Denmark Land and Property

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There are four major types of land records in Denmark: Cadastral Lists, Copyhold Deeds, Land Registration Lists, and Deeds and Mortgages. While all of them are of use to the genealogist, only copyhold deeds are likely to have any direct evidence of a relationship in them and in general land records must be used in combination with other records to whenever possible. Deeds and mortgages are the record that is least likely to help you find your family because these records deal with the purchase and sale of land and most Danes were peasants who did not own their land to begin with.

History[edit | edit source]

By the start of genealogical times, the vast majority of Danes did not own their own land. Anciently it is believed that most Danes held their land as freeholders but during the middle ages, more and more of the land was bought up or confiscated the old nobility (or crown) and incorporated into their estates, the peasants reduced to leasing what they had once owned. It is estimated that by 1536 only 25% of farms were still held in freehold and the 1688 cadastral list (see above) revealed that at that time only 1,700 of the 59,000 farms in Denmark were held by independent farmers. The transition from most of the land being held as leaseholds instead of freeholds first started in the 1760's, but most of the land was still leased until about 1850, and the old system was not fully abolished until 1919.

In the 1760's the crown started auctioning off its land controlled by the calvary districts and some of those peasants were able to purchase their land as freeholders. In the 1790's changes to some of the land laws and the estates rights over their tenants caused some estates, especially in Skanderborg and northern Vejle counties, to buckle under pressure and sell off much of their land as well. Again many of the peasants belonging to those purchased their land at this time and also became freeholders. In other parts of the country such as eastern Denmark where the estates were more powerful and the land was better, no changes occurred until around 1835-1860 at which point, many of the farmers also became freeholders and only cottagers remained under the estate.

Land records for Denmark are listed in the FamilySearch Catalog under—



Also check the catalog under the region (such as Sønderjylland or Sjælland.)

Cadastral Lists (Matrikler)[edit | edit source]

Denmark has conducted four nationwide land surveys. These provide little direct genealogical information but can be used in combination with other records to make a proof argument.

1662: All lands in the kingdom were recorded and their values converted to an exact rate. The new government wanted to implement a fair, uniform taxing system. Names of owners and leaseholders were recorded for each property.

1664: The 1662 plan failed and was replaced with a revised listing of property holders.

1688: A new listing of properties was compiled, and each farm was listed by number and by the names of each owner and leaseholder. This listing also had references to the 1664 property-owner or leaseholder. The 1688 list identifies each dwelling in Denmark and provides the name of the owner (church cloister, or the crown), the name of the leaseholder, and the amount of yearly tax in money or kind due from a leaseholder or landowner. It supplements Land Tenure Accounts [Jordebogsregnskaber] under the old law and county jurisdiction. They can be for one year or a series of years.

1844: A new nationwide list was created showing the name of the owner, name of the occupant, the old value as it had been in 1688 and the new land value. Each dwelling was assigned a matrikel (registration) number and all land transactions were now listed in the land records by this number, including land in the cities. These records are available on microfilm in the Family History Library; the originals are available at the respective provincial archives. These records were kept until about 1870.

As these four cadastral lists typically, just identify the farm, the owner, and the head of household, they are best used in combination with themselves or other records. For example, if you notice that the occupant of a certain farm in 1688 was Peder Madsen and then you find that the person who lived on that same farm previously in 1664 was Mads Christensen, you could start searching for evidence to build a case that the two men were father and son.

One advantage of these records is they should list each property in Denmark regardless of whether the land was owned by the crown, an estate, or a freeholder. Since the owner and the leaseholder are both named, these records can be used to determine which estate your ancestor belonged to as well as the distribution of the land in the hamlet or parish among the estates. If you find that all of the land in a certain parish was owned by one single estate, researching that family will be easier. If the land was split among several estates, you will need to exercise more caution.

Land Tenancy Records [Jordebøger][edit | edit source]

In addition to the national land surveys, many of the 800 estates in Denmark kept similar lists in which they recorded each peasant dwelling they owned, the name of the occupant, the value of the land, and the year dues (cash, kind, & corvee labor) that the farmer or cottager owed. Not all estates have these records and there is no pattern to the ones that are kept though in general an estate with good records might have perhaps 8-15 of these lists spanning 1662 to 1812.

These records function similarly to the cadastral lists mentioned above. They are best used in combination with the cadstral lists and other sources to develop a case. The advantage to these records is that when they exist, there will likely be several of them to work with. The disadvantage is you must know which estate your ancestor belonged to and you must be careful not to jump to hasty conclusions. Because each estate only kept records for its own tenants, that just because you find one man with a certain name, (Peder Madsen for example) listed in that parish, does not mean that he was the only Peder Madsen in the parish. There may have been another Peder Madsen also in the same parish or even same hamlet, but he is not recorded in the jordebøger you are reading because he belonged to a different estate.

Research use: Good lineage-linking source. Land was often passed down father to son Records cover time period before the start of parish registers.

Record type: Records of land or property that is leased.

Time period: 1530 to 1812.

Copyhold Records [Fæstebreve og Fæsteprotokoller][edit | edit source]

Before 1850, many farmers and cottagers leased land from owners of large estates [godser] or from crown-held land by entering into a contractual agreement. This contract was called a fæstebrev (lease letter). The terms of the lease were recorded on the contract including the name of the former occupant, his reason for leaving the farm, the name of the new leaseholder, his birthplace (sometimes), the relationship of the former occupant (if any), the date of transfer, and a description of the land. Beginning in 1719, Danish law required that two copies be made, one which was to be given to the leaseholder and one which was to be archived (fæsteprotokoller). Because of these, these records will most likely start in 1719 if they exist, but they may go back earlier or not exist at all. If there was no breach of the contract, the landowner could not evict the leaseholder. Sometimes the leaseholder's family inherited the lease. However, it was up to the nobleman and the steward who had the final word on who took over the farm.

When these records survive, they are by far the most valuable type of land record in Denmark. They are the oldest available records that are likely to provide a place of birth for your ancestor (lægdsruller give this information starting in 1789, and the censuses in 1845) and they often give direct evidence of a relationship because often the new tenant was related to the old one. For example, a record might say, " 4 March 1683, Oluf Pedersen, born in Lystrup takes over the farm, that his father, Peder Terkeldsen can no longer work due to his old age."

Contents: Name of the person who resided on a specific piece of property, place of his birth. In leaseholding records, the name of the previous leasee is given and if the new leasee is related often that relationship is stated. Terms of the lease are also given.

Location: Provincial archives.

Percentage in Family History Library: About 90 to 95%.

Population coverage: 20%.

Reliability: Very good.[1]

Deed and Mortgage Records [Skøde og Panteprotokoller][edit | edit source]

Some records of land ownership, sales, or transfers begin in the year 1551. These transactions were to be publicized and approved in court and recorded in the court record [tingbog]. However, these records were not regularly kept before 1738. The records contain names of the parties involved, descriptions of land, and date of record. These land records are the least likely to help in finding your family because in order to be in these records, your ancestor needed to either buy or sale land instead of just lease it and by the time most people could afford this, there are easier records (church, census, military, & probate to use).

Jurisdictions of these courts were:

  • Byting (city court)
  • Herredsting (district court)
  • Landsting(court of first appeal)

After 1738, an alphabetical register of debtors and creditors was mandatory. In the herred and landsting courts, a register of the land involved was also kept. The landsting were discontinued in 1805, and jurisdiction was transferred to the herred and birk (judicial district) courts.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. The Family History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Family History Record Profile: Denmark,” Word document, private files of the FamilySearch Content Strategy Team, 1987-1998.