Danish Laegdsruller or Military Levying Records

Do you have an ancestor who served in the Danish military? I do. Johannes Jensen happened to be a career soldier, a drummer, fiddler and musician, for his regiment stationed at Rosenborg Castle in Copenhagen from at least 1840 to 1851.

Johannes was a huge brick wall for me and that wall never would have come tumbling down without the help of the military levying rolls or, in Danish, laegdsruller. I’ve told his story in an earlier post, but today I will go into detail about the levying rolls. The reason I needed to find him on those rolls was that I could not find any Johannes Jensen, born in 1809 or 1810, who could possibly be him. I needed an exact birth date or a baptismal record to find his family. Finding him in the Danish census records was no problem – there he was in Copenhagen in 1834, 1840, 1845 and 1850. He retired after the 1850 census and the family moved north about 200 miles to Saeby in Hjorring County, where they appeared on the 1855 and 1860 censuses. Johannes died on 9 April 1865 in Saeby.

I also had baptismal records for his children, who had as baptismal sponsors either “parents” or some person living down the road, usually “Farmer So and So.” There wasn’t a hint of any family members to be found. I needed Johannes’s  date of birth.

Now, I have to admit, without the expert help of the staff at the FamilySearch Library in Salt Lake City, I would have had a very difficult time navigating the levying rolls, which have been microfilmed and are available in the library.

First, what are these levying rolls or “laegdsruller”? Danish law required that males be entered on military rolls, a bit like registering for the draft here except registration happened soon after birth. These rolls were kept at the local level, like the church parish registers. Each person on the roll had his own identifying number, but that number could change through the years. Along with his number, the rolls included the exact date of birth and the name of his father.

Here is an example of a levying roll or “laegdsruller” from 1834:

Johannes Jensen Missing Laegd27

Stilling Parish, Skanderborg, Denmark, FHL Film 40,135

Although I had been assured that having a male’s levying roll number made it very easy to track him, I had no such luck. I also discovered that the number could and would change. Levying numbers usually had three parts, like our Social Security numbers.

The first number in the pattern is the parish number. However,  parish numbers begin with the number “1” in every county. If you ancestor stayed put, that isn’t any problem. If he moved to another county and you didn’t know the county of origin that assigned him on the rolls, you would have to read rolls in every county that included lists with that parish number.  In my case, I found Johannes on a regular military record, not a levying roll, and the military record stated that he had last been stationed in Skanderborg County. That led me to the laegdsruller in the image above, as Stilling is a parish in Skanderborg County.

The middle number refers to the old place number on the previous list for the male on the roll. It is important if you are working backwards and don’t want to read all the names on every list looking for your ancestor.

The number in the last section xxx-xxx-xxx referred to the numbered spot on the parish list. If a male entered the list and was the 207th male on it, he would only remain #207 until the next list. Those who passed away or moved away were removed from the list and new place numbers were assigned.

FamilySearch has laegdsruller films covering the years 1824-1860. New lists were created every three years with supplemental lists developed in between to cover new births and deaths, males moving in and out of the parish and males reaching an age where they no longer had to be on the rolls.

There is one caveat, though. Males born in cities, like Copenhagen, which Johannes always reported as his birthplace, often were not enrolled because rolls weren’t regularly kept in urban areas. This meant that most of the military in the 1800’s consisted of young men off the farms from rural areas.  I was already at a disadvantage because o f his birth place. On the other hand, I was told by the reference staff in the library that active military men appeared on the laegdsruller lists in the parish in which they were stationed.

How I came to be reading the Skanderborg rolls when Johannes was born and stationed in Copenhagen is a story for tomorrow when I explain how laegdsrullers and batallion records can be used together to track your soldier ancestor.

I know this all sounds a bit confusing and it was to me when I first started to wade through the old Danish military records. Even now, I am far from expert at using these lists, but practice does make it easier!

If you have a male ancestor born in Denmark in the 1800’s and you would like to know more about him, or to confirm birth and parentage facts AND you know the parish of residence (which is not in a city), it would be worthwhile to look at the laegdsruller lists. Laegdsrullers aren’t for the faint-hearted, but they can be invaluable.


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