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Census Records & Enumeration

Census Lists - An Introduction to the Danish Censuses

The censuses provide snapshots of all the households from 1769 onwards

The censuses provide snapshots of all the households in Denmark, Schleswig and Holstein at various intervals from 1769 onwards and have therefore become one of the prime sources of genealogical information. The recorded names, ages, trades and family relations offer many clues for further research in parish registers etc.

The first census for Denmark was taken August 15, 1769. However, most of this census has been lost, but it is often of little value to the family historian as it only provides overall statistical information. The next censuses were taken in 1787 and 1801 and from 1834 onwards every 5 to 10 years.

In the rural areas, the censuses were conducted parish by parish, but in the provincial cities, the so-called Market Towns, street by street regardless of which parish they were located in. In the older censuses, Copenhagen is sub-divided into quarters, the boundaries of which sometimes ran down the middle of a street. This often makes it difficult to know in which quarter to look for an ancestor and his/her family. From 1880 onwards, also the Copenhagen censuses are conducted street by street. The simple variation in population density means that it does not take long to look through the censuses for a rural parish, whereas tracing an ancestor who lived in Copenhagen or one of the larger provincial cities can be a very time-consuming task.

The population of Denmark in selected years

The population of Denmark in selected years. Source: Statistics Denmark.

Speaking generally, the demographic data produced in Denmark, Norway and Sweden since the 1700s are of very high quality compared to other countries. Although we must consider a small dropout in the early censuses, the later data are almost complete.

Which information can be found?

Most censuses were taken on February 1. Enumerators were asked to record names etc. according to household (or to institution, e.g. workhouse, prison, military barrack). Also people absent from home on census day (seamen, soldiers etc.) were recorded. All Danish census records include:

  • Name and age of every person in the household.
  • The relationship of each member to the head of the household.
  • Marital status; married/unmarried, widow/widower.
  • Employment status; occupation/trade, pensioner etc.

Improvements were made to the censuses over the years, but the household was retained as the basic institution. The most important change of all was the decision, from 1845 onwards, to record the exact place of birth. This information frequently points the researcher in the right direction when an attempt is made to follow a family back in time. Later changes consisted in the decision to record which religious community the person belonged to, possible handicaps, the age at first marriage, and, from 1901 onwards, the precise data of birth.

Research at the Danish Archives

The census lists are stored at the Danish National Archives in Copenhagen; however, microfiche copies for the censuses 1787-1890 (except 1870) are available for study at all provincial archives. Furthermore, it is normal practice for the local archives to obtain microfiche copies of parish registers and censuses concerning the specific area that they serve.

The Danish censuses where held in:

1769, 1787, 1801, 1834, 1840, 1845, 1850, 1855, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1890, 1901, 1906, 1911, 1916, 1921 and onwards.

>>Further details

The census records in Copenhagen are available for study only up to 1921; however, it is possible to obtain a special permission regarding the censuses 1925, 1930 and 1940. All census records are available on microfiche or microfilm, and from 1916 onwards they can be viewed in their original form. In some cases it is possible to find printed registers for the censuses of Copenhagen and various provincial cities.

Research Online

A major project - The Source Entry Project - organized by the Danish Data Archive in cooperation with several archives, family history societies and individual volunteers throughout the country is currently transcribing the Danish censuses. Currently, the entire 1801 and 1845 censuses are available, and the 1787 and 1834 censuses cover 92 and 98%, respectively, of all entries (March 2005). All information is available from the Danish Demographic Database website and can be obtained free of charge.

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