52 Documents in 52 Weeks #15: Danish Laegdsruller -Army Records

Today’s document isn’t a very common one, I don’t think, for American researchers. I have to give fair warning here that trying to find your ancestor in Danish laegdsruller isn’t for the fainthearted either.

What is “laegdsruller”? Well, they are Danish military levying rolls, sort of a draft list in case men were needed in the army. Generally, young boys were added to the rolls and given a number, like a U.S. Army draft number. These lists were kept up to date and theoretically they are a fantastic way to trace male ancestors as they moved about from place to place.

Except – and these are HUGE exceptions – the lists were much more commonly kept in villages and towns than they were in cities like Copenhagen. Another exception is that, while a number was assigned to each male, the number CHANGED when older men went off the list. Lastly, a man who entered military service was often removed from the local laegdsruller because he was no longer in possible draftee status.

I learned of the existence of these rolls while at the Family History Library in Salt Lake about six years ago. I was frustrated trying to find the parents of my Johannes Jensen, born about 1810 in Copenhagen. Searching military records was a suggestion by the reference staff there, particularly because my Johannes entered the Danish army in 1826 and made a career of being the company musician.

Why are these records so helpful? First, because of the patronymic naming system (Jensen meant you were the son of Jens, but Johannes’s son would have the surname Johannsen, or son of Johannes.) Because there were so many people with the same given and surnames, the father of the male enrolled on the list was recorded along with the boy’s age and his military number.

When a male actually joined the army, he often was given a “military name,” needed to sort out all the Jens Jensens, etc. Sometimes, his father’s name was on the official army list, sometimes not.

I can’t tell you how many hours – 100, maybe more – I spent over multiple trips to the Family History Library reading these rolls, trying to find my Johannes Jensen. Without the support of the staff to tell me what was even written on some of these pages and the guidance in being shown how to find the next list, I would never have found him. That’s why I said these records aren’t for the fainthearted.

Here is an 1834 actual military list that had a Hans Jensen on it. My guy had always appears in records as “Johannes,” but I couldn’t afford to leave any stone unturned with these records. He wasn’t my man, but this is a good representation of how the records look.


1834 Danish Army List

I realize this page isn’t the easiest to read, but that’s how most of the pages were on the microfilms. As an example, I’ve placed a red arrow next to the name Christen Jensen (Rosendahl?)

The first column “Amt” is his home parish. What it says, I don’t know. That is why I worked on this in Salt Lake! The three columns of numbers are his laegdsruller numbers – 16-129-105. Next, is his name and Rosendahl would be a military name to differentiate him from other Christen Jensens. After that is his age and height (which isn’t in inches, and the measure escapes me for the moment, but I was told it was close to today’s inches), so Christen is 30 years old and roughly 67 1/2 inches tall. The next column is day and year, but I’m not sure if it is when he entered that unit. It could be. The last column is for comments. Sometimes the “dod” (dead) notation is entered, sometimes the date of a promotion or whatever. I would again need help reading the information.

By tracking all of the Johannes Jensens from 1826 to 1854, I was able to eventually find my ancestor. I obtained his actual date of birth – 27 April 1810 – and the clue that the name of his father “wasn’t recorded” although all the other men on that particular list had their own fathers’ names penciled in. That clue was the chink in the brick wall that pointed to Johannes’s parents never marrying.

Was it worth it to spend all those hours slogging through all those microfilm rolls? I was definitely armed with Advil, but it was worth every second I spent because I found him.

If you have Danish ancestors that you have located in the 1800s, especially if they were rural dwellers as opposed to city residents or if you know that your ancestor served in the army, the Danish military rolls are definitely worth a look. They have been microfilmed, but be forewarned – you will likely need help navigating them.

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