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Information of Interest to Researchers

Reading What They Wrote - The Handwriting:

A challenge to a new researcher (especially those not conversant in Danish) is the fact that the parish registers (kirkebøger) were all handwritten, some pastors had excellent penmanship, while the writing of others was little better than chicken scratching! Further compounding this is the fact that pre-1850 the predominant writing style used was the Gothic (or German) style, the Latin style is the one we use today. Not only do you have to learn a new language, but also a new alphabet. Below is an example of the Gothic Alphabet; further examples can be found in books giving advise on researching genealogy. For further examples of handwritting styles check out the Danish State Archive.

Important and Useful Danish Genealogical Sources:

Parish Register - the Church Book (Kirkebog):

The Danish parish register was a record kept by the parish's pastor (sognepræst) in which he recorded each christening (døbt, daab, baptis) and subsequent new mother's reintroduction into the congregation (introducerit), confirmation (confirmeret), betrothal (trolovet), marriage (copuleret, brudevielse, nuptual), public absolution (public absolveret), and burial (begravet) that he performed for his congregation. The earliest registers date back to the mid-1600s, however most begin around 1700. Of course some parishes have gaps in there records as the result of the loss of registry books due to fires, floods, and poor storage conditions.

Until the 1800s there was no requirement for the pastor to provide more than the barest information on the above mentioned events; also, this was an era before standardization, so the content and format of the early registers vary widely. Unless the pastor was inclined to do otherwise, the earliest entries in the registries often contain little more information than the date and name(s) of the individual(s) concerned.

Probate Records (Skifteprotokoller):

Probates were only held for those individuals who had owned land or goods and money. They provide information useful to genealogy researchers, such as: name of widowed spouse, place of residence, names of children (or if child dead, the grandchildren), their ages (if minors), and legal status. The sons were always listed before the daughters, generally eldest to youngest. Sometimes deceased children (and their children) were listed out of order, after their living siblings. The probate names the legal ward for the widow and guardians of any under age children; often the children's guardians were close relatives and the exact nature of their relationship is usually mentioned in the probate. For grown children it usually provides the name of the parish (sometimes name of village or farm) where they are living, and for daughters their husband's name.

Parish Census (Folketælling):

1771: Only included heads of households (i.e. men or widows) who owned or held deed to land; the census gives the person's name, age, wife's age, means of support; for widows it gives their age, how long they've been widowed, and number of living children.

1787: This the first census held for the entire kingdom which includes all individuals. Provides the person's name, status in household (i.e. wife, son, servant), age, marital status (including number of marriages), and means of support.

1801, 1834 and 1840: These three censuses provide the same information as the 1787 census, with the exception that they only state marital status and do not include the number of marriages.

1845 to present: In addition to the information provided in the previous three censuses this one provides the name of the parish the person was christened in.

Other censuses were held in: 1850, 1855, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1890, 1901, 1906, and 1911. Beginning in 1901 they include the complete date of birth and number of children born to each individual.

Military Levying Rolls (Lægdsrullerne):

In 1789 the government began making a list of males liable for military service; the list only included males living in rural parishes (landsogne). Up until 1849 it included all eligible males from birth onwards; from 1850 to 1868 it only included those eligible males 14 years and older; from 1869 onwards the age at which a male was first listed was increased to 17 years. The list provides the following information: name of father (if illegitimate, the mother), place of birth, age, height, and residence.

Trade Guild Records (Lavsprotokoller):

Provides the names of guild members and those seeking membership; sometimes includes a date and place of birth, age, and parentage. Earliest record begins in 1527.

Cadaster: Land Tenancy Records (Jordebøger):

The earliest "Jordebog" (cadaster) was produced in 1515, it provides name of the person leasing the farm, the location of the farm, various accounts and transactions.

