Denmark History

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Effective family research requires some understanding of the historical events that may have affected your family and the records about them. Learning about wars, governments, laws, migrations, and religious trends may help you understand political boundaries, family movements, and settlement patterns. These events may have led to the creation of records such as land and military documents that mention your family.

Your ancestors will become more interesting to you if you learn about the events they may have participated in. For example, by using a history you might learn about the events that occurred in the year your great-grandparents were married.

General History[edit | edit source]

Gotho-Germanic tribes have inhabited Denmark since prehistoric times. A seafaring people, the Danes played an important role in the era of Viking exploration and raids in Western Europe (c.800-1050). They were prominent among the invaders of England in the early 11th century.

Christianity was first introduced in 826 by St. Ansgar. King Harald Bluetooth, who reigned from 935 to 985, was the first Danish monarch to become a Christian. Christianity became widespread during the 11th century during which time also the power of the Danes increased. Danish kings ruled over Denmark, England, Norway and southern Sweden. After a period of turmoil and civil war Denmark regained its powerful position in the north in 1397 when Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, the Faeroe Islands, Iceland, and Greenland were brought together in the Kalmar Union, under the Danish crown. In 1520, Sweden and Finland revolted, seceding from the Union in 1523. In 1536, the Reformation brought about the establishment of a national Lutheran church. In the following century Denmark participated in the Thirty Years' War (1618-48) as a champion of Protestantism. In 1658, under the Treaty of Roskilde, the Swedes forced the Danes to give up their provinces on the southern Swedish mainland. The 1700s was a period of internal reform, including the abolition of serfdom and land reforms. At the Congress of Vienna in 1815, at the end of the Napoleonic wars, Norway was taken from Denmark and came under the control of Sweden. The Danish liberal movement in the early 1800s succeeded in making Denmark a constitutional monarchy in 1849. After the 1864 war against Prussia and Austria, Denmark was forced to cede Schleswig-Holstein (the southern area of Jutland) to Prussia and adopt a policy of neutrality. Despite these territorial losses, Denmark prospered economically in the 19th century and, in the latter part of the 1800s, Denmark began important social reforms laying the basis for the present state. During World War I, Denmark maintained neutrality. At the war's end, North Schleswig returned to Denmark following a plebiscite, and the present southern border with Germany was established in 1920. In 1933 great social reforms were instituted, beginning Denmark's modern welfare state. Despite its neutrality during World War II, Denmark was invaded by the Nazis in 1940 and was occupied until its liberation by the British in May 1945.

Denmark’s influence extends beyond the Baltic and northern Europe. Iceland and Greenland have been governed by Denmark since the Viking era. The Faeroe Islands passed to Denmark in 1380. In the latter half of the 1600s the Danes claimed and colonized the islands of St. John and St. Thomas in the West Indies. They purchased St. Croix from France in 1733. These islands became known as the Danish West Indies. In 1917 Denmark sold their Danish West Indies Islands to the United States (now known as the U.S. Virgin Islands). In 1918 Denmark recognized Iceland as a sovereign state united with Denmark under a common king. Iceland became fully independent in 1944. The Faeroe Islands received home rule in 1948, and Greenland became an integral part of Denmark under the new constitution of 1953 and received home rule in 1979. Both now have local government and each has two representatives in parliament. Denmark joined the European Community (EC) in 1973.[1]

Timeline[edit | edit source]

Some key dates and events in the history of Denmark are as follows:

883 King Gorm becomes the first known ruler of a united Danish kingdom.

940-985 The reign of Harold Bluetooth. The Christian church is established in Denmark.

1013 Union of Denmark and England.

1397 The three kingdoms of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway are united in the Union of Kalmar.

1523 Sweden leaves the union.

1536 Reformation.

1787 The first population census of genealogical value was taken.

1788 The abolition of the "stavnsbaand" (compulsory residence by the peasant and farming classes.)

1812 A printed format for parish registers begins.

1814 At the Treaty of Kiel, Denmark is compelled to cede Norway to Sweden.

1863Denmark goes to war against Prussia and Austria. In the Treaty of Prague (1866), Denmark cedes Schleswig-Holstein to Prussia (Germany).

1915 A new constitution establishes a two-chamber parliament elected by universal suffrage.

1920 After a referendum, northern Schleswig is returned to Denmark.

1940-1945 German occupation of Denmark.

The Family History Library has some of the published national, regional, and local histories for Denmark. You can find histories in the catalog under one of the following:





Major works on Danish history are also available in public and university libraries.

Local Histories[edit | edit source]

Local histories should be studied and enjoyed for the background information they can provide about your family's life-style and the community and environment in which your family lived.

For more information about the parish in which your ancestor(s) lived, see the following reference work:

  • Trap, J. P. Danmark. Several editions, 31 volumes. København: G.E.C. Gad, 1958. (FHL Scand. 948.9 E2t.)

Bibliographies that list local histories are available for some Danish counties. These are listed in the FamilySearch Catalog under:





Calendar Changes[edit | edit source]

The Gregorian calendar is the calendar in common use in the world today. Denmark officially adopted it on 18 February 1700. At the time of the change, 10 days were omitted in order to bring the calendar into line with the solar year.

Population Statistics[edit | edit source]

Denmark has an ethnically homogenous population consisting of Nordic Scandinavians.

By the end of the eighth century A.D., the Scandinavians had developed Europe's first efficient sailing ship, the square-sailed Viking long ship. This enabled them to export some of their population over a widespread area. The movement began with the Norse who established colonies in Scotland, northern England, and the empty islands of the north Atlantic (the Faeroes, Iceland, and Greenland). The Danes settled on the shores of the English Channel. There they founded the Duchy of Normandy (in the early tenth century), and after many attempts, succeeded in conquering England in 1066. It is possible some 200,000 people left Scandinavia between the end of the eighth century and the beginning of the eleventh. Denmark was the most densely populated of the Nordic kingdoms (it still is). It was also the largest because its traditional boundaries included the southern part of Sweden and a fifth of its inhabitants. Nevertheless, by the middle of the seventeenth century the Swedes were strong enough to force the King of Denmark to give up his hold on the south of their peninsula.

The estimated population of Denmark was 400,000 in A.D. 1000 and about 600,000 by 1500. Primary sources for exact population statistics are almost nonexistent in the Scandinavian area until the seventeenth century when parish registers were introduced. In 1660 Denmark also levied a poll tax which yielded a population figure of 750,000. It increased to 800,000 by 1700. The one million population mark was reached in Denmark in 1800. In 1850 there were 1.5 million Danes; by 1900 there were 2.5 million. Today, the population of the country is about 5.2 million. Toward the end of the 19th century Denmark, like all industrialized European nations, experienced a pronounced migration of people from the countryside to the towns and larger cities; this urbanization has almost ceased, however, and many Danes still live in small towns. Presently about 85% of the population is urban. Some 37% of the total population is concentrated in the four largest cities (Copenhagen, Ålborg, Odense, and Århus). A significant German minority lives primarily in south Jutland.

Between ninety and ninety-seven percent of the people are Lutheran. The Evangelical Lutheran Church is the state-supported religion. Presently there is complete religious freedom. The Roman Catholic church is the largest minority faith.[1]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.01.1 The Family History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Family History Record Profile: Denmark,” Word document, private files of the FamilySearch Content Strategy Team, 1987-1998.