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Family History Clues in Danish Obituaries

Lene Dræby Kottal, Certified Genealogist®
Family History Clues in Danish Obituaries

Obituaries with biographies are uncommon in Denmark. They are primarily an announcement of the death to inform those who might want to attend the funeral. If all relatives and friends resided in the same area as the deceased, there may not be an obituary. A family member, friend, or messenger delivered the news in person when possible. So, you may not find obituaries for all your Danish ancestors.

When available an obituary may provide information about the following:

  • the date and place of death
  • the cause of death
  • the age of the deceased
  • the deceased's occupation and titles
  • parents, siblings, spouses, and children of the deceased.

Thus, researching obituaries can help us find more information for our family history.

My name Dræby comes from Frederik Dræbye (1815-72), who was allegedly my third great-grandfather. I have translated the obituaries for Frederik, his parents, and four of his five siblings. My comments show the genealogical information I derived from them. Many Danish obituaries from the 1800s provide similar information.

Obituary for Ulrik Christian Hans Dræbye 1884

Danish Obituary for Ulrik Christian Dræbye 1884


Our dear brother, Colonel, Kammerjunker Ulrik Christian Dræbye, Knight of the Order of the Dannebrog and Dannebrogsmand, was called home by God on Sunday morning the 23rd of this [month], after several years of increasing weakness and a long, hopeless time in bed.
Louise Dræbye.      Mathilde Hinck,
Laura Dræbye.          nee Dræbye
The burial will take place from the chapel near Fasanveien on Friday the 28th of this [month] at 12 o'clock.

Family History Clues

Ulrik Christian [Hans] Dræbye's obituary provides the following clues:

  • Ulrik Christian was a colonel. Military records will likely reveal details about his military accomplishments.
  • Ulrik Christian was a kammerjunker (valet de chambre), a title often given to young military officers in the royal guard. The title placed him in the fourth class of the order of precedence. That determined where he sat at formal events in the royal house. Records from the chancellery ought to reveal when he received the title.
  • Ulrik Christian was a Knight of the Order of the Dannebrog and a Dannebrogsmand (a holder of the Cross of Honor of the Order of the Dannebrog). The Chapter of the Royal Orders of Chivalry may hold an autobiography for Ulrik Christian because of his decorations.
  • Ulrik Christian's sisters went by the names Louise, Mathilde, and Laura, even though they had more given names. Census records might list them only by the names in the obituary and not their full names.
  • Mathilde married someone named Hinck. Some censuses may list her by that name.

Ulrik Christian's parents, Johan Christian and Elisabeth, and two brothers, Franz Christian and Frederik, died before Ulrik Christian. That explains why they are not mentioned in his obituary.

Obituary for Johan Christian Dræbye 1853

Mediestream Newspapers: Obituary for Johan Christian Dræbye 1853


That the Lord today has called away Justitsråd, Magistrate, Town and District Scribe Johan Christian Dræbye of this town at the age of almost 71 years, after he has been a royal official for 51 years, is hereby announced by his deeply mourning children.
Fredericia on 6th April 1853.

[Second part]
Thoughts at the death of Justitsråd, rådmand, Town and District Scribe Johan Christian Dræbye on 6th April 1853.

You sons, daughters, what have you lost,
Your dear old one is sleeping!
A never-resting life, created of love,
Washes away by the waves of time;
A heart broke that pounded tenderly
For you and for the desolate;
A heart broke that has always convicted
With love's mild warmth;
And despite the life he has created here,
With solemnity the Beyond pledges faithfulness to him,
You sons, daughters, what have you lost,
Your dear old one is sleeping!

Family History Clues

The poem was heavily inspired by poet H. P. Holst's commemorative poem addressed to his fatherland (Denmark) at the death of King Frederik VI in 1839.3 My translation of the poem doesn't flow as well as it does in Danish. I decided to use the original wording to maintain the writer's intention.

The obituary provides hints about Johan Christian Dræbye's occupation and honorific:

  • Johan Christian was a Justitsråd that literally means legal councilor. At first only members of the supreme court held the title, but later the King began to give it to others as an honorific. Chancellery records will likely reveal when the King awarded the title to Johan Christian.
  • Johan Christian was a magistrate and town and district scribe in Fredericia. Fredericia was a market town in Elbo District, Vejle County. Several sources can reveal information about when Johan Christian held those offices.
  • Johan Christian had been a royal official for 51 years, meaning from about 1802. I know he resided in Copenhagen in 1801, so his career possibly began there. Chancellery records are of great interest when research royal employees.