To aid my own research I have partially (only names and farm numbers) transcibed 3 of Bornholm county's land tenancy books, for the years: 1658 (FHL Micro-film nr. 0144754), 1662 and 1689 (FHL Micro-film nr. 0370364), and the land registry for Hindsgavl county (FHL Micro-film nr. 0401926). I am now making them available to others. The 1658 cadaster was made by during the Swedish occupation of the island and is the earliest land tenancy book for Bornholm. From 1659 onward there are land tenancy books for Bornholm, however they are mostly only partial, the next complete cadaster were in 1662 and 1689.

View the: 1658 Jordebog; the 1662 Jordebog; the 1689 Jordebog.

Land Registration Records (Land Matrikler):

Names owners or former owners of farms; the earlier records: 1661, 1664, 1688 are very valuable for researching that time period.

The Pronunciations of Danish Names:

When a word ends with an "e", the Danes generally pronounce the "e" as an "ah" sound, i.e. Anne is pronounced Anna. Danes have a difficult time making the "th" sound - it comes out sound like "t", i.e. Marthe is pronounced Marta, and Thor is pronounced Tor. The letters "d" and "g", when within the body of a word, are generally silent, i.e. Anders is pronounced Aners, Mads is pronounced Mas, Agnethe is pronounced Aneta, and Mogens is pronounced Mons - which is also how it is often spelled.

In the older Danish records you will find that certain letters were used interchangeably:


Name examples

Word examples

"b" and "p"

Ibsen  =  Ipsen

skibsfører  =  skipsfører

"e" and "æ"

Berild  =  Bærild

eldst  =  ældst

"f" and "ph"

Christoffer  =  Christopher

fæste  =  phæste

"g" and "ch/ck"

Henning  =  Hennecke

og  =  och

"i" and "j"

Giertrud  =  Gjertrud

eier  =  ejer

"k" and "ch"

Kristine  =  Christine

bødker  =  bødcher

"s" and "z"

Laurits  =  Lauritz

holtsforster  =  holtzforster

"t" and "th"

Tomas  =  Thomas

skifte  =  skifthe

"u" and "v"

Poul  =  Povl

quinde  =  qvinde

"v" and "w"

Vilhelm  =  Wilhelm

viede  =  wiede

Danish Naming Practices - Patronymic vs. Surname:

For hundreds of years the Danes used the patronymic style of naming; meaning people's names include the fact that they were the son or daughter of their father. It is important to understand that a "patronym" and a "surname" are two distinctly different things. For example, if Niels Larsen had a son he named Jens, then his son would have been known as Jens Nielsen (a daughter would be Nielsdatter). The Danes used the patronymic suffix "-sen" and "-datter", while the Swedes used "-son" and "-dotter"; anyone of Danish heritage, born in Danmark would have written their name ending with "-sen" or "-datter."

The noble and upper class families, and the descendants of immigrants, had long had surnames associated with them (i.e. names that did not end in "-sen", like: Lund, Kofoed, Hvass, Bohn, etc.). These names were often used in additon to a person's patronym, i.e. Hans (=given name) Jensen (=patronym) Kofoed (=surname). Some Danes took on (or were given) an additional descriptive identifier in order to distinguish them from others with the same name (i.e. the three other Hans Hansens living in the parish). This extra "name" might indicate where a person was from (i.e. Lund, which means woods or grove), or a family attribute (i.e. Ravn, which means raven, the person probably had black hair), or an occupation (i.e. Smed, a blacksmith). Pre-1800s the extra identifier (especially those denoting occupation) of a man of the lower classes would not necessarily be handed down to his children - they might, or might not, take on their own.

As stated above, if there were two or more people in a parish (sogn) with the same name (i.e. Hans Jensen), then each was generally known by an additional identifier. The parish's Pastor (Sognepræst) would use these "nicknames" when making his register (kirkebog) entries recording the various ecclesiastical events in the parish:

The differences in age: elder (gammel, gl.) and young (unge, u.) - i.e. Gl. Hans Jensen.

