Emigration from Denmark - An Introduction - Emigration and Immigration - MyDanishRoots.com



Emigration and Immigration

Emigration from Denmark - An Introduction

M/S Island - A Danish Emigration Ship 1882-1905

In the 1800''s people across Europe where on the move, and especially after the 1840''s many people departed the "Old World" to seek a better life abroad. Along with millions of other emigrants from all over the European continent, many Danes emigrated via the ports in northern Europe. The most important ports of emigration for the Danish emigrants were Copenhagen, Liverpool (as to indirect emigration), Hamburg and Bremen/Bremerhaven. In the Scandinavian countries this emigration began a little later and did not reach sizable proportions until the end of the American Civil War. The Scandinavian contribution to the total European emigration were, however, relatively small—the share didn't amount to more than 4.5% in the period up to the First World War.

Although there were some early emigrations from Denmark, the first real increase in emigrants came in the late 1860's and reached its highest peaks in 1881-90 and again in 1901-10. Even so, the Danish emigration never reached the dimensions that it did in Norway and Sweden. Up to 1968 the Danish emigration reached a total of about 450,000-500,000, and of these Danes about 70% departed for the USA. In the 1800's alone a vast majority of 90% went to the USA, as most of the emigration to Canada first came after WW1 and the emigration to Australia and other overseas countries never became popular to the same degree.

  United States 70.0%  
  Canada 13.0%  
  Rest of America 6.0%  
  Australia / NZ 3.3%  
  Asia 2.7%  
  Africa 2.4%  
The destinations of Danish emigrants up to 1968.

Emigration from Denmark is often divided into three different periods; the early emigration before 1868, the middle period 1868-1914 which saw the culmination of emigration, and the period after 1914.

The early emigration before 1868

Unfortunately there is not much information available about early Danish emigrants, since no Danish authority kept records of those who left before 1868. However, the US Immigration Statistics can provide us with overall information about the period 1820-1868, and sometimes information on specific emigrant ships or groups can be found in the Danish newspapers from the period.

When inquiring into family history, it is important to be aware of these definitions:

Emigrant: a person who leaves a country.

Immigrant: a person who comes into a country.

Migrant: a person who moves around within a country.

People could easily be all three, but at the different stages of their journey; first leaving Denmark, then coming to, for example, the USA, and then moving from state to state inside the USA.

One of the earliest records of Danish emigration is about the Danish Sea Captain Jonas Bronck who in 1639 bought some land later to be called Bronck's Land - The Bronx. Other records tells us that in 1663 about 90 emigrants left the City of Ribe to settle in the area soon after to become New Jersey. There were also Danish volunteers in the American War of Independence, and in the 1780's Christian Guldager had established himself as one of the best portrait painters in Boston.

The early Danish emigrants were few—based on the US Immigration Statistics it is estimated that no more than 189 emigrants left Denmark in the 1820's—and they quickly blended into the established settlements in America. It was not before the 1840's that actual Danish settlements were seen. During the 1850's about 4,000 emigrants left Denmark, and in the 1860's the total number of Danish emigrants rose to about 18,000 emigrants.

Emigration from 1868-1914

On May 1., 1868—after a series of unfortunate incidents of ticket fraud etc.—the Danish authorities passed a strict law to protect the emigrants. The ticket agents now had to deposit a larger sum of money at the police to cover any demands for compensation. Also sub-agents had to be registered at the police and every ticket sold had to be validated at the local police office. Furthermore there now was a limit on how many emigrants a ship could carry and how much food should be aboard the ships.

The law meant that the Commissioner of the Copenhagen Police after 1868 systematically registered any person who emigrated from a Danish port using a Danish ticket agent; both those who left directly from Copenhagen or other Danish ports and those who left indirectly, i.e. via an English port. These registers—recording emigrants year-by-year and arranged alphabetically by their surname—end at 1940 and 1935 respectively. Although these registers comprises the vast majority of Danish emigrants they do NOT cover those emigrants who bought their tickets outside Denmark or those who—for some reason—didn''t buy a ticket at all (e.g. sailors jumbing ship). The registers are available for research on microfishe at most Danish archives and mayor libraries, but for the years 1868-1908 they are also made available for online search at the Danish Emigration Archive.

The records tells us that about 287,000 Danes emigrated from Denmark in the period 1868-1914—about 1/10 of the total Danish population.

Emigration after 1914

Although Denmark had declared it's neutrality during the First World War emigration were low, but soon after rose especially since the Danish emigration to Canada began to increase. Although the emigration never reached the numbers seen during the previous period, the period 1914-1939 meant emigration of about 80,000 Danes and—after WWII, in the period 1945-1968—a similar number of emigrants

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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