The obituary does not list the names of Johan Christian's children. I would have liked to see that list because I suspect that one of his sons was estranged from the family. The son had several children out of wedlock which Johan Christian probably didn't take kindly.

Obituary for Elisabeth (Bjørn) Dræbye 1848

Mediestream Newspapers: Obituary for Elisa (Bjørn) Dræbye 1848


That my faithful, deeply beloved wife, Elisa Dræbye, nee Bjørn, has been called away by death on 30th of this month, after several years of weakness and 4 weeks in bed, at the age 63 years, is hereby sadly announced to relatives and friends.
Fredericia on 31st March 1848.            J. C. Dræbye
                                                             Justitsråd and Magistate

Family History Clues

Johan Christian Dræbye's wife was baptized Elisabeth, but the obituary indicates that she went by Elisa.

At that time most women didn't work outside the home. They lacked non-housekeeping accomplishments to write about in an obituary. So, women's obituaries were often shorter than men's.

Obituary for Frans Christian Dræbye 1853

Mediestream Newspapers: Obituary for Frans Christian Dræbye 1841


That my beloved son, Candidate of Law Frans Christian Dræbye during a visit at Bygholm, on 21st of this month, has been summoned for a better life, at the age 27 years, is sadly announced to relatives and friends.
Fredericia on 23rd January 1841.            J. C. Dræbye

Family History Clues

This obituary is relatively short without mention of Frans Christian's mother or siblings. Yet, it provides clues for further research:

  • Frans Christian died at Bygholm, a manor in Horsens. That piece of information will help me find his death record in the parish register. If I am lucky, even the doctor's death certificate survived, so I can learn why Frans Christian died so young.
  • Frans Christian completed the law degree Candidate of Law at a university.6 After 1821 being a judge required a law degree. That career may have been Frans Christian's intention. University records will likely reveal information about his education and grades.

Obituary for Louise Marie Charlotte Dræbye 1893

Mediestream: Obituary for Louise Dræbye 1893


Yesterday died Miss Louise Dræbye.
Bygholm, on 23rd October 1893.
                              Th. Schütte.
The burial will take place on Friday 27th October at 1 o'clock from Hatting Church.

Family History Clues

Louise [Marie Charlotte] Dræbye's obituary is even shorter than her brother Frans Christian Dræbye's, but it still holds an interesting piece of information: She died at Bygholm like her brother. I will have to research the Dræbye family's connection to the manor Bygholm. I doubt that it is a coincidence that both died there.

Louise's two sisters survived her, but the obituary mentioned neither of them.

Obituary for Sophie Mathilde Elisabeth (Dræbye) Hinck 1897

Mediestream: Obituary for Mathilde (Dræbye) Hinck 1897


On Tuesday this [month] the Lord summoned at St. Hans Hospital Mrs. Mathilde Hinck, nee Dræbye, widow after Captain L. C. W. Hinck, which is hereby reported to relatives and friends by her sister and guardian.
Copenhagen, on 11 March 1897.
Laura Dræbye.           J. v. Jessen,
The burial will take place in silence.

Family History Clues

[Sophie] Mathilde [Elisabeth] (Dræbye) Hinck's obituary reveals that her husband was Captain L. C. W. Hinck, who died before her. Furthermore, her guardian Captain J. v. Jessen is mentioned, which was unusual. That she had a guardian, did not necessarily mean that she was under guardianship as we know it today. Having a guardian was common for women. They would usually not represent themselves; the guardian would do that. Anyhow, I will not rule out the possibility that she was under guardianship before I have examined it.

The statement that the burial was going to take place in silence was a polite way of expressing that the family wanted the ceremony to be private and only open for close relatives and friends.

Laura Bolette Dræbye was the last surviving sibling. I have not yet been able to find documentation of her death, but perhaps J. v. Jessen was her guardian, too, so following his trail might be an idea.

Obituary for Frederik Dræbye 1872

Mediestream: Obituary for Fredrik Dræbye 1872


After a short but happy marriage God summoned last night at 6 o'clock my loving and good husband, Customs Officer Fredrik Dræbye, leaving behind me and seven unsupported children.
Charlotte Dræbye,
nee Holst.
Skanderborg, on 10 April 1872.
The burial will take place from the chapel on Tuesday 16th April at 12½ o'clock.

Family History Clues

Last but not least: the black sheep of the family, Frederik Dræbye. He was allegedly my third great-grandfather via one of his non-marital relationships. I have yet to prove or disprove that claim. Research of the paper trail brought no evidence except the woman's allegation. Therefore, I have turned to genetic genealogy to solve the mystery. It is a work in progress.

