Category Archives: Copenhagen DK

1 Hospital + 2 Record Sets = Brick Wall Breakthrough

Do you have a brick wall ancestor, born in Copenhagen before 1910? You have a name and a birth date and the city of birth, but no baptismal record and no parents’ names? This, in spite of the fact that Danish baptismal records are quite well indexed on FamilySearch and the Danish National Archives offers their digitized church and census records online for free? This was exactly my predicament and the answer to my brick wall might be the same as yours:

What is this hospital? It’s Den Kongelige Fødselsstiftelse, still standing today at Amaliegade 25 in Copenhagen, Denmark, otherwise known as The King’s Hospital for Unwed Mothers, established in 1785. Although the hospital is now an office building, its records still survive today.

Have you considered that your brick wall ancestor might have been a child born out of wedlock at this hospital and then given up for adoption or sent to the Copenhagen orphanage?

I was at my wit’s end searching for the baptismal record and parental names for my Johannes Jensen, born 27 April 1810, until the pieces fell into place in his military record. I have told his story in some of my earliest blog posts, but since then, I have seen various queries online from people looking for information about their brick wall ancestors in Copenhagen.

Most of the records of Den Kongelige Fødselsstiftelse are accessible by the public, as Danish privacy laws restrict them to 125 years so those up to 1892 should be searchable.

Exactly how does one search these records. Well, there are several important things to know:

First, and most important, was that the mother could choose to remain completely anonymous. That severely limits the ability to find further information.

Second, in support of this privacy, there were TWO sets of records kept. One listed the births of the children by date, but no surnames are recorded.  Therefore, it is imperative that you have an exact date of birth to have hope of finding your ancestor. For example – you want to find the baptism and parents of Anna Jorgensdatter, perhaps born in January 1850. If there were six babies named Anna born in, say, January, it will be quite expensive and possibly unfruitful to find more information and I will explain why in a bit.

Each child’s record had a coded number assigned to it. That coded number is the number of the mother’s file. The mothers’ files are the second set of records.

Can you see why this gets a bit complicated?

Third, the infants’ birth registers have been filmed and are available digitally on FamilySearch. Go to the collection: Denmark, Church Records,1484-1941, then Sokkelund and choose Den Kgl. Fødselsstiftelse. From there, search by date as you normally would for any vital record. Records from 1807 to 1901 are included. This collection can also be found for free on the Danish National Archives website, but, for those who don’t speak Danish, FamilySearch is easier to navigate!

Here is a sample page from the birth/baptismal book:

Johannes, born 27 April 1810, #374 on the right

These entries were made on 28 April 1810, as seen by the heading. My Johannes has the red arrows highlighting him. Notice #374 at the far right side of the page. That is a finding number. Some babies were given only a first name, while others had first and middle names. That can help you in your search. My Johannes ONLY appeared with a single first name and no middle name in all of his military and census records.

Fourth, and here is where it gets tricky and expensive – The mothers’ records have NOT been filmed and they must be viewed in person at the Danish National Archives in Copenhagen. I had gotten this far and was desperate after years of searching to be so close, yet so far away from answers. I happened to be at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City when I found this birth record. (Six years ago, when I found it, these records were only on microfilm.)

I had previously used a professional researcher in Denmark and he did good work so I emailed him from Salt Lake asking if he would be able to go to the archives that day to retrieve the folder, copy it and email it to me. That way, I would have help reading it. The next morning, I had the images in my inbox, but it cost me about $150. Danish researchers don’t come cheap! On the other hand, what would it have cost me to travel to Copenhagen from Tucson to obtain it in person???

Before I share the record, I want to reiterate that it is very possible that if you take this step, your record won’t have any mother’s name in it or any other personally identifying information. If the mother gave her baby up for adoption, it may give the name of the family who adopted the child.

Having said that, you might strike gold as I did. My Johannes’s record, I’ve been told, is very unusual because while the first entry in his mother’s file gave no real information, a SECOND entry was made ten years later. That was apparently extremely rare. It’s also a good thing I was in Salt Lake because it took four of the Scandinavian experts quite a bit of effort to decode the writing.

#374, Johannes

This register page ties baby Johannes to his mother and notes that he was born on 27 April 1810 and baptized the following day. It was Danish law at the time for all to be baptized.

The second part of his mother’s file is the important part:

Johannes’ Mother in the Top Entry

When he was born, Johannes’s mother chose to be anonymous. Baby Joannes was given to the Master Tanner Zinn’s wife, most likely to be raised and eventually taught the tanning trade. (However, Mr. Zinn died about five years later. I suspect that Johannes was then sent to the Copenhagen Orphanage, although I can’t prove it. He would have been confirmed while living there and there is a gap with a record loss for the years when that most likely would have happened, but I digress.)

In 1820, a second entry was made in this file, giving his mother’s name – Kirsten Jorgendatter – her age of about 40 years, the information that she still lived in the neighborhood (Vor Frelser Church parish) and was currently living with the baby’s father (!) who agreed to provide a suit of clothing for him. It also said she was from Slagelse. I have since been able to identify both his mother and his father – who actually got around to getting married in 1824 – because of the information in these records.

