Researching in the Cities of Denmark

Gary T. Horlacher

[NOTE: This article was first written for a lecture given at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy on January 10, 2001. I will try to add in scanned images of examples and other information when I get a chance later, Gary]

When we teach about doing genealogy in Denmark, we often talk about the peasants in rural Denmark. Researching in the cities of Denmark is similar and involves similar records, but also has its own twists. Your research in the cities of Denmark will generally fit two categories:

    • People from peasant families who during the Industrial Revolution in the second half of the 1800s moved into the cities for work.
    • People who lived in the cities before the Industrial Revolution. These are generally tradesmen or merchants. They may have been in the cities for many generations.

Cities prior to the 19th century in Denmark had a quite different flavor than we think of cities today. We generally think the difference between a city and a town or village to be one of size. The bigger the town, the more likely we would consider it a city. This was not the case in Denmark in the 1700s and before. Many of the rural parishes had many more inhabitants than the cities. A city (købstad) during this time period was considered as such, not because of the population, but because of the nature of the enterprise. The city was made up of tradesmen and merchants, not farmers. There were tailors, blacksmiths, carpenters, merchants, shoemakers, tanners, etc. Cities were places for selling wares and services. Rural farmers could come to sell their goods, which could then be sold or shipped to other markets in Europe. Many of the cities of Denmark in the 1700s may have only had from five hundred to a thousand inhabitants. Because of this it is often easier to search through a 1787 or 1801 census for one of these cities than the surrounding rural parishes.

Although it may be intimidating researching in Copenhagen or other cities, in many ways it is much easier to do research in the cities than in rural parts of Denmark:

  • Probate records are generally much easier to use because there was a single authority in charge (Byfoged). Copenhagen is a little more complicated, but has several wonderful indexes prepared by the provincial archives in Copenhagen.
  • Census records may have indexes and in Copenhagen are alphabetical by the name of the street.
  • City directories list the addresses of everyone (from the late 1700s to present, may have to get from Denmark)
  • Additional records such as citizenship records and trade guild records tell where a person was born or from prior to coming to the city. These books generally have good indexes. 


There is a card index to the residents of all cities in Denmark for the year 1743 in the reading room of the National Archives (Rigsarkiv), which was based on the national tax of that year.

Copenhagen (København)

Since a quarter of the population of Denmark is in the city of Copenhagen and so many people moved there in the late 1800s, strategies for finding a family in Copenhagen are especially important to learn.

A guide giving information on research strategies, maps of the parishes of Copenhagen in 1684-180418501900, and 1942; a street index listing which parishes each street belonged to in 1863, and a history of the changes in parishes in the city from earliest times to 1988 can be found elsewhere on this site.

To summarize, it is important to find out where in the city of Copenhagen a particular family lived. The following short cuts and ways of finding clues can be used to do that:

  • IGI
  • Marriage tax 1720-1863 (FHL #0048119)
  • Death card index 1893-1923 (FHL #0373882)
  • Directories
  • 1801 (FHL #1145520) & 1845 census indexes
  • 1869-1882 police census index (FHL #0322451)
  • other indexes (taxes 1743, 1762, burials 1805-1974, citizenship 1683-1932). 


Primary Sources:

Church Records 

If you don't know in what part of town the family lived, you will need to check each parish. Prior to 1861 try each of the following parishes:

  • Vor Frue
  • Skt. Nikolaj (before 1805)
  • Helligånds
  • Holmens
  • Vor Frelser
  • Trinitatis
  • Garnison

Between 1861-1890 check also: 

  • Skt. Johannes
  • Skt. Stefan
  • Skt. Paul
  • Skt. Jakob 

Marriage indexes are available on microfiche for each of the main Copenhagen parishes from 1814-1891.

Census Records 

1659 list of inhabitants (FHL book 948.911/K1 X2m)

1728 census after the fire in Copenhagen (FHL book 948.911/K1 H2k; film 0874208 item 1)

1771 census of couples, widows, widowers. Lists ages, number of children, number of times married, etc.