The differences in size: big (store, st.) and little (lille, ll.) - i.e. Ll. Hans Jensen.

The part of the parish they lived in: north, northern (nordre/nørre), southern (søndre), western (vester), eastern (øster), upper (over), lower (neder) - i.e. Hans Jensen Søndre i Sogn.

Marital status: bachelor (ungkarl), maiden (pige), widower (enkemand), widow (enke) - i.e. Enkemand Hans Jensen.

Occupation, for example: cooper (bødker), blacksmith (smed), tanner (feldbereder), fisherman (fisker), farm-worker (tjenestekarl), farmer (gaardmand)  - i.e. Hans Feldbereder.

The ordinary, lower class Danes began to take fixed (inherited) surnames (using the "-sen" only, and ceasing to use "-datter"), starting in the larger cities, around 1800; this gradually spread to rural areas. It became the law beginning in 1828, followed by an updated ruling in 1856, and a final ruling on the matter was handed down in 1904; this means that by decree of law patronyms became surnames. During this confusing period of transition (especially considering that spelling was a very fluid thing in those days) you will often find that, lets say Niels Larsen had a daughter: christened as Berta Nielsdatter (say in 1800), but her marriage record (in 1825) might give her name as Birthe Larsen (or Nielsdatter, or Nielsen). And finally, say her husband's name was Jens Rasmussen, then her death record (in 1875) might give her name as Birte Rasmussen, or Larsen, or Nielsen, or even Nielsdatter.

There were traditional rules that governed which names a couple gave their children. These rules were followed because of social convention, not because of law, so not every couple abided these "rules". If they had a particular reason to name a child other than what they were "supposed to", then they did so. The worst they might face was familial or societal disapproval; then, as now, some people like to break the rules!

The rules were as follows: The first son born to a couple was to be named after the husband's father. The second son was named after the wife's father. The first born daughter was to be named after the wife's mother. The second daughter was named after the father's mother. If a child died young, as often happened, then the next child born of the same sex was given the deceased child's name. Subsequent children born to the couple were named after uncles, aunts, and grandparents. An exception to the above is if one (or both) had been a widow(er), then the first child born of the appropriate sex was named after the deceased spouse, after which the above rules were followed as usual.

Examples of Class Strata in Pre-Industrial Denmark:

A. Nobility (Adel) – Coat of Arms Carriers (Våbenere)

    1. Titled: King (Kong), Queen (Dronning), Duke (Hertug), Count (Greve), etc.

    2. Minor: Squire (Godsejer), Knight (Ridder)

    3. Untitled: Esquire (Væbner), Freeman (Frimand)

B. Crown and Church Officials – Upper Middleclass

    1. Judicial: Chief Justice (Landsdommer), Judge (Dommer), Bailiff (Foged), etc.

    2. Ecclesiastic: Bishop (Biskop), Dean (Provst), Parish Priest (Sognepræst), Curate (Kapellan), Headmaster (Rektor)

    3. Administrative: County Administrator (Amtmand), Mayor (Borgmester), Alderman (Rådmand), Reeve (Sandemand), Notary (Amtskriver, Landstingskriver, Herredskriver, Birkeskriver, Slotskriver), Probate Clerk (Skifteskriver), Secretary/Clerk (Skriver), etc.

    4. Commissioned Officers: General (General), Judge Advocate General (Auditør), Lieutenant-Colonel (Oberstløjtnant), Major (Major), Captain (Kaptajn), Cavalryman (Rytter), Sergeant (Sergent), Corporal (Korporal)

C. Burghers, Tradesmen, etc. - Residents in Danish Townships

    1. Burghers & Merchants: Merchant (Købmand), Shopkeeper (Handelsmand), Miller (Møller), Ship’s Captain (Skipper), Attorney (Prokurator), etc.