So, the lesson here is that if you have an ancestor who might have been illegitimate and born in Copenhagen AND you have an exact date of birth, it is quite easy to search the Den Kongelige Fødselsstiftelse records to see if a child by that name was born on that day.

If you do find a possible candidate, you’ll need to decide whether or not to spend the money to access the mother’s record, hoping that she chose to identify herself and her circumstances.

I’ve never regretted my decision! It is possible to ferret out the clues in these records and identify an actual person and his/her family.

If you have questions, I’d be happy to try to help you navigate the records.

Johannes Jensen, Company Fiddler and Drummer

How do I begin to explain that musical ability was the talent that brought success to the life of Johannes Jensen? I guess I will start at the beginning.

Johannes, no middle name, Jensen is my 3x great grandfather, born 27 April 1810 in Copenhagen, Denmark. The Johnson/Jensen family was my brick wall for thirty years. It has only been during the past four years that the wall came crumbling down, bit by bit.

My grandmother, Hazel Coleman Adams, was musically inclined. She had a piano in the basement which she played regularly. I remember her showing me middle C and teaching me to play a simple song like “America,” (My Country ‘Tis of Thee). I have no musical talent whatsoever so my lessons never went further. I have wondered through the years where she got her natural abilities in both music and art.

Now I have an answer and it is Johannes Jensen. I’ve written posts about Johannes and my Danish research multiple times, but I’ve never taken the time to outline what Johannes’s life was really like.

He received only two things from his parents, and they weren’t love and a home. His unwed mother gave birth to him in the Den Kgl. Fodselsstiftelsse, the Hospital for Unwed Mothers established by the Danish king in the 1750’s. Kirsten Jorgensdatter promptly signed rights over to the wife of Master Tanner Zinn.

Entrance to former Unwed Mothers’ Hospital
Copenhagen, Denmark in May 2014

What did he receive from his father, Jens Jensen Lundqvist? More about that in a bit.

Kirsten Jorgensdatter likely thought that baby Johannes would be cared for by the Zinn family and that, when the time came, he would be apprenticed and learn the tanning trade. That was not to be, as Master Zinn died by the time Johannes was five years old.

No records have been found from 1815 until March 1826 when a not-quite- sixteen year old Johannes entered the Danish army. I believe that Mrs. Zinn, with a couple of her own children to feed and raise, probably sent Johannes to the Copenhagen orphanage. No direct records exist in terms of day-to-day lists of its residents.

There are confirmation records – every child would have been baptized and confirmed in that era, regardless of family circumstances. However, much to my chagrin, about a decade’s worth of confirmation records for the orphanage are lost and it is precisely in that time period that Johannes would have been confirmed. A search of confirmation records in all the other parishes in Copenhagen has not turned up any likely candidates to be my Johannes.

Now back to the gift that Johannes received from his father. There is an odd second entry in Johannes’ birth record at the Fodselsstiftelsse. A note was added ten years after he was born, in 1820. This second entry actually names his mother – women could choose to remain anonymous when giving birth at the hospital and Kirsten initially chose to do so. Besides naming Kirsten, her age is given AND it mentions the fact that she is living in the area with the child’s father. The unnamed father agreed to provide one outfit of clothing for Johannes. This is a second clue that makes me think he was living in the orphanage.

Johannes’ entry at top
Note different ink between 1810 & 1820 entries

The relationship between Johannes’s parents was interesting, to say the least. Jens married (1) Inger Andersdatter in Helsingor, Frederiksborg, Denmark on 24 August 1801. They had at least three children together before Inger died on 12 July 1809 in Helsingor. There is no way to know how Jens felt about the loss of his wife, but the timing of Johannes’s birth at the end of April 1810 indicates that he quickly traveled to Copenhagen and had a relationship with Kirsten.

There is also no way to know whether or not Jens was aware that Kirsten was pregnant with his child, but exactly one week after Kirsten gave birth, on 4 May 1810, Jens married  Anna Dorthea Gyse back in Helsingor. Jens and Anna Dorthea had no children together and no burial record has been found for her.

However, the records of Vor Frelser Church in Copenhagen do contain an entry of the marriage of Jens Jensen Lundqvist and Kirsten Jorgensdatter on 13 August 1824.

They obviously maintained a long term on-off relationship. The fact that Jens agreed to provide an outfit of clothing for ten year old Johannes is proof that, by 1820, he was indeed aware that he had a son. However, it doesn’t appear that Jens and Kirsten were interested in claiming any parental rights and I have found no crumbs of information leading me to believe that Johannes ever even knew who his parents were.

No burial record has been found for Kirsten, but Jens died on 22 December 1839 and was buried in Vor Frelser parish. However, his burial record does not indicate if he was married or a widower. It also appears that Johannes was the only child born to Kirsten Jorgensdatter.

At this time in Danish history, children born to unwed mothers, or outright orphans, had little chance to move up the social or economic ladders. A military career was the exception to this situation and this was the path that Johannes chose for his life.

