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Churchyards and Cemeteries in Denmark

A typical Medieval church with surrounding churchyard: Stenløse Church, Odense County

As a part of your family history research you might want to find your ancestor's gravestones, but before you dig into cemetery research, it might be worth knowing a few things about churchyards and cemeteries in Denmark. This article covers some of the details about churchyards and cemeteries today as well historically.

Churchyards and Cemeteries today

Most burial grounds in Denmark are churchyards, in most cases surrounding the parish church. There are about 2.200 parishes in Denmark all with a parish church and churchyard, of which nearly all are still in use. Only a few are actual cemeteries, mainly in the capital of Copenhagen and some of the larger cities (previously called Marked Towns), where the churchyards at some time became full due epidemics or due to the large growth in population. The cemeteries usually have a small chapel which might be used for burial ceremonies. Nearly all churchyards and cemeteries in Denmark are public, and not many Danes are buried in private cemeteries or on private property due to rather strict regulation.

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Deaths and Burials in Parish Registers

Deaths and burials—also to be found in the parish registers—are usually recorded in a similar manner to those of births and marriages. There are, however, some variation from register to register as some registers only provide evidence of date and name of the deceased, whereas others list age, residence at time of death, course of death, and date of burial. The register also recorded still born and unnamed babies. You may find entries of course of death such as ''died from raging fever'', '' died in child birth'', ''lost at sea'' or perhaps ''died of old age'', and may bring your vital information as to how your ancestors lived and died. Also accidents and, luckily rare, murders are recorded. The entries of deaths and burials in the parish registers and mostly relevant if you already have found records of births and baptisms.

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Vital Records in the Danish Parish Registers

Example on entries in the parish register of Nibe 1792 before entries were standardized after 1814

All vital records in Denmark—births, baptisms, confirmations, marriages, deaths, and burials—are registed in parish registers (or church books). Unlike, for example, in England where a national civil registration began in 1837, there has never been a national registration of persons, and all vital records have always been recorded locally in each parish or by each religious community. In the Danish State Church entries are recorded by the local vicar with assistance from the parish clerk, and are therefore seperate for each of the about 2200 parishes.

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Marriage Records in Parish Registers

A newly married couple at the photographer

All marriages are recorded chronologically in a separate record, and with the year listed at the top of each page. The specific entry usually starts by listing the date of marriage (day and month) followed by information on the bridegroom; often occupation, name, age, place of birth as well as the ''condition'' (bachelor, widower etc.). Next comes the same information regarding the bride. Last entries are of the witnesses and possible notes.

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Births and Baptisms in Parish Registers

Male births recorded in a Parish Register 1828

All births in the parish registers are recorded chronologically, after 1814 often separate for each gender and with the year listed at the top of each page. The specific entry usually start by listing the birth date (day and month) and the name of the child. This is followed by the baptismal date (whether in the church or at home). Next comes information on the parents; the occupation of the father, the father's name, the mother's maiden name and their place of residence, e.g. the name of a village or farmstead. Many registers also contains information on the mother's age at birth. Last entries are about the baptismal witnesses and possible notes (e.g. a date of vaccination).

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