Danish Census of School Children, 1730s

Gary T. Horlacher

During the period prior to about 1714 there are many alternative sources that a genealogist can use together with the church records or where earlier church records don't exist. These include land registration records (matrikler), fuedal dues books (jordebøger), and extra tax lists (ekstraskattsmandtaler). In looking for substitute records in Denmark for comparison with church records or where no early church records exist, the greatest obstacle is finding good sources for the mid-1700s. Somehow one has to bridge the gap from the first census in 1787 back to the early 1700s. Often probate (skifte) and copyhold (fæste) records are a key and additional clues may be found in military records, however what other alternatives are there?

It was trying to answer this question that brought these records to my attention. Although the first general census records that is available for genealogical research in Denmark are the 1771 and 1787 census, the Danes kept other types of census or lists for other purposes. They made a census of men (mandtal) in 1700 for military purposes, tax census (skattemandtal) of heads of households or working people in the 17th and early 18th century, and in some areas they made school censuses which listed all of the school children and information about them.

Perhaps these school census were unique to the areas where King Frederik 4th established his Cavalry Schools (Rytterskoler) in Copenhagen County, however similar lists appear on Bornholm and perhaps by identify and studying the lists that exist for Copenhagen County and Bornholm, it will help bring to light other similar records in other parts of Denmark and a better understanding of the school system in Denmark.

This article is really just a compilation of what I have been able to learn initially and I am hoping others with knowledge about this subject will be able to add to it so that in the end we will have a much more complete understanding of rural schools and school records. This article does not address the records of established schools in the bigger cities, but rather tries to identify the schools and school records for the commoners in rural Denmark. It is also an attempt to put the school censuses that are identified on the Internet so they are available for help of genealogists. As these records are identified and extracted, links will be added at the end of this article to those extractions.

Rural Schools in Denmark

The 18th century was a period of change in regards to the education of children in Denmark. During this period a new local position of school teacher (skoleholder) was developed. By the end of the century, knowledge of reading had become something that the common people could achieve.

At the beginning of the 1700s most of the teaching of children was done by priests and their assistants (degnen) in the church following the church services and one day a week in a reading where the assistant supplemented their learning with additional exercises in the catechism and its explanation. There were about 50 rural schools in Denmark at this time which had been established to give children a more full education mostly in religion, but also in many places in reading. These schools were mostly established by large-scale property owners  (herremænd). A few were brought about at the initiative of farmers, such as several schools in Vendsyssel.

In most places, however the farmers would not let their children go to school. They had the following attitude, "I have never been able to read, nor my parents. Yet we became men." Because of these attitudes, it was hard to change the status quo. 

In the years around 1700 a new pietistic movement was taking hold in Denmark. Those who followed this new way of thinking felt a need for the teaching and education of children and youth. Through schooling they could be brought to "the true saving knowledge". This goal could not be accomplished if the children could not read.

The first results of this new pietistic thinking in Denmark came in the poor law (fattigloven) of 1708 which required the establishment of schools in each of the rural parishes. The following of this law was small, however some estate owners, including King Frederik the 4th's siblings, organized schools on their estates. The King then about 1720 created 240 schools on his cavalry lands. The purpose of these schools was to "plant in the youth the true Christianity and fear of God". Writing and mathematics was unimportant to that goal.

King Christian the 6th passed laws in 1739 and 1740 to create schools throughout the land so that faith and salvation could be learned of all children in the country, even the poorest. He felt this would be the greatest good deed that he could do in following his father's example. Therefore school became mandatory for reading and catechism. Writing and mathematics were only to be taught children if their parents would pay extra for it and the teacher was willing.

There had been a practice in Denmark of having an interview with youth before the first time they went to communion. In 1736 this was renewed and now took on the form of an exam. The laws of 1739 and 1740 were an attempt to prepare the children the appropriate knowledge for this test. Confirmation (part of the first communion) became a requirement before a person could be married. Often in the 18th century the young people were 16-19 years old when they were confirmed. 

The difficulty in accomplishing the task of the 1739 and 1740 school laws was in providing teachers. The laws were based on three types of teachers: the minister's assistants (degnen), school teachers (skoleholderne), and everyday teachers (omgangslærer). The minister's assistants traditionally had been educated and were responsible to teach the children. School teachers became necessary as the minister's assistants could not manage to teach all of the children in the parish. It became a new local official in the community. The first teachers appeared in the 1600s in the few farmer schools. There was not an established education requirement for teachers to begin with. In many cases it was a person who could not find any other job. The minister would often teach and train the local teacher and thereby retain control as the ultimate local authority. The everyday teachers were often older children who had a very modest education. They taught at various places in the parish and were generally a farm-hand (bondedreng) that the community chose who had been through the school but had no additional education. They were often only about 14 years old themselves.