1787, 1801, 1834, 1840, 1845 list the streets in each quarter of the city in the catalog. 1850, 1855, 1860 only list the quarter in the catalog, but should include the same streets as previously. Beginning in 1845 birthplaces listed for each person.

1866-1881, 1882-1899. Police census taken twice a year, list everyone over 10, their ages and birthplaces, occupation, etc.

1870, 1880, 1885, 1890, 1895, 1901, 1906, 1911 census organized alphabetically by street name and then numerically by house number.

Probates & Wills 

See Copenhagen guide referred to before. Indexes to different types of probate records includes Forseglingsprotokoller 1720-1919 (FHL 6030293), Ordinære boer1660-1771 (FHL 6030251), Konceptskifter 1660-1771 (FHL 6030238),Behandlingsprotokoller 1715-1771 (FHL #6030233), Samfrændskifter 1771-1810 (FHL #6030270), Eksekutorboer 1790-1919 (FHL #6030256). These can be a tremendous source for genealogists. [From the index go to book (FHL #0599138 item 3) to identify the film and use the catalog or reference book to convert the old film number to the modern film number]

Other Cities

13 Largest Cities in Denmark - Population (1997)

  • Copenhagen 1.36 million
  • Århus 213,826
  • Odense 144,518
  • Ålborg 118,500
  • Esbjerg 73,331
  • Randers 55,916
  • Kolding 52,207
  • Horsens 47,755
  • Vejle 47,755
  • Helsingør 44,007
  • Roskilde 42,154
  • Næstved 38,761
  • Silkeborg 36,487


General Information on Internet:


Most cities in Denmark have a city archive which will often have indexes to various types of records (census, church, guardianship, occupation, citizenship, etc.).

Primary Sources:

Church Records 

Before 1900, most cities only had one parish, with the largest cities (except Copenhagen) having 2-3 parishes each. This being the case, it is not difficult to search through all of the parishes of the city for a given ancestor. Check the catalog for indexes. Århus index to marriages and deaths is found on CD-ROM.

Census Records 

Census records are the other important source for Denmark. Check indexing project on the Internet to find a family quickly:

Probates & Wills 

These are easier in the city than in the rural area because all the records were kept by the city bailiff (byfoged). There should be an index and set of record for the entire city for all the years from the late 1600s to late 1800s or early 1900s.

Citizenship (Borgerskabs Protokoller)& Guild (Lavsprotokoller) Records

In cities there are two types of records a genealogist can use that aren't generally available in the rural areas. These records were kept for every city in Denmark. They list the name of the person; date of joining the guild or apprenticeship, or becoming a citizen; and often where they were born or from prior to coming to this city. They will sometimes also have a note about the character of the person and in the citizenship records list the person's occupation. These records generally have a small paragraph for each person.

The guild records often include good apprenticeship records listing which may list where the person was from. The guild records for all of the guilds have not been preserved or all found their ways into the archives, however if there is a guild record for the occupation of your ancestor, be sure to try it. Some guilds continue to keep their own records to this day. These records may not be indexed, but are generally not hard to search through. As different record keeps kept the records through time, the information may differ quite a bit for the same town. Some will list where the person was from, how much they paid to become a member of the brotherhood (guild), who they became apprenticed to, and other information.

In the earlier years, the citizenship records were generally listed with the town accounts (Rådstueprotokoller). These records may be listed under the topic 'court records' in the Family History Library catalog rather than under 'naturalization and citizenship'. Often in the early 1800s there will be separate citizenship books (borgerskaber). For many of the cities in Denmark the provincial archives in Denmark have created indexes. For example the cities on the islands of Sjælland, Lolland-Falster, and Bornholm have been compiled by the Landsarkivet for Sjælland mm. and are on microfiche (FHL #6030213-6030232). These indexes will often list most of the vital information found in the actual record, ie. name, date, birthplace, and reference.

Other Sources

Other sources for city research include the fire insurance records from about the 1760s, tax records, court and guardianship records, school records, and records of the poor. Perhaps in the future I will add more information on some of these types of records as well.


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