Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Digitized Danish parish registers, part 1

Today I discovered a great online resource for anyone who has Danish ancestry. I've known about the Danish State Archives website for a while now, and I've used it before to find my Danish ancestors in the 1880 Danish census before they moved to the United States. But today I ended up back at the website looking at something I hadn't seen before (I didn't take as thorough a look before as I should have).

The Archives website has digital copies of Danish parish registers available for viewing. Parish registers are great resources, since they were meant to keep track of all religious events and ceremonies in a person's life. In a time before vital records, these can be some of the only concrete evidence of basic facts, and they were kept by the local pastor, which meant they were familiar with the local families. And they potentially date back as far as the 1600s - the earliest records from my family's parish are in the 1620s. There's an introduction page to the online Archives in English, as well as one about available records, but the rest is in Danish so far as I can tell.

Getting to the registers takes a few steps, and you need to know what you're looking for before you start: what kind of record? what was the exact date? and where did the event take place? are all questions you should have answers for before you start, or you're in for a long search. (Or you might get lucky, I already stumbled across a record for one family member while looking for another.) Here are my instructions on how to find records in the parish registers, using my great-great-grandmother Caroline Mary (Jensen) Gotsche's baptism record as an example:

  1. First, make sure you have the latest version of Java installed on your computer. I didn't when I first tried to view these records, and I gave myself a big headache before I figured out what was wrong.
  2. Then go to the online archives page at:
  3. From the list, choose "Kirkebøger." (The literal translation is "church books.")
  4. You will need to know the county (amt), herred (hundred), and parish (søgn) that you're looking for. I'll be looking in Sorø amt, Slagelse herred, Sorterup søgn. I memorized Sorterup's information a few years ago, but I think I found it through googling in the first place. Once you choose all your options, you should have a page listing the available registers. I get this:
  5. The registers are broken up into blocks of years, as shown in the Fra (from) and Til (to) columns, so you need to know the year when the event you're looking for took place. The far right columns explain what kind of records are in each register, with a key in the red box above. F is for fødte (births), D is for døde (deaths), V is for vielse (marriages), etc. Caroline was born in 1867, so I need to look in the 1867-1891 register.
  6. This part was a little more complicated. They are working on a new image viewer that hopefully will streamline the process a little. But for now, click on the register you want. A download will start. I got a few different security warnings that I had to accept before I was able to complete the download.
  7. Once the Java file has finished downloading, open it. You'll get something like this:
  8. The column on the left is a list of all of the pages available for the parish register you just chose. There will be a little red symbol next to each line. That's because when you start off, none of the pages are downloaded for you to view. To view a page, click on its entry, and the little red symbol will turn yellow, which means it's downloading. When it turns green, your page is ready to view. (You can download multiple pages at once to speed things up.)
  9. We're almost there! All you have to do now is find the record you're looking for. The records are divided by type, so births/baptisms come first. The birth records are actually divided by gender, so boys first, then girls. There might be an index page listing the different record types. From there, the records are in chronological order as recorded by the pastor. Unfortunately, there's no name index, so you have to just jump around until you narrow in on the page you're looking for. Since Caroline was born January 5, 1867 and this register starts in 1867, she actually is the very first entry under female births. This is her page:
  10. Once you've found what you're looking for, you can save the page to your computer if you want. There are also a few basic viewing options, including a zoom function.
Good luck! I'll be posting more about these records and my own discoveries in them in the next few days.

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