JEWISH GENEALOGICAL RESOURCES IN DENMARK
A presentation given at the 21st Jewish Genealogical Conference in London, July 2001
- AND THE DANISH ONLINE SEARCHABLE DATABASES
by Elsebeth Paikin
Any and all corrections, suggestions for improvement and further information will be most welcome!
Denmark has rich resources for Jewish genealogists as well as a great number of published genealogies dating back to the 17th century – some very elaborate with information pertaining to other countries e.g. "Forgotten Fragments of the History of the Fraenkel Family" covering the period 14th - 20th Centuries based on intensive studies in archives all over Europe tracing the roots in Austria, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Holland, Poland, - including links to well known families in other countries such as e.g. Oppenheimer, Wertheimer, Gumperz, Behrens, Lehmann, Itzig, Gans, David, Fränkel, Ephraim.
Denmark also had colonies, protectorates etc. from the beginning of the 17th century, and many records from these areas are now located in the Danish archives - i. a. The Danish West-Indies, Guinea on the Gold Coast of Africa, the Faroe Islands, Iceland and Greenland.
Furthermore around the turn of the last century many Jewish emigrants from the Baltic States, Poland, Belarus and even Ukraine came through Denmark, because it was cheaper to go to Denmark than to America. Sometimes the Danish shipping lines had bargain prices for the fare all the way to America, and emigrants sailing from ports in the Baltic Sea directly – or indirectly – to America can therefore be found in the Danish passenger lists.
Denmark was not engaged in WWI and during WWII Denmark was occupied by the Germans, therefore the archival holdings did not suffer any damage or loss and are thus almost intact.
That is why Denmark should not be overlooked!
Denmark has much to offer and research in the Danish archives might prove of interest to many Jewish genealogists even though they do not know of any ancestors or relatives in Denmark.
This is only a brief introduction – and some necessary advice – to the resources in Denmark -- i.a. the online searchable databases.
A brief summary of the history of Jews in Denmark since the first documented Jewish settlement within Denmark is necessary. Knowing the history will help you avoid disappointments and "blind alleys" in your research.
HOW TO FIND YOUR JEWISH ANCESTORS IN DENMARK
Background - History from the year 1622
The first Jews settled in the northern part of Germany which belonged to the Danish kings in the mid-17th century. Later in the century Jews settled in many other towns in the kingdom. Some stayed in Denmark, others returned to where they came from - e.g. Germany, Holland. All had very close family or business ties and relations with Jews elsewhere in Europe.
During the 19th century most Jewish communities disappeared from the provincial towns because of assimilation or because the Jews moved to Copenhagen.
The Jewish population in Denmark was never very great but the number increased from the 17th century until the mid-19th century - in spite of assimilation. The number decreased drastically towards the end of the 19th century because of assimilation and intermarriages. However, the new wave of emigrants from Russia and Poland (c. 1880-1917) revived the Jewish community.
- The assimilation implies that you might have to search not only resources relevant for Jewish genealogy but also parish registers and other records for non-Jews.
- It should also be noted that the records are not split up in records for Jews and records for Gentiles, the only exception being the Jewish Community’s registers.
- Neither the office of Jewish community nor the Danish Archives have any resources for doing research for individuals. They might however agree to do a look-up or two.
- You can get help to research in Denmark on the Internet, viz. on JewishGen’s special interest group for Denmark, Scandinavia SIG, at the address:
RESOURCES OF INTEREST FOR JEWISH GENEALOGISTS
Below you can find an outline on some – not all – of the records of interest.
In the presentation these records was dealt with in more detail and advice on the usage and accessibility was given. And advice is necessary i.a. before using the online searchable database on the Danish Passenger Lists (1868-1903 - the database is a work in progress more will be available at a later date), because it is not up to the standards we are used to on the JewishGen website! Among other problems you can meet is the Danish spellings of Jewish names, and you should also know that the privacy laws in Denmark (aka: "Archive Laws") prevents the use of records younger than 30-80 years depending on their contents; dispensation is, however, given to close relatives.
- The Jewish Community’s Registers
- Vital records
* The vital records will at a later date be available on the All Denmark Database on the Scandinavia SIG!