    2. Tradesmen: Blacksmith (Smed), Shoemaker (Skomager), Joiner (Snedker), Cooper (Bødker), Fisherman (Fisker), Baker (Bager), etc.

    3. Labourers: Day-Labourer (Daglejer, Daglønner), Farmer (Avlsmand), Maid (Tjenestepige), Servant (Tjenestekarl)

    4. Itinerants: Pauper (Fattiglem)

D. Peasants (Bønder) – Land-Parish Residents

    1. Farmers: Freeholder (Selvejer), Bound Copyholder (Vorneder)

    2. Smallholders: Smallholder (Husmand), Copyhold Smallholder (Fæstehusmand), Landless Smallholder (Jordløse Husmand)

    3. Tenants: Leaseholder (Forpagter), Tenant Farmer (Udbygger)

    4. Labourers: Cook (Kok), Farmhand (Tjenestekarl), Servant/Labourer (Tjener, Tjenestekarl, Tjenestepige), etc.

    5. Itinerants: Pauper (Fattiglem)

Forms of Address:

Upper Nobility:

Højædel og Velbyrdig: Highly Noble and Well-Bred

Lower Nobility or Upper-class:

Velædel og Velbyrdig: Very Noble and Well-Bred
Velædel og Velbaaren: Very Noble and Well-Borne
Ædel: Noble
Ærlig og Højagt: Honest and Highly-Respected

Upper Middleclass:

Velbaaren (Velb.): Well-Borne
Velbaaren og Velbyrdig: Well-Borne and Well-Bred
&Aelig;rlig og Velbyrdig: Honest and Well-Bred
&Aelig;rlig og Velagt: Honest and Well-Respected
Velagt og Fornemme: Well-Respected and Distinguished
Seigneur (Seigr.): Lord, Sir
Dydædle og &Aelig;rebaaren: Virtuous and Honourably Borne
Hæderbaaren og Dydelig Matrone: Honourably Borne and Virtuous Matron
Madamme: Madam (Mrs.)
Mademoiselle: Miss
Monsieur (Monsr.): Sir, Mister (Mr.)

Lower Middleclass:

Herre (Hr.): Master, Mister (Mr.)
Fru: Mistress (Mrs.)
Frøken: Miss
Jomfru: Maiden/Virgin (Miss)


Hellig (Hl.): Pious
Hæderlig og Vellærd: Honest and Well-Learned
Hæderværdig og Vellærd: Trustworthy and Well-Learned

&Aelig;rværdig: Venerable

Peasant Class:

Bondemand: Peasant (male)
Fruentimmer: Fishwife, Virago
Karl: Bloke
Madmoder: Mistress (of the house)

Note: generally no "titles" used for members of the peasant class.

Across Class Forms of Address:

Enke: Widow
Enkemand: Widower
Dreng: Boy
Husbond: Husband
Hustru: Housewife
Kvinde: Woman (Wife)
Pige: Maiden
Ungkarl: Bachelor

Miscellaneous Information:

Danmark changed from using the Julian Calendar to the Gregorian Calendar on February 19, 1700 - that day became March 1, 1700. In other words ten days disappeared from that year!  With regards to the dates used herein: in my own research I have taken the dates as they appear in the original parish records.

On Bornholm there were three classes of farms: 1] Proprietairgård (Propr.), earlier called a Friegård - meaning property owned by a "free-man" ("frimand", later called a "proprietær"), who was someone whose obligations were only to the Danish king, i.e. a nobleman of high (titled) or low (non-titled) status; 2] Selvejergård (Slg.) - meaning a farm owned independently, free of obligations to a property owner - it could be occupied by its owner or rented out to a peasant farmer (bonde); 3] Vornedegård (Vdg.), also spelled Vårnedergård - two types: a) a non-free vornedegård (Vdg.), meaning a farm leased out long-term by a land-owner (proprietær) to a tenured peasant farmer; these farms were "attached" to a proprietairgård, and entailed accompanying work obligations by the peasant for the proprietår who held the rights on the farm's lease. These rights were known as the "Herlighedsright" (Glory-right); b) a free vornedegård (Fri Vdg.) which was a farm attached to an estate that could be owned by a free-man.

