• Church Records

• Historical Geography

• History

• Calendar Changes

• Personal Names

• A List of Native Language Terms


Church Records

Denmark began keeping church records in 1645, when the king issued a royal decree instructing the ministers on the island of Sjælland to record baptisms, marriages, and burials. The following year the same decree was issued to the rest of the country. Some pastors began keeping records much earlier than this. The earliest parish record is for the city of Nakskov, starting in 1572.  

Early on the Danish government recognized only the Evangelical Lutheran Church, with a few exceptions. The Reformed Church was given official rights on 15 May 1747. The existing Mosaic (Jewish) congregations were officially recognized on 29 March 1814. The Catholics were served by the clergy attached to the Austrian Embassy. In the city of Fredericia, which enjoyed religious freedom from 1682, Catholic registers started in 1685.  

Beginning in 1849 the Danish constitution recognized Christian dissenter churches. It required however, that everyone from all denominations notify the pastor of the local Lutheran parish of all births and deaths.  

To guard against possible destruction or loss of church books, duplicate records were kept in separate places after 1814.  

Information Recorded in Church Registers

At first the record-keeping requirement was limited to baptisms, marriages, and burials. Confirmation registers of many parishes date from as early as 1736.

Until a standard form was established in 1814, no directions were given on how to keep church records. Before that date, the format and content of the records vary greatly.  


Children were generally christened within a few days of birth. Christening registers usually give the names of the infant and parents, the child's legitimacy status, names of witnesses and godparents (and often their residences), and the christening date. You may also find the child's birth date, the father's occupation, and the family's place of residence.

Earlier registers typically give less information, sometimes listing only the christening date, the name of the child, and the father.


Marriage registers give the marriage date, the names of the bride and groom, and their respective residences. The records usually indicate whether the bride and groom were single or widowed before the marriage and gives the names of witnesses.

After 1814 the registers often include other information about the bride and groom, such as their ages, occupations, fathers' names, and birthplaces.  

Marriage records sometimes give the engagement date and the three dates on which the marriage intentions were announced. These announcements, called banns, gave the opportunity for anyone to come forward who knew of any reason that the couple should not be married.

Generally, couples were married in the bride's home parish. Typically, the bride and groom were in their twenties when they married.


Historical Geography

You may find that the name of the place your ancestor came from has changed or that the county or even the country has changed. This section describes the changes that have taken place in Denmark. 

Before 1793 Denmark was divided into about 50 small counties. These county names appear on the 1787 census and on pre-1793 probate records. In 1793 Denmark consolidated the counties into new, larger counties. The Family History Library Catalog uses the county structure that existed between 1793 and 1970. The county structure changed again in 1970.

The southern boundary of Denmark changed in 1864. Denmark's territory formerly included the state of Schleswig. After the Danish-Prussian War of 1863, Denmark ceded its four southern counties of Tønder, Haderslev, Sønderborg, and Åbenrå to Germany. These Danish areas remained under German control until after World War I, when they were returned to Denmark. Because of this, administrative districts were reorganized, their names and boundaries were changed, and local place-names were changed. Records for these areas will be located in the counties currently under Danish control.

Although the Dutchy of Holstein was an independent state before the Danish-Prussian War, the king of Denmark was also the Duke of Holstein. Some Danish records also exist in Holstein.


Some key dates and events in the history of Denmark are as follows:   


King Gorm becomes the first known ruler of a united Danish kingdom.



The Christian church is established in Denmark. The reign of Harold Bluetooth.



Denmark and England are united.



The three kingdoms of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway are united in the Union of Kalmar.



Sweden leaves the union.



The Protestant Reformation begins.



The first nationwide population census of genealogical value is taken.



Stavnsbaand (compulsory residence by the peasant and farming classes) is abolished.



A printed format for parish registers begins. At the Treaty of Kiel, Denmark is compelled to cede Norway to Sweden.



