- Place Names in Denmark
- Written by Anders Buch-Jepsen
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This is a Geographical introduction to the different Provinces and Regions in Denmark, and how to specify a place name when inquiring into family history.
All countries divide into provinces and regions according to the natural demarcations of the landscape; in a ''Kingdom of Isles'' like Denmark, these geographical borders may be even sharper. The peninsula of Jutland [Jylland] is by nature considered a mayor province as are the other two main islands, Funen [Fyn] and Zealand [Sjælland].
Regions within the major provinces
However, dividing Denmark roughly into these three major provinces will - in most cases - not be specific enough if defining a place relating to history and family research. We will have to narrow down the search and specify a part of the country. Some geographical names refer to a larger area consisting of islands and minor peninsulas within the major provinces. Place names like ''Djursland'', ''Salling'', ''Himmerland'' and ''Thy'' refer to rather large geographical areas, just as ''Sønderjylland'', South Jutland, denotes the whole region south of ''Kongeåen'' - that is, the northern part of Schleswig [Slesvig], a region now divided between Denmark and Germany.
Other place names from other parts of Denmark are less specific - places like Midtjylland [the central part of Jutland], Sydøstjylland [the southeastern part of Jutland], Vestfyn [the western part of Funen], Østsjælland [the eastern part of Zealand] and so on. Of these only the area of Nordsjælland [the northern part of Zealand] is more specifically defined as the peninsula north of Copenhagen. In other cases people describe a region as ''the Horsens-area'' or ''the Ribe-area'', according to the nearest city, making the place a little more specific. However, ''the Copenhagen-area'' will still be to rough to define a place, due to the sheer size of the capital.
Districts and the ''Syssel'' - old administrative areas
Before 1970, the country was divided into districts [herred], whose boundaries usually were defined by shore lines and the shifting landscape. Although most district names are rarely used nowadays, they still exist as geographical categories in the ''Land Register''. Only few of these, though, have survived as place names in modern Denmark. District names still in use in everyday language include ''Han Herred'' [Han District], ''Ods Herred'' [Ods District], and ''Horns Herred'' [Horns District], but even the use of these is fading out over time.
Another old administrative unit in Denmark, the ''Syssel'', is often used to describe an area, but nowadays almost exclusively when referring to Vendsyssel - the northern tip of Jutland. Over the years, the difference between the administrative units and the geographical areas has increased. Where the old ''counties'', containing a different number of ''districts'', only vaguely defined a specific geographical area, it became even vaguer when the larger counties were defined by the large administrative reform of 1970. Even some of the larger municipalities today cannot be said to lie within a single geographical area.
Place names in family history
When defining an even more specific area in Denmark, e.g. the farm of ones'' ancestors, one must rely on the normal-sized municipalities and the church parishes within these. In addition, when inquitring into family history, one must refer to the parish registers or ''the Church books'' for important information like names and dates of birth etc. In most cases it will therefore be necessary to define the specific parish as well as county in order to find the information in question.
An example on my ancestor, Lars Rasmussen from Svenstrup:
Lars Rasmussen, born Oct. 9, 1803 in [the village of] Svenstrup, Stenløse Parish, Odense County
This example provides both name, date of birth and relevant place names. In this case the parish register provide information on a specific village (Svenstrup), so add this where available. By defining the parish you avoid any confusion with the six other Sven(d)strup''s in other parts of Denmmark and you avoid any mix-up with Stenløse Parish in Frederiksborg County.
To sum up: Defining a specific place will require a narrowing in on the location from above, from provinces, over counties and larger cities, to municipalities and parishes.