A map drawn in 1851 shows 17 estate-farms classified as Proprietair: 3 in each of Åker, Ibsker and Nyker parishes; 2 each in Østermarie and Klemensker; and 1 each in Pedersker, Bodilsker, Østerlars, and Olsker. There were hundreds of farms comprising the other two classifications. The typical farm is arranged in a joined U shape, with the farmhouse, barn, pig-stall, and utility-shed all built around a cobble-stone courtyard. As an aid in compiling this database I have used a reproduction of the Bornholm map drawn in 1851, which I purchased at the Rønne Museum, Bornholm. It shows the placement of farms, giving their names, number and classification.

The size of farms were measured in "Tønde Land" - which was originally the area that could be sown with a barrel of seed. In 1688 the amount was defined as 14,000 "kvadratalen" - but rounded from 13,824 "kvadratalen". A "Tønde Land" is approximately 0.55 hectares. One barrel contained about 139 liters of grain (seed), and weighs 100 kilograms. For the calculation of land taxes the unit "Tønde Hartkorn" was used. This unit was a combination of area and quality of land (= its productivity). The unit was officially abolished in 1907.

Old Danish Weights and Measures:

Tønde (Td.) = barrel.
Fjerdingkar (Fdk.) = peck - volume: 1/4 barrel.
Skæppe (Skp.) = bushel - volume: originally widely varied in size, but from 1687 standardized to 1/8 barrel.
Album (Alb. = foot or footprint - volume: 1/12 barrel of land, an album is a square of 12 x 12 alen (= cubit) = 144 kvadratalen (= square cubits).

Hartkorn (= the Danish standard of land valuation for taxation):
1 tønde hartkorn = 8 skæpper hartkorn.
1 skæppe hartkorn = 4 fjerdingkar hartkorn.
1 fjerdingkar hartkorn = 3 album hartkorn.
1 album hartkorn (= the hartkorn's smallest unit of measure).

Old Land Measures (Gamle Vej og Markmål):

1 tønde land (td. land) = et stykke jord, der kan tilsås med 1 tønde Korn.
1 acre = a piece of land that can be sown with 1 barrel of grain.

1 tønde land = 8 skæpper land.
1 acre = 8 bushels of land [= 14,000 alen squared = 5,516 metres squared].

1 fjerdingkar (fdk. land) = 3 album land.
1 peck of land = 3 album of land [= 172.2 metres squared].

1 skæppe land (skp. land) = 4 fjerdingkar land.
1 bushel of land = 4 peck of land [= 689.5 metres squared].

1 album land (alb. land).
1 album of land [= 57.5 metres squared].

You can find the above (and more) information in the Danish language pdf file of Lille Ordbog for Slægtsforskere.

In the past most people in Danmark lived on the land, working on the farms. So you will often find the term "Bonde" used in describing a man's occupation. I have translated this as meaning "Peasant Farmer", although you would probably find most Scandinavians would say that the bonde did not have the "deprived" status of other European peasants. To a certain extent this is true, however: they lived hard, poor lives with few personal freedoms, although both men and women had firmly entrenched property and inheritance rights. Bornholm has its own "special" rules for who inherited the "copyhold rights" to the family farm: it is to go to the youngest son!  The other children could not be left out, the inheritor had to pay for the farm out of his share of the estate.

Only five percent of Danmark's populace belonged to the nobility. There was little division between upper and lower nobility. The growth of the nobility has been limited; as laws specified which children of the nobility inherited their parents' status. Also, noble-title was awarded on an individual basis by the Danish crown; although, of course, those born into privileged families had tradition and inheritance weighing in their favour.

Contact me at: Norman Lee Madsen, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

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