When I started to make a family tree about four years ago, I didn’t know anything about researching. I just wanted to make a small family tree with the names of my parents, grandparents and maybe my great-grandparents. I thought that it could be fun for my children to know the names of their ancestors, and perhaps, one day, they would use one of the names for their own children.
Of course I knew the names of my grandparents and I asked my parents for the names of their grandparents. My father was not so much a help because some of his grandparents had passed away before he was born so he had never met them and therefore didn’t know their names. My mother could give me information on names from her family. But this information was only names, nothing else, and I was a little curious – which area of Denmark were my ancestors from and what was their occupation?
As it turned out, you can actually do a lot of the research from home, because Danish church books are available for free online. You just have to learn how to use them.
Parish Registers (Church books)
Starting in 1645, all priests in Denmark have been obliged by law to keep Parish Registers. Most of these have survived and as of 1812 the church had to keep two copies of the Parish Register. These copies had to be kept different places at night in case of an accident, such as a fire. So if one copy was destroyed, you always had a backup.
The first Church books are difficult to read and understand. The church had no standard of how to register the information. Many priests wrote the information from the parish in chronological order, but some didn’t. And the handwriting is many times also very hard to decipher. As of 1812 new Church books were made. The Register started containing columns with printed headings, so from then on it was so much easier to find a person. You no longer had to go through the entire book to find your ancestor, you could just find the birth, marriage or death section in the book.
The Parish Register will provide information regarding anyone who was born/baptized, confirmed, married or died/buried in that particular parish. Every group is divided in a men and women section.
Only information relating to the particular religious ceremony in question will be recorded there. The entry will not tell you who the person later married, or where he/she died. That information must be found in the parish where the event took place.
Usually, a parish register can provide you with this information:
Birth – Baptism
- Name of the child, date of birth, date of baptism in church
- Names, occupation and residence of parents (sometimes also age of parents or the marriage date and at which church), godmother, godparents
- Happened in about 7th grade
- Name of young person
- Place and date of birth
- Name, occupation and residence of parents or employer
- Sometimes remarks of how their schoolwork was, other information
- Names of the bride and groom
- Places and dates of birth for the bride and groom
- Parents of bride and groom
- Residence and occupation
- Marriage witnesses
- Name of the deceased
- Date of death and funeral
- Age of the deceased
- Occupation and residence
- Place of birth – names of parents
- Name of husband or wife
Records of birth, confirmation and marriage become accessible 50 years after the event happened. As of now most church books up till 1960, are online on The Danish National Archives webpage. A few books are not online, but you can order them and read them in the reading room at the National Archives.
Of course, research will not always be this easy. If you don´t know where your ancestors were born, then you don´t know in which of the more than 2.100 parishes you should start your research.
So where can you search instead? Census records are a great place to start. A further description of census and other Danish records will come in an article next week.