You might be familiar with the collection of Denmark Estate Records 1436-1964 at FamilySearch. It is a great collection of imaged records from estates (godser) all over Denmark. The collection includes military records, books of land, copyhold records, tax records, guardianship records, and probate records, which are all useful for genealogists researching peasants before 1850. However, you must know the name of the estate to use this collection, as well as other collections of estate and manorial records. So how do you determine which estate owned the peasant land where your Danish ancestors lived?
Determine the Province in Denmark to Find the Correct Research Aid
The first step is to determine the province in Denmark to find the correct research aid. This is the easy part.
The research aids are based on the areas covered by the four departments of the Danish National Archives. The areas covered by each department are as follows:
- The Copenhagen department: The islands Zealand, Amager, Lolland, Falster, Møn, Bornholm, Samsø, and the small islands off the shores of these islands.
- The Odense department: The islands Funen, Tåsinge, Langeland, Ærø, and the small islands off the shores of it. Beware that Ærø was a duchy under Schleswig for a part of the period covered by these records.
- The Viborg department: The part of Jutland, which was not under Schleswig from 1864 to 1920, including the islands Mors, Læsø, and Fanø.
- The Aabenraa department: The part of Jutland which belonged to Schleswig from 1864 to 1920, including the islands Rømø and Als.
The second step is to examine the relevant research aid. Read about them below.
Research Aid for Estate Records under the Copenhagen department
The research aid for Zealand and the other places covered by the Copenhagen department is available for purchase as a book authored by Michael Dupont, archivist at the Danish National Archives. The book is named Sognenøgle til skifteprotokoller fra private godser, institutioner, præstekald m.m. øst for Storebælt and can be purchased through the Danish genealogical society Danske Slægtsforskere.
Research Aid for Estate Records under the Odense department
The research aid for Funen and the other islands covered by the Odense department is provided online by the genealogist Ole Laursen-Wadschier in the database "Skiftejurisdiktioner på Fyn" (Probate Jurisdictions at Funen).
The search form consists of a text box labelled Stednavn (place name) and a dropdown menu labelled Sogn (parish). You can type the town in text box or select the parish from the dropdown menu. When you are done, click the button Søg (search). The results are shown in a table listing town, parish, district, county, and jurisdiction. Jurisdictions ending with the name godsarkiv are estate jurisdictions.
Research Aid for Estate Records under the Viborg department
The research aid for places in the central and northern part of Jutland covered by the Viborg department was first published as a book compiled by Bente S. Vestergaard. With the permission of the publisher, it has since been made available as a PDF free to download. It is called Stedregister til Nørrejyske Godsarkiver (Place Index for Northern Jutland Estate Archives).
You can use keyboard short-cuts to search for the relevant place name. Be sure to make a note of all occurrences of the place name.
Research Aid for Estate Records under the Aabenraa department
The research aid for Southern Jutland covered by the Aabenraa department was first published as a book compiled by Frode Gribsvad and Johan Hvidtfeldt, published by the Danish National Archives. It has since been imaged by the archives. It is in fact a general research aid for the area, and the index of jurisdictions is at the back of the book, which is called Landsarkivet for de Sønderjydske Landsdele: En Oversigt (The Provincial Archvies for the Southern Jutland Areas: An Overview).
The index shows parish names in capital letters. For each parish, the jurisdictions are written in mixed case followed by a colon and then the names of the towns covered by that jurisdiction. For parishes covered by multiple jurisdictions, information about each jurisdiction is separated by a dash.
Tips for Researching Estate Records
Researching estate records requires some knowledge of Danish because the records are not standardized like parish registers and census records. That being said, copyhold and probate records often have a certain structure with the same boilerplate sentences being repeated in each record. Getting to know the structure and the boilerplate sentences can help you interpret other records of that type. Having one or two probate records transcribed and translated by a professional might be enough for you to decipher additional records yourself.
Several estates may have owned land in each town, so you may have to research records from more than one estate to find information about your ancestor. If the collection of estate records contains a book of land (jordebog) covering the years relevant to your research, start there because books of land list the lots of land owned by the estate and typically names each copyholder. That way you can fairly quickly determine which of the possible estates is relevant to your research.
Estates were private property and not all estates gave all their records to the Danish National Archives. Therefore, some records are lost. Furthermore, not all records have been imaged yet.
Professional Assistance with Estate Records
As a professional, I can help you
- determine whether relevant records exist,
- determine whether the records are imaged or not,
- research online and offline records for you,
- transcribe and translate records.
If you are interested in my assistance, you are welcome to contact me for an estimate of the time needed for your project.
- The image at the top: Hubertus [username], photograph of Dronninglund Slot, undated; imaged at Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6585568 : accessed 31 October 2022), uploaded 19 April 2009, CC BY-SA 3.0.