* The published lists of Jewish burials in Denmark is being computerised and will be available (most often with photos of the tombstones) on JewishGen’s "Online Worldwide Burial Registry" at:
- Vital records 1735-1810 for all the Jewish communities: Only few records have survived the 1728- and 1795-conflagrations and British bombardment in 1807 of Copenhagen. However, there exists a "Register of Declarations" ("deklarationsprotokol") from 1768-1892 listing births - also births outside Denmark. Furthermore there are registers of burials from 1771.
- From about 1810-14 when the Jewish religion became a fully recognised religion in Denmark the records are almost complete for births, marriages an deaths, and from 1817 bar mitzvahs.
- Published lists of burials from 1693-1976 in all the cemeteries in Denmark. (Before 1693, Jews were buried in Altona, North Germany).
- Other records:
You can also find registers concerning e.g. tax records, accounts etc. from charitable foundations, health care, hospital, the Jewish schools, burial societies, help to refugees - and much, much more.
You will have to look for probate registers at different places, because these can be found in the Jewish Community’s archives either under:
- The probate registers for "The German Nation" (~ Ashkenazim): 1760-1814
- The probate registers for "The Portuguese Nation" (~ Sephardim): 1805-1815
- Other – or special – probate records1758-1878
However, you might not find it there. Occasionally the Jews chose to have their estate settled by the Danish authorities instead of the Jewish probate courts, and you might therefore have to look in:
- The ordinary Danish probate records.
Danish censuses, tax-lists etc.
- Ordinary censuses ("folketællinger") exists for Denmark proper for the years 1787, 1801, 1834, 1840, 1845, 1850, 1855, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1890, 1901, 1906, 1911, 1916, 1921, 1925 and then every 5th year until 1970. In these ordinary censuses there are no special lists for Jews, which are listed together with all the other citizens. At present the most recent available for the public is 1921. Censuses also exist for some of the colonies (e.g. The Danish West Indies, Schleswig-Holstein).
Online searchable databases: You can find many censuses on
the Danish Demographic Database.
The databases are based on the work of volunteers, and therefore it is a random choice of censuses (the volunteers naturally choose to computerise those in which they hope to find information relevant to their research. However, some of the censuses are almost complete (1787, 1801 and 1845).
- Special censuses ("mandtalslister") exists e.g. for Copenhagen in 1784, 1790, 1791, 1793, 1794, 1795, 1798. These special censuses were made in order to get a survey of the supplies of corn and other provisions - and these "mandtalslister" contain a special specification of the number of Jews.
- In the Jewish community archives you can find extracts of the Jewish population from various resources made by Josef Fischer, the Jewish community’s former librarian.
- Passenger Lists:
When the Danish Steamship Line, DFDS, started their direct lines (from e.g. Libau and Copenhagen with stops in Gothenburg or Oslo) to America, many emigrants from Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and even Belarus and Ukraine chose this route. The railways had facilitated travel to the ports on the Baltic coastline, and the fare to Denmark was often among the cheapest. From 1868 Copenhagen Police was instructed to approve and control all emigration agents in Denmark as well as authorise all Danish agents abroad. This applied whether the voyage was "direct" (from Denmark to the destination) or "indirect" (i. a. via another European port). This resulted in 90 thick volumes covering the period 1868-1939 - which today enables researchers to find their ancestors or relatives, if they emigrated from or via Denmark and bought their ticket from a Danish agent. If their ticket e.g. was sent to them from relatives abroad, they are not listed in the police records.
These registers of passengers have been computerised and are found on the Internet as online searchable databases at:
the Danish Emigration Archive Website
At present the period 1868-1903 is accessible online. The rest is in the process of being computerised.
The Immigrant Museum has an online searchable database on naturalisations covering the years 1776-1960, on work permits issued 1812-1924 and of expelled persons for the period 1875-1919.
Unfortunately the website is only in Danish, but if you find a name you are looking for, copy it and send it to the Scandinavia SIG dfiscussion group, where you can get it translated.
See http://www.jewishgen.org/Denmark/immi.htm for further information.
As previously mentioned many genealogies have been published in Denmark some of which span most of Europe and date back to the 17th century some even to the 14th century. (see:
The Royal Library in Copenhagen has an extensive collection on
Judaica (not only for Denmark) with a number of biographies and genealogies, as well a huge collection of pictures (portraits, historical photos, topographical photos, photo albums, etc.). So there might well be something of interest.
- Local Historical Archives:
Many local historical archives in the towns where there were Jewish communities have often large and interesting collections, information, photos etc. of interest.