Danish Research: Tips for Beginners

Denmark Gotoarrow.pngGetting Started Gotoarrow.pngTips for Beginners

Tip #1: 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.

Tip #2: 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.

Tip #3: 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.

Tip #4: Use 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 indexing the Danish national censuses and placing them online. 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; however, it is important to note that the English version of the website does not yet have the same amount of results available that you will find in the Danish version. To access the English version, click on the British flag that appears in the upper right hand corner of the webpage. For more informaiton about the site see Danish Demographic Database.

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 to find multiple spellings. 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; however, there is a wiki page describing the website (Digitized Danish Records Online). There is also an overall English description found here (http://www.sa.dk/ao/English/default.aspx). 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 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 merely need to open the image 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.  Thus it is logical to expect that the female born in 1847 would be several "opslags" down on the list.

What's Next?

Use the following links to learn how to accomplish your research goals.

How to Get Started
*Finding Your Ancestor in the Records
*Tips for Beginners
*Tips for Danish-American Researchers

   How to Find Information for Danish Ancestors

1. Getting Started
2. Birth Information
3. Marriage Information
4. Death Information
5. Place of Origin in Denmark
6. Moving within Denmark 


7. Emigration information
8. Immigration information
9. Using witnesses to find the next generation
10. Families in Sønderjylland (Southern Denmark)
11. City People and Research
12. Miscellanious