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Traces of Poor Ancestors in Online Danish Genealogy Records

Lene Dræby Kottal
Traces of Poor Ancestors in Online Danish Genealogy Records

Denmark has a long history of providing welfare (almisse or fattighjælp) for those who cannot provide for themselves. The requirements to be eligible for welfare and the amount of the welfare have changed over the years. Census records often reveal if a person was a pauper (almisselem). Details about the welfare can be found in the records of the local pauper committee (fattigkommission). Records from a lot of pauper committees have been digitized and made available online. The records vary in detail from time to time and place to place. Below is an example of a record from a pauper committee.

1801 census: A poor family in Ringe parish, Denmark

A Poor Family in the 1801 Census of Denmark

Translation of the record shown in the snippet above:

Census of the population of Ringe parish under Svendborg county, as it was found to be on 1st February 1801, along with details about each person's [marital] status, office, or occupation, etc.

Boltinge town
5th family

Hendrich Hansen, man, 80 years old, both in their first marriage, tenant and receives welfare.
Caren Lars Datter, his wife, 78 years old, both in their first marriage.
Caren Hendrichs Datter, their daughter, 29 years old, married for the 1st time, the husband Peder Jørgensen serves in Sødinge.
Sara Peders Dattter, children of the man's daughter, 3 years old.
Anders Pedersen, children of the man's daughter, 1 year old.1

1803 pauper record from Ringe parish, Denmark

Online Danish Pauper Committee Record from 1803

The census says that Hendrich Hansen received welfare, but not how much he received. Paupers were divided into three classes:

  1. All who were too old or sick, or of such weak health, mobility, senses, or intellect, that they could earn absolutely nothing or only very little for life's necessities.
  2. Children, who were father- or motherless, or whose parents' intellect, health, or customs were so that the children's upbringing should not be trusted with them.
  3. Families or individuals, who due to weakness, many children, high age, or other such causes were not capable of earning as much as needed for their, or their children's, bare necessities.2

In December 1803, the pauper committee decided that Hendrich Hansen belonged to the first class of paupers, which correlates with him being about 83 years old. As shown in the snippet above, he was granted "a full portion" in addition to what was granted to him by the Ringe poor house and by the private foundation Eickstedtske Legat. That year a full portion for a pauper of the first class consisted of the following:

  • 12 pounds of rye flour
  • 100 liters of mixed-type malt
  • 100 liters of barley grains
  • 12 pounds of pork
  • 24 pounds of butter.

The committee decided that the help was granted in money rather than goods. The total value of Hendrich Hansen's welfare was set at 10 rigsdaler 2 mark for the year 1804. The welfare was paid for one quarter of a year at a time.3 Examining the minutes from the following years might reveal more details about Hendrich Hansen, including when he and his wife died.

Danish Currencies: Converting Rigsdaler to Kroner

Rigsdaler (subdivided into mark and skilling) was the Danish currency until 1873. Today the currency is kroner (subdivided into øre). Society has changed so much that it is impossible to correctly convert rigsdaler to kroner, however, comparing to the wages at the time will give us an idea of the size of the welfare.

The average wages for a laborer in the nearby town Odense were about 1 rigsdaler per week,4 so the value of Hendrich Hansen's welfare for an entire year equaled about 10 weeks of payment for a laborer in Odense. And he had to support his wife and probably helped support his daughter and two grandchildren, too. It must have been hard.


Source References

  1. Folketællingen 1801 [census], Svendborg Amt [county], Ringe Sogn [parish], page 15 [or] 145, Boltinge Bye [town], family 5; image copy, The Danish National Archives, Arkivalieronline (https://www.sa.dk/ao-soegesider/da/billedviser?bsid=26655#26655,2906885 : accessed 8 February 2021) > images 15-16 of 33.
  2. The classes were stated in the law about the welfare system, see Reglement for Fattigvæsenets provisoriske Indretning og Bestyrelse paa Landet i Danmark, 5 July 1803.
  3. Ringe Sognedistrikt [parish district], Svendborg Amt, fattigvæsensprotokol [welfare record book] 1803-1819, page 3, minutes, 9 December 1803; image copy, The Danish National Archives, Arkivalieronline (https://www.sa.dk/ao-soegesider/da/billedviser?epid=21398394#346094,69029519 : accessed 8 February 2021) > image 3 of 194; citing Ringe Fattigkommission, Fattigkommissionens forhandlingsprotokol [the committee's negotiation records].
  4. Poul Thestrup, Mark og skilling, kroner og øre: Pengeenheder, priser og lønninger i Danmark i 360 år (1640-1999), 2nd edition (Odense: Statens Arkiver, 1999), page 35, 1800-1809: Lønninger [wages]. This is a booklet about the Danish monetary system from 1640 to 1999. It says that the average wages per day were 16 skilling. With a six-day work week, it amounts to 96 skilling per week and 96 skilling equaled a rigsdaler.
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