School was originally only taught for a few months during the winter, from when the winter rye was sowed until the plows for the spring planting were brought out or from 11 Nov (Mortensdag) until Easter. The subject material was first to learn the ABCs, then Luther's Catachism, and then reading book. Much more information about the attendance at school and the subject material taught can be learned by studying these school census from that period. 

Schools were therefore established throughout Denmark by about 1741. Yet it still took time for this to become a valued part of a child's upbringing and there was a lot of resistance from some of the farmers and children. They might threaten their children that if they didn't behave they would have to go to school, as a final resource for hard to handle children. Many were not allowed to go to school and only for a few years. They would cram to pass their confirmation exams and then never use their reading or other skills again. From the commoner's perspective the purpose was to make it possible for the child to be confirmed. From the society's purpose it was a means of bringing the population within the absolute monarchy system. 

The minister's assistant had been a position filled by someone who had studied in a Latin school. By about 1800 the school teacher's position had also turned into a means of a person advancing to the minister's assistant (degn). As the minister trained the local teacher, it was natural for him to eventually take over the assistant position when it became available.  Thus the influence of the new school system also eventually led to a change in the structure of the local officials in the community.

By 1760 the ability to read had become common property of the people. It wasn't until into the 1800s before the school teachers were required to have a real education to teach. By the end of the century the rural schools had become an established organization in Denmark.

How do I find School Censuses?

If there were more children in a particular area and inconvenient travel to attend school in a neighboring town there might be school census taken to show the needs of the area. When higher bishops and deacons came to visit a parish, they generally visited the school and a roll was taken of the students during this visitation. In a few cases this may have been recorded and filed with other papers in the archive. School census were also a way of showing the success or needs in an area. They do not exist for every town and perhaps only a relatively few percentage have survived until the present, however it is a source to be aware of and look for, especially in areas where church books are no longer existent!

Because the most effort was spent in getting this established to begin with, there will be more documents for the 1739-1740 period so you may wish to concentrate on records that cover that period.

School census are mostly preserved in Danish provincial archives (Landsarkiver) in Viborg, Odense, and Copenhagen. The collections of these archives is divided into sub-archives based on the administration. Within each provincial archives you will find records in the following sub-archives or divisions:

  • County office records are found under amtsarkiv, amtstuearkiv, and lensarkiv (for those before 1660).
  • Church records are found under bispearkiv (bishops archive), provstearkiv (diocese archive), and præstearkiv  (parish priest archive).
  • Estate records are found in the godsarkiv (estate archives).


There are several other sub-archives in each provincial archive in Denmark, but the archives listed above will be those with most records with genealogical value. The archive will have registers listing all of the records in each of these sub-archives. Some books have been published that list the contents of some of the sub-archives or overall summaries of the records of each provincial archive, but to know specifically what is found in each archive and sub-archive, you will need to look at the registers that are found in the archive for each of these sub-archives.

Within each archive you will also find school archives for each of the Latin Schoolswhich were found in the large cities of Denmark. There may be some wonderful records under this section, however the common people generally did not go on to the Latin Schools after their rural education. 

When the law came for schools to be established throughout Denmark plans for how this was to take place had to be made in each part of Denmark. This fell primarily on the church officials. They were to call together the estate owners and other officials and come up with the number and location of schools, where schools were to be established, in what buildings they were to be held, and in the case where additions or new buildings were to be erected and school teachers were to hired, the amount of money that would be needed to accomplish the task. As part of this plan the parish priest or estate owner who had responsibility would then make a list of all of the residents and laborers in the area and divide the amounted needed to the people in order to establish the schools. 

To find the rural census records that have survived you should concentrate in the following sub-archives:

  • Bispearkiv: Most of the school census that have survived are probably found in the bishop's archive. When the government decreed there were to be schools throughout the country it was the church they looked to first in fulfilling this order. Within the bishop's archive you will find reports from the different parishes explaining their plan for how this was to be done. Look for school records or incoming reports (indkomne brev) that include the years 1739-1740.

  • Godsarkiver: On the island of Fyn and other places where estates held almost exclusively all the land, the estate owners were the ones who were looked to for providing the schools and teachers in the parishes where they dominated control of the land. Within their estate archives are found the same types of records as in the bishop's archives in other parts of Denmark.

  • Other Archives: As listed below there are a number of school censuses which were found in the county office (Amstarkiv) incoming reports (indkomne brev) from officials and individuals. Likewise where the cavalry districts controlled the lands some records might be listed in the Amstuearkiv. As with probate and other types of records, school records may have migrated into a number of places in the archives. Now that you know what to look for, be creative and try different methods.