Frederik's obituary could be perplexing at first glance. How can you have seven children of a short marriage? The answer is simple: Charlotte (Holst) Dræbye was not the mother of the children. The children's mother was Frederik's deceased wife, Ane Jensdatter. She gave birth to  three of them before the couple married and four after. Charlotte and Frederik married on 8 December 1871, so their marriage was indeed short.

Research Danish Newspapers for Obituaries

You can research newspapers for your Danish ancestors' obituaries at the website Mediestream. The website offers a full-text search. As always with computer-recognized text, you may have to be creative when searching. Images from newspapers that are 100 years old or more can be accessed online; more recent newspapers require on-site research at a library in Denmark.

You will rarely find a section labeled Dødsannoncer (obituaries) in Danish newspapers. The heading would be Bekjendtgjørelser/Bekendtgørelser (announcements), Dødsfald (Deaths), or Døde (Deceased). In Danish we have another word for obituary: Nekrolog. A nekrolog is not a notice of the death but rather a biography. It is mostly used for famous persons or someone who played a significant role locally.

I hope you find what you are looking for. I would be happy to assist with the research, transcriptions, or translations.


Source References:

  1. Ulrik Christian Dræbye obituary, Den til Forsendelse med de Kongelige Brevposter privilegerede Berlingske Politiske og Avertissements-Tidende [Copenhagen, Denmark], 26 November 1884, p. 3, col. 5; image, Det Kgl. Bibliotek, Mediestream (http://hdl.handle.net/109.3.1/uuid:67ac5e28-100f-4f0d-9430-04327e09ea9b : accessed 1 May 2024).
  2. Johan Christian Dræbye obituary, Tillæg til den Berlingske politiske og Avertissements-Tidende [Copenhagen], 12 April 1853, p. 1, col. 4; image, Det Kgl. Bibliotek, Mediestream (http://hdl.handle.net/109.3.1/uuid:6ecc7867-7cc3-4de7-b654-d459ded72e61: accessed 1 May 2024).
  3. P. Hansen, Illustreret dansk Litteraturhistorie, vol. 2 (1902), p. 304; image, Project Runeberg (https://runeberg.org/ildalihi/3/0332.html : accessed 1 May 2024).
  4. Elisa (Bjørn) Dræbye obituary, Tillæg til den Berlingske politiske og Avertissements-Tidende, 10 April 1848, p. 1, col. 3; image, Det Kgl. Bibliotek, Mediestream (http://hdl.handle.net/109.3.1/uuid:f0059a0a-c3e9-4f09-8d44-0614c57e6aff : accessed 1 May 2024).
  5. Frans Christian Dræbye obituary, Den til Forsendelse med de Kongelige Brevposter privilegerede Berlingske Politiske og Avertissements-Tidende, 27 January 1841, p. 3, col. 4; image, Det Kgl. Bibliotek, Mediestream (http://hdl.handle.net/109.3.1/uuid:f74f062b-d383-4a46-9a22-0671d2a9ecd4 : accessed 1 May 2024).
  6. Nina Koefoed, "Det juridiske system 1660-1849," danmarkshistorien.dk (https://danmarkshistorien.dk/vis/materiale/det-juridiske-system-1660-1849 : accessed 1 May 2024).
  7. Louise Dræbye obituary, Kongelig allernaadigst privilegeret Horsens Avis eller Skanderborg Amtstidende, 23 October 1893, p. 3, col. 2; image, Det Kgl. Bibliotek, Mediestream (http://hdl.handle.net/109.3.1/uuid:789add88-40f0-42a8-87b4-7cd2c8ce7bde : accessed 1 May 2024).
  8. Mathilde (Dræbye) Hinck obituary, Dagens Nyheder [Copenhagen], 13 March 1897, p. 4, col. 3; image, Det Kgl. Bibliotek, Mediestream (http://hdl.handle.net/109.3.1/uuid:07359923-d08b-49bc-94e0-844396ebb789 : accessed 1 May 2024).
  9. Fredrik Dræbye obituary, Skanderborg Avis og Avertissementstidende, 11 April 1872, p. 4, col. 1; image, Det Kgl. Bibliotek, Mediestream (http://hdl.handle.net/109.3.1/uuid:d8210c04-11bb-43c3-93b8-6bafbeeec46c : accessed 1 May 2024).
  10. The image at the top of the post: Bococo, photo of Hatting Kirke, Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hatting_-_Horsens.JPG : accessed 1 May 2024). License: CC BY-SA 3.0.