Denmark goes to war against Prussia and Austria. In the Treaty of Prague (1886), Denmark cedes Schleswig-holstein to Prussia (Germany).



A new constitution establishes a two chamber parliament elected by universal suffrage.



After a referendum, northern Schleswig is returned to Denmark.



Germany occupies Denmark.



Calendar Changes

The Gregorian calendar is the calendar in common use in the world today. It corrected the Julian calendar, which began in A.D. 46 and miscalculated leap years. By 1582 the calendar was 10 days behind the solar year.

In Denmark the last day of the Julian calendar was 18 February 1700. A that time 10 days were omitted from the calendar to bring it in line with the solar year. The day after 18 February 1700 was 1 March 1700.


Personal Names

Last Names

Before record keeping began, most people had only one name, such as Jens. As the population increased, it became necessary to distinguish between individuals with the same name. The problem was usually solved by adding descriptive information. For example, different men named Jens could be called Jens the smith, Jens the son of Matthis, Jens the short, or Jens from Fredericia. At first, last names applied only to one person and not to the whole family. After a few generations, these names were passed from father to son. Last names developed from four major sources:  

Patronymic. These last names are based on the father's name. Example: Lars Nielsen (son of Niels)

Occupational. These last names are based on the person's trade. Example: Jens Smed (the smith)

Nicknames. These last names are based on the person's characteristics. Example: Anders Blatann (blue tooth)

Geographical. These last names are based on the person's residence. Example: Peder Tolstrup

Last names were first used by the nobility and by wealthy landowners. Later merchants and townspeople followed the custom, and eventually the rural population followed too.  

Most Danish names are patronymic. Such names were based on the father's given name and changed with each generation. For example, a man named Lars whose father was named Peder would be called Lars Pedersen. If he had a son named Hans, the son would be known as Hans Larssen (Hans, son of Lars). Hans's brothers would be called Larssen, while a sister would be known as Larsdatter (daughter of Lars). Where the population used patronymics, a woman did not change her name at marriage.  

From about 1850 on, it was customary for Danes living in cities to take permanent last names. By 1875 many rural parts of Denmark followed suit. In some places patronymic last names were used until 1904, when a national law required people to adopt permanent family names.

Given Names

In Denmark a particular naming pattern was very common until about 1850. The following pattern may be helpful when researching family groups:  

• The first male child was usually named for his father's father.

• The second male child was usually named for his mother's father.

• The first female child was usually named for her mother's mother.

• The second female child was usually named for her father's mother.

• Additional children were often named for the parents and the parents' brothers and sisters.  

If a woman died and her husband remarried, the first daughter in the new marriage was named after the deceased wife. If a man died and his wife remarried, the first son in the new marriage was named after the deceased husband.


A List of Native Language Terms

Glossary of Native Language Terms—Scandinavia

Following is a list of terms often found in Scandinavian records. Each term is accompanied by its English equivalent. Most of these terms are found in the original record collections used to create the Vital Records Indexes.


Native Language Term: English Term


Collection Types

Den Danske Folkekirke: Danish People's Church (state church: Lutheran)

Den Franske Reformeret Kirke: French Reformed Church

Den Norske Kirke: Norwegian Church (state church: Lutheran)

Det Mosaiske Trossamfund: Mosaic Congregation

Hollandske Reformerta Kyrkan: Dutch Reformed Church

Suomen Kirkko: Finnish Church (state church: Lutheran)

Svenska Kyrkan: Swedish Church (state church: Lutheran)

Tyska Lutherska Kyrkan: German Lutheran Church

Valgmenighed: Free Church


Locality Jurisdiction Types

Amt: County

By: Town

Kaupunki: City

Kunta: Town

Laani: County

Län: County

Land: Country

Maa: Country

Moderförsamling: Mother (main) parish

Pastorat: Clerical district

Praestegjeld: Clerical district

Stad: City

More good Danish Information  -  My Danish Roots website

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This page assembled : 12th June, 2002