Births, Marriages and Deaths
- Written by Anders Buch-Jepsen
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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.
The Early Parish Registers
The system of parish registration of birth, baptisms, marriages, deaths, and burials began in Hjortkær Parish towards the end of the 1500s. The earliest preserved parish register from a city is Holmens Parish, Copenhagen, which began in 1619. Only a minority of parishes have registers that go back that far, as many registers before 1814 have been lost due to fires, rodents, inadequate storage facilities or carelessness.
The entries in the early parish registers are often disappointingly sparse. A record may, for example, give a date of a baptism and the name of child and father but leave out, for the family historian, vital information such as a date of birth or name of the mother. The style of entries varies, however, from parish to parish and over time in the same parish.
All parish reigisters have handwritten entries, which in some cases are very difficult to read. Especially in earlier times, the parish registers are far from straightforward, so it is nessessary for the researcher to have a basic knowledge of old Danish handwriting.
Standardized entries after 1814
From 1814-17 onwards a standard format parish register with pre-printed sections was introduced, and it had to be recorded in doublets to prevent any loss of information. The primary parish register, the so-called "Hovedbog", were kept by the vicar, and the other, the so-called "Kontrabog", were kept by the parish clerk. For the family historian these volumes are easier to use and are often more informative than the previous registers.
Research at the Danish Archives
As you proberbly know genealogical research requires both time and patience. There are about 2200 parishes in Denmark and it is vital for your research to know, or at least have an idea about, in which parish or county to look. If you prepare yourself before a visit, you can often prevent a waste of time, so make sure to bring along as much information about your ancestors as possible. Even so, a one-hour-visit to the archive will never be sufficient.
Holding time before you
can get access to vital records
in Danish archives:
Baptisms: 50 years
Confirmations: 50 years
Marriages: 50 years
Deaths: 10 years
The parish registers, containing all vital records, are stored at the Provincial Archives concerning the specific area that they serve. These are available for study up to appr. 1950 on microfilm or in orginal.
However, all State Archives has microfiche copies for all Danish parish registers up til 1891 are available for study. Furthermore, it is also normal practice for the local archives and/or libraries to obtain microfiche copies of parish registers concerning the specific area or parishes that they serve. In some cases it is possible to find printed registers for specific parishes.
Brochures in English on how to get started and maps showing the ancient parish system are commonly available in the reading rooms. Furthermore, the staff at the archive can be of assistance to a certain extent, but only supplementary to your own efforts.
Unfortunately there are not many vital records avilable from Danish websites; some records has been been transcribed on voluntary basis as part of local projects and posted on personal websites. An important source is however FamilySearch.org. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, commonly known as the Mormon Church, has made copies of a vast amount of records, including all vital records from Denmark. Many of these records have been transcribed as The International Genealogical Index (IGI) and made available for online search along with other resources. Although containing some transcription errors or misspelling of names and places, the IGI is an important source for the family historian; it is a great help and can often lead one in the right direction.
Birth Certificates and Marriage Licenses etc.
Certificates of vital records, such as birth certificates, are difficult to obtain. In most cases these certificates were made uniquely—issued to the each family, parents or couple. In Denmark no archives or repositories hold copies of birth, marriage and death certificates and authorities cannot issue new ones. Only exception is if the person in question is still living, where a new birth certificate can be obtained through the vicars office in the parish where he/she was born.