In late March of 1826, a few weeks before his 16th birthday, Johannes entered Danish military service and became a career soldier. Given the circumstances of his early life, it is extremely unlikely that he had any formal musical training.  However, he must have had some innate talent because his military records indicate that he was the company fiddler and drummer. Until modern times, the company musician held an important job as it was their duty to keep the unit marching in order, whether they were on guard duty or heading into battle.

Danish Military Card Index to Underofficers

Notice the left card under “Johannes” is written “Tamb” for “stabstambor” or “drummer.” The card on the right says “Spillemand” or “fiddler.”

Johannes spent his entire career stationed in the old historic area of Copenhagen. The 1840 and 1850 censuses list the street address of each family. Johannes was unmarried in 1840, but his address was the same before and after marriage. He lived in the army barracks at Rosenborg Slot, or Rosenborg Castle.

The barracks were built in the 1600’s and are still used for military housing today.

Army Barracks at Rosenborg Castle

I visited Copenhagen last year and, while I was walking the grounds of Rosenborg Slot, I heard fife and drum-type of music nearby.

Sounds of Music Behind Barracks Wall, left

I was in this garden when I looked around and saw the soldiers’ heads marching by for the Changing of the Guard. How fortuitous that we happened to be at the castle right at that moment! I can see Johannes marching that same path 165 years ago. That was his job.

Being MUSICAL opened a lifetime career for Johannes Jensen, a young boy who had to create his own path to success.

Photos were taken by Dave on our spring 2014 trip.

Danish Military Records, Part 2

Yesterday’s post explained  Danish laegdsrullers or military levying rolls and their use. I hope it wasn’t too confusing to follow. The rolls themselves aren’t the easiest records to navigate, but they are definitely worth the time and energy.

Now for the rest of Johannes Jensen’s story. Being a career soldier, he attained the rank of sergeant, a minor officer, but an officer nonetheless. That helped immensely in this research.

First, FHL Film #0041,960, part of Card Index of Army Officers of Denmark 1757-1860 yielded two candidates to be my Johannes:

JohannesJensenMilitaryCardsMilitary Index Cards for Johannes Jensen

The card on the left is for Johannes Jensen (born Copenhagen), “Tamb,” short for “Drummer.” He was assigned to the 7th Battalion with some volume and page numbers. The final notes say he was a drummer, he retired to Saeby on either 24 or 29 September 1851 and that he worked as “arrestforvarer,” taking care of the prison.

The card on the left shows Johannes Jensen, born 1810, Copenhagen assigned to the 10th Batallion as “spillemand” or fiddler, followed by volumes and page numbers.

Both of these cards could refer to the same man as the data was culled from different batallion lists covering a span of years. I still had no levying number, but I had enough to search through battalion records.

FHL Films  #0042,169 and #0042,170, which contained records of the 7th Batallion from 1834-1860. There was one Johannes Jensen found in the 1834 list of the 1st Jydske Infantry Regiment. This Johannes had last been in Skanderborg County (although it was written as what looked like “Skandby” and I didn’t know where that was), but he had a levying number! His laegdsruller number was 63-27-4, and although he was recorded as born in Copenhagen, his age and height were not recorded on the list. An assignment, transfer or re- enlistment date was shown as 14 September 1834.


1834 Batallion List

His name appears towards the bottom of the list. Those above all had ages and heights recorded. Three of the last five names – Johannes was fifth from the bottom – had ages listed, but no heights and their assignment dates were all September through November 1834. They apparently were the newcomers and only basic data was filled in about them on this list. This particular roll gave fathers’ names for the other soldiers. For Johannes, it said the father’s name was not recorded. Not deceased, as some others were noted, but “not recorded.” Hmmm???

JohannesJensen1834SkanderborgLaegdFilm401231834 Skanderborg Regular Levying Roll

The next document was found on FHL film #0040,135, the Regular Levying Rolls of Stilling, Skanderborg County, #63 Laegd. Johannes is the second entry on the list and his levying number was now 63-173-146.

JohJensenMilitaryRegisterPage1837 Batallion List

Next, I hired a researcher in Copenhagen to try to find Johannes’s actually military file in the Danish Archives. The first attempt brought only a big bill with a couple of Johannes Jensens who were way too old or way too young to be mine. The second try brought two pages from the 10th Bataillon Stamlister for Underofficerer Beginning 20 April 1843 and Ending 7 October 1865. Johannes Jensen, born 27 April 1810 in Copenhagen was listed! It gave the date he first enlisted, 30 March 1826, aged 15. It included the 14 September 1834 enrollment date found on the other company list so I was sure this was the correct man. However, his father was not named on the document.

I now had Johannes Jensen, born 27 April 1810 in Copenhagen, but, oddly, his father’s name is “not recorded” on the military registers. My Danish researcher offered an opinion about that oddity and the staff in the FamilySearch Library in Salt Lake concurred. Johannes was born out of wedlock. However, he still would have been baptized – it was the law. No baptismal record had been found.

I have already told the story of Johannes’ birth in the Den Kongelige Fødselsstiftelse, the Royal Hospital for Unwed Mothers. The discovery of his birth record there would not have been possible without this march through the Danish military records. Not an easy march by any means, but I now know why there was never any trace of Johannes’s family among the records of his own family.