Adscription

The adscription, introduced in 1733, tied males of the peasant class, aged 14-36 to the estate they belonged.

In 1742, the age limit was expanded further so it now included males from age 9-40, and in 1764 it was expanded even further to the age 4-40.

The adscription was officially abolished in 1788, but it took until 1800 before all peasants were free.

Burial place

There is a limit to how long a burial place will be preserved, depending on several factors. Considerations are wether is is holding a coffin or an urn and also the material of the coffin and the soil conditions. 

The preservation period for a burial place holding a coffin has to be at least 20 years and for urns, at least 10 years. Periods of 25 and 30 years are common though. The descendants of the deceased may prolong the preservation period by payment.

Only unique headstones or monuments of closed burial places are saved. They will be in a special place in the cemetery, most often along the inside of the cemetery wall.  

Churching of women

The ”churching of women” ritual is a custom that has ties to the Old Testament, specifically the Leviticus. According to it, a woman that has given birth to a son is unclean for seven days, and then has to stay at home for another 33 days, making a total of 40 days. If she gives birth to a daughter, the number of days are doubled; a total of 80 days. However, the then Catholic Denmark did not follow the rule of 80 days, but only the 40.

When the 40 days were up, the woman in confinement would go to the church, kneeling before the priest outside of it. The priest would sprinkle her with holy water and say prayers. Afterwards the woman would be handed a wax candle as a sign of her reentering the Kingdom of God. The candle would be lit if the child was alive, and unlit if it was dead. The mother would often get a candle with her in the casket, if she had died in childbirth. 

The woman was now considered cleansed, and the priest would lead her inside the church, where she would make a sacrifice, often consisting of wax candles and money.

Later on, when Denmark became Protestant, the churching was reinterpreted as a Lutheran thanksgiving and admonition ritual, reminding the woman of her responsibility as a mother.

At the beginning of the 1900’s the ritual faded out, though there are some instances where it was used even decades after that period.

Danish Letters

The Danish alphabet contains 29 letters, with the last three being æ (Æ), ø (Ø) and å (Å).

The letters "æ" and "ø" have their roots in the Latin language, and have been part of the Danish language for about a thousand years. Until 1948, the letter "å" was officially written as "aa", but now "å" is the official spelling, although names can still be spelled with "aa" (the city of Aalborg for example).

Family names

law in 1828 stated that all children should be christened with both a Christian (first) name and a family name. The father of the child determined the child’s family name: his own surname, his own first name plus -sen (patronym) or the name of a place which the family was connected to (for instance the name of a farm or a specific location). All siblings had to have the same family name which meant that girls should have the same patronym as their brothers.

Earlier, the patronyms were -sen (son) for boys and -datter (daughter) for girls. There was some resistance to the law, especially in the countryside, and in many parishes the law was wrongly interpreted to mean that a new family name could be chosen for each generation. Therefore, in 1856 it was emphasized that the family name chosen according to the 1828-law was to be the family name in the future; not just for one generation. However, the implementation of these new naming rules was still hesitant in many rural parishes and the naming practice for children born in the second half of the 19th Century differed from parish to parish.

Due to the naming changes some women would eventually change family name from -datter to -sen; for instance could a Cathrine Pedersdatter at her birth have the name Cathrine Pedersen at her death.

If a person had more than one given name, it could vary which name(s) were used as well as the order of the names. Spelling of the names was quite inconsistent in the earlier days. 

Grades

When a child was confirmed, one set of grades was given for each of Knowledge and Conduct on the scale:

  • Ug     = Udmærket godt (Outstanding)
  • Mg    = Meget godt (Very good)
  • G      = Godt (Good)
  • Tg     = Temmeligt good (Pretty good)
  • Mdl   = Mådeligt (Mediocre)
  • Slet   = Slet (Bad) 

The scale was in use 1805-1963.

Parishes

Denmark has 2,169 parishes, varying a lot in size; from more than 20,000 people to less than a hundred.

The parishes have also been part of the temporal administration, though sometimes the temporal parish wasn’t the same as the ecclesiastical.

School Attendance

From the Middle Ages and well into the 1900’s; the church was in charge of the schools, and the minister or the rural dean acted as the teachers’ superiors.

School in the 1800’s lasted from age 7 to 13, seven years, and were split up into a “small grade” and a “big grade” for small/big children. The pupils were taught reading, writing, mathematics, Bible history and the shorter catechism, and there was an examination every year.

Conditions were quite harsh; corporal punishment of different kinds were common, many schools weren’t cleaned properly, and the classrooms often over crowded. However, one of the bright spots of going to school, was going on the yearly school excursion, where the pupils got a break from studying, and got to visit some interesting or charming place.

Servant's Conduct Book

Every servant had to have a servant’s conduct book. Before use, it must be provided with a seal from either the police authority (in Copenhagen and in the market towns) or from the incumbent (in the rural areas). In 1742, the age limit was expanded further so it then included males from age 9-40, and in 1764 it was expanded even further to the age 4-40.

A child who wanted to serve after having completed school, had to obtain a servant’s conduct book if they didn’t already have one, and the book should be provided with their school certificate, when and where the child was born, if the child was christened and confirmed, and if that was the case, where and when.

Any householder who employed a servant, had to provide the servant’s conduct book with information on the when the servant worked for him, what the pay was, and what kind of work was provided. Anyone who moved to a market town or cure where they haven’t been before, to work as a servant, had to notify either the police authority or the incumbent so they could certify the servant’s conduct book.

The servant had to also notify the proper authorities when moving from the market town or cure. Not having or updating the information in the servant’s conduct book properly was punished with fines. Removing pages or purposefully making information in the book illegible is punished with either fines or prison. 

Surnames of illegitimate children

In the case of a child being born out of wedlock, the alleged father would have to give his consent for the child to carry his family name or patronymic. Othervise, the mother were to name the child after herself, or after the place of birth. These rules, however, were not strictly abided by all of the time.

Vaccination - Smallpox

The children of Denmark have been vaccinated against smallpox since 1810. In order to be able to go to school, get married and serve in military amongst other things, you were required to document that you had either overcome a variolous disease or gotten a vaccination.

For genealogists, vaccination can be a useful tool to confirm you have the right person, as both confirmation registrations and marriage registrations often show when the person in question was vaccinated and by whom.

Women's rights

In 1857, with respect to economic right of disposal, inheritance and the right to work, unwed women were granted equal rights to men.

Widows of masters of a craft, i.e. master baker, master carpenter and so on, were allowed, under certain conditions, to continue their late husbands trade. Most often she would be required to hire a qualified journeyman to assist with the day-to-day work though. 

Women gained the right to vote in 1915.

Married women only gained the same rights as their husbands in 1925.

Working conditions

Working conditions were still harsh for the workers and smallholders in the last half of the 1800’s, and in some cases well into the new century. The workdays were long and the work was gruelling and exhausting. The wages of the servants, both in the cities and in the countryside were negotiable, there were no collective agreements or tariffs; supply and demand dictated the size of the pay.

In 1872, the Ministry of the Interior researched the conditions of the city- and farmworkers, and came to the conclusion that only in one single county – the county of Copenhagen – could a farmworker manage to make a – poor - living for a wife and two children, and only if he could work all year with no period(s) of unemployment along the way, which was quite unlikely. The wife and children of a family could work as well, and often did, to one degree or another, but this could in turn cause problems with the keeping of the household and children. Many wives of smallholders and farmworkers had jobs they could do at home, like spinning and sewing for small companies, but the pay was poor.