🇺🇸 Lene Kottal Professional Genealogy Contact Lene Kottal

Danish Genealogy: Birth and Baptism Record Pitfall

Lene Dræby Kottal, Certified Genealogist®
Danish Genealogy: Birth and Baptism Record Pitfall

Danish church records, at least after 1813, have a certain structure. That helps researchers identify names, etc. in birth and baptismal records. However, for various reasons the information is arranged differently in some records, and that often leads to mistakes in the research and to mistakes in indexes of Danish church records at FamilySearch or Ancestry. To help you steer clear of those mistakes, I want to highlight the most common pitfall when reading a Danish birth and baptism record.

Misattributed Parentage

The mistakes in interpreting Danish birth and baptism records often revolves around the identification of the child's parents. The typical structure of the information in the parents section of a birth and baptismal record are first information about the father and then about the mother. However, if the child was born out of wedlock, the order changes so that the mother's information is recorded first, and the father's information in not always provided.

Apart from the mother' name being recorded first, another thing that should alert you to the changed structure is the word describing the mother's status. If the mother was unwed, the first word in the parents section will typically be one of these: Ugift (unwed) or Fruentimmer (a derogative term for a woman who had a child out of wedlock). The mother may also have been described as Enke (widow) and then either her late husband or someone else was the father of the child.

You might be accustomed to looking for Danish names, but you can't just conclude that a name of a male in the parents section is the father's name. The mother's name is typically followed by her residence, that is often described in terms of another person.

If the mother was unwed, it may say that she resided with her father, and then he is named. Or it may say with whom the mother was a domestic servant and then the head of household is often named. I have seen many examples of misattributed parentage where the child's grandfather or an employer is listed as the child's father.

If the mother was a widow, the record may mention the name of her late husband even if he was not the father of the child. She was his widow, so that's why he is named.

The words used to describe the father of a child born out of wedlock are udlagt/udlagde til Barnefader (alleged as father of the child). If you see those words, you should expect the father's name in that sentence, but the name could come either before or after those words, so it's not exactly simple.

An Example of a Birth Record for a Child Born Out of Wedlock

The image at top of the post shows the parents section of a birth record for Kirsten Nielsen, a child born out of wedlock in 1859. The following was recorded in the parents section:

"Moderen Mette Marie Eriksdatter, 27 Aar, hos Hsmd Erik Madsen af Salby. Udl. Barnefader Ungkarl Niels Nielsen af Kjølstrup for Tiden i Australien."1

[Translation:] The mother Mette Marie Eriksdatter, 27 years old, with cottager Erik Madsen of Salby. Alleged father of the child bachelor Niels Nielsen of Kjølstrup currently in Australia.

Ask for Help if You Are the Least in Doubt

The above is just an example. There are many possibilities for the structure of the information in the parents section of a Danish birth and baptismal record when the mother was unmarried or a widow. Therefore, I cannot encourage you enough to translate all the words, and if you can't do that yourself, then ask for help from someone who understands Danish. And please don't trust an index!

Ask for help to ensure that your research is accurate! You don't want to climb someone else's tree, do you?


Source References:

  1. Mesinge Parish (Odense District and County), Parish Register 1847-79, p. 79, Female Births, 1859: no. 4; digital image, the Danish National Archives, Arkivalieronline (https://www.sa.dk/ao-soegesider/da/billedviser?bsid=449232#449232,80682473 : accessed 25 January 2023).