Translating the census record - family relation

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Census Records & Enumeration

Translating the census record: family relation

A family in front of their farm house, Vollerslev

In the year of the censuses enumerators (or census takers) worked their way through each parish, village by village, street by street, systematically acquiring and recording census data about all households.

Usually the enumerators started with the local manor house and the vicarage (and therefore the first entries in the census list), working their way through the parish, each village by size, and finishing with outlaying farms and smallholdings. In Copenhagen and the Market Towns ('Købstæder') street , names were recorded in the census lists, however in the rural areas there were usually no street names (at least not officially recognized names) or numbers at that time. The names of the manor house and some of the larger farms may be recorded by name in some of the census lists.

The relationship to the head of the household

Besides recording data on name, age and gender etc., also information on each household member’s position in the household and/or the relationship to the head of the household were recorded. Most households in Denmark were family type households which consisted of a head of family, likely together with a spouse and a number of children, having just a single link relation to the head of the household such as 'spouse', 'child', 'brother' etc.,

In most 'standard' census records of a household you'll find the following members:

  • Husfader / husbonde = hosband, head of family and household (now obsolete)
  • Husmoder / hustru = (house-) wife, spouse
  • Søn = son
  • Datter = daughter
  • Barn = child

Other common family relations

Especially before the 1900s it was common to find households spanning up to tree generations, especially in the rural areas of Denmark. Other common family relations to the head of family could be:

  • Adoptivbarn (Adoptiv) = adopted child (M/F)
  • Barnebarn = grand child (M/F)
  • Broder = brother
  • Børnebørn = grand children (M/F)
  • Dattersøn = Grand daughter, literal son of the daughter (now obsolete)
  • Fader = Father
  • Moder = Mother
  • Oldebarn = great grand child (M/F)
  • Plejebarn = foster child (M/F)
  • Svigerdatter = daughter-in-law
  • Svigersøn = son-in-law
  • Sønnesøn = grand son, literal son of the son
  • Søskende = siblings (M/F)
  • Søster = sister
  • Uægte = 'illegitimate' child, child born out of wedlock (now obsolete)

The most distant relationship found in one of the census lists are "Child of great-grandchild of sibling of parent of head of household", although such a specification only have been seen once.

Other members of the household

In many cases there were also other "non-family" members of the household. In the census lists you might therefore also find information on possible servants, distant relatives (perhaps of unknown relation), a lodger, employees, and others which were all directly or indirectly related to the head of the household.

Also "non-family-type households" were recorded in the censuses, such as institutions, military barracks and other groups of people with no head of household.

Note: When describing the relation you'll need to know the following word: deres = their (example: 'deres barn'), hans = his, hendes = hers. Often census takers also uses 'Do.' meaning ditto or rather the same as the above.

A few numbers and facts...

  • 500,000

    ...Danes emigrated up to 1968, and of these about 70% departed for the USA. In the 1800's alone a vast majority of 90% went to the USA. Read more...

  • 261,065

    This many individuals, comprising of 4.6 percent of all Danes, carries the surname JENSEN followed by NIELSEN, HANSEN, PEDERSEN and ANDERSEN. Read more...

  • 1,000

    Of the 5,000 basic words in modern English, as many as 20 percent are so-called loan words from the Old Norse language (ON). Read more...

  • 1769

    This year the first Danish census was taken. The next censuses were taken in 1787 and 1801 and from 1834 onwards every 5-10 years. Read more...

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