Danish Genealogy

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The most valuable source for Danish research prior to the twentieth century was the Lutheran church as the primary recording authority for vital information such as births, marriages, and deaths.  Also, many Danish were Mormons who also have an extensive genealogical collection through their LDS Family Search Libraries.

Danish Americans have made considerable contributions to weaving the tapestry of our culture.  In the area of art, Sculptor Gutzon Borglum, provided a staple of modern Americana when he chiseled Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills of South Dakota.  In science, Jens Christen Clausen (March 11, 1891 - November 22, 1969) was a Danish-American botanist, geneticist and ecologist.  He is considered a pioneer in the field of ecological and evolutionary genetics of plants.

As the Danes came to America, they brought with them their traditional foods. Popular Danish cuisine includes kringle (almond paste pastry), Wiener or Danish pastry (what Americans call breakfast "Danish"), �bleskiver (puffed pan cakes), frikadeller (Danish veal and pork meatballs), Fl�skesteg (Christmas pork roast), and risengr�d (rice pudding). Despite the perceived importance of beer in modern Danish national culture, Danish immigrants were largely unsuccessful in penetrating the American beer industry, which was saturated by immigrant German and Czech brew masters.

Tracing Danish Ancestry

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Danish Americans differed from Americans of other Scandinavian descent, in that Danes migrated across the county and soon became integrated into the melting pot. Also, there was a disproportionate surplus of male immigrants which caused many Danish men to marry non-Danish women. The Danes were not only the least cohesive group among the Scandinavians but also the first to lose consciousness of their origins including experiencing significant changes to  their  mother tongue.

The Danes traveled and settled in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Lake Michigan.  They also participated in the American Revolutionary War. From 1800 and 1840 they included seamen, artisans and adventurers, but immigration in large numbers began in 1840, when the Mormon Danes arrived. A small proportion of Danish emigrants left for religious reasons - in particular Mormons and Baptists. The Mormons carried out missionary work in Denmark which included outreach to single women, many of whom joined the Mormons.  Salt Lake City and Utah is home to many Americans with Danish heritage.

After 1850, non-Mormon emigrates were leaving Denmark primarily for economic reasons and immigrated to America in search for a better standard of living. The promise of free or inexpensive land, better wages, and the possibility to create a better life for themselves and their children made Danes leave Denmark to relocate to the U.S.

Towards the later half of the 19th century, the U.S. provided that any immigrant could claim 160 acres of unoccupied government land, homestead it, and earn title in five years in accordance with the Homestead Act of 1862. Also in comparison to Denmark, U.S. wages were  higher, making it possible for them to save up and buy a farm or piece of property or start a business within a just a few years.

In 1864 almost a fourth of Denmark was lost when Slesvig and Holsten fell to the Germans. Afterwards, mandatory German military service and repression of Danish culture caused many Danes to take flight and leave the area to create a new life for themselves elsewhere. Finally, some people had personal, non-financial reasons to emigrate. They left to