Following are the results of my initial search for school census in Denmark and links to extracts of the records that I have identified so far. These show school census for Copenhagen, Bornholm, and a few areas in Odense and Jutland. As it was not possible for me to order up and search the bispearkiv and godsarkiv of every area, there are undoubtedly numerous similar records throughout Denmark. At least this will give you an idea of what can be found. If you identify additional school census I would be happy to add references or transcripts of them at this site to help others.

Copenhagen County

In a study of the contents of county archives in Copenhagen County, Rita Holm found that among the letters to the county official were often information about the new local schools. Among other things were school census from the 1730s listing the children, age, education level, and attendance. Other letters included complaints about schools teachers or by school teachers in the various communities.

Reading the complaints our ancestors had to the school teachers or system in their community or by the local school teacher about the attitudes of our ancestors in a given community can be very fascinating. This gives us a view into the every day life of the community and our ancestors. The school census can also be helpful for their genealogical value.

In 1737 there were 19 schools in the Copenhagen district (Copenhagen County letters to diverse officials 1737-1738). Each teacher was paid 6 Rigsdaler per quarter (January, April, July, and October) for a sum of 24 Rigsdaler (total expense for school teachers 456 Rdr.). Following were the 19 schools in the district, showing the name of the teacher in 1737, the other towns which belonged to each district, and the dates (with links to transcripts) of each of the years for which a list has been located:

School District Years of Lists Other Towns included in School District School Teacher
Slagslunde     Thams.
Ganløse     Michel Hansen
Brøndbyvester 1738-1739   Hegelund
Brøndbyøster 1738-1739 Avedøre Steenberg
Farum     Rasmus Røbe
Lilleværløse 1738   Lesberg
Ledøje 1735, 1738-1739 Ågerup Bertel Rosendall
Hvessinge 1738-1739 Glostrup, Ejby Lowsen
Valby 1735, 1738, 1738-1739   Jens Munk (school teacher for 7 years in 1739)
Hvidovre 1738, 1739 Vierslev, Aalekisthuuset Erich Brun
Brønshøj 1738, 1739   Jacob Riis
Herstedøster 1735, 1738-1739 Harrestrup Joseph Pedersen
Herstedvester 1735, 1738-1739 Vridsløselille, Risby Ertman Juel
Gladsakse 1738, 1739 Bagsværd Lauritz Adsersen
Lyngby 1735 Lundtofte Juel
Hvidøre 1735, (?1738-1739) Ordrup, Skovshoved, & Tårbæk Thorberg
Gentofte 1735 Vangede Niels Ollesen
Ballerup 1735, 1738-1739 Skovlunde, Pederstrup Peter Abell
Måløv 1735, 1738-1739 Sørup, Bringe Schmertz


(?Bagsvært 1738,  ?Høje Tåstrup 1738-1739)

Records of the school children in the district were found in three packets of the Copenhagen County Archive:

  • Breve fra Diverse Embedsmænd og partikuære Personer 1735-1736

  • Breve fra Diverse Embedsmænd og partikuære Personer 1737-1738

  • Breve fra Diverse Embedsmænd og partikuære Personer 1739

Bornholm County

In the Bispearkiv for Bornholm County are found reports of the various rural schools as they were first being established. The best sources for genealogical information are the school census from the two parishes where the early church records were lost:

Other parishes on Bornholm included a report of the number of children on each farm in the community. Although these are not as helpful as if they listed the names, they can still be a valuable source. Copies of these records were made and will be added to this site in the future.

Other Counties

School census were found in the bishop's archives for Sjælland and Viborg, and in the estate archives from Odense which will be added to this site as I have time. Unfortunately I was only able to try a few specific areas, but at least you can get an idea from this. One thing I was unsuccessful in finding was the 1723 school census from Århus Bishop's archive which is referred to in Rita Jensen's Arkivhåndbog Nørregjylland (Archive handbook for Northern Jutland). If anyone knows how to find this in the archive I would very much like to add a full citation to where this can be found in the archive! I did obtain microfiche copies of the school census from Ålborg Bispearchiv for 1753-1765.


Much information for this article came from two sources. If you are aware of additional sources that can be added to this bibliography and add to the content of this article, please let me know.

  • "Undervisningen på Landet", pp. 113-134, Dagligliv i Danmark, Bind III (1720-1790). Edited by Axel Steensberg. Published 1982.
  • "Breve til amtmanden. Kilder til 1700-tallets lokalhistorie." (Letters to the County Officer. Sources of 18th Century Local History.). Fortid og Nutid,1983.

Also reference and information about the location of these records in the Bishop's archives came from Anton Blaabjerg of Viborg to whom I am very grateful.

An English translation of Danish terms used in these school census.



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