Next will come the marriages.  Finally, the deaths and remaining records.  There is no way to tell where a set of records (for example, confirmations) begins and ends.  You just have to open the "opslag" and find out.  It is also extremely important to realize that often the men and women are listed in separate books.  For example, if I were looking for the birth of a female in 1847, and I were looking at a set of records that extended from 1838 to 1855, I would find all the males born from 1838 to 1855 listed first--they would be in order according to birth date.  Next, the females would be listed beginning with the females born in 1838 and moving forward according to the date.  Therefore, I would expect that the female born in 1847 would be several "opslags" down on the list.