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Researching Danish Ancestors

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This information about researching Danish ancestors was posted to the Nebrroots-L mailing list by Kent Christensen on December 30, 2000, and reposted with his kind permission here:

If you're researching Danish ancestors (lots of Danes went to Nebraska), you're likely in trouble unless you can identify the location your ancestors came from in Denmark down to the parish level. That's because the Danes, until the mid to late 1800s used a naming system of patronyms whereby a child's surname depended on his or her father's first name. That is, your surname was Christensen or Christensdatter if your father's first name was Christen, no matter what his surname was. This means, since wives kept their surnames, a Danish census record for a particular family address could contain four surnames--father, mother, boy children, and girl children. Sometimes, if there got to be too many duplicates, surnames were changed to reflect the name of a farm or something. This means also it's highly unlikely your Christensens are related to me or anyone else, and so on for Hansens, Christoffersens, Jensens, etc., and I think "CD-ROMS" may be of little use. The good thing is that Danes have great census records and if you know where to look you can quite likely find your ancestors.

In addition to census records online, there is the Danish Immigration list, wherein all Danes that left the country through Copenhagen were listed in a ledger, which is now converted to an online searchable database. Since, I guess, Danes were a little blase about surnames, you may find spelling differences. My Pedersens (who became Petersons when they got to Nebraska) were listed as Petersens in the records. Lots of Danes came to USA via Germany, so you may not find yours at all in this database. "Germans to America" might work instead.

Dana College in Blair is a great resource on things Danish as well.

http://www.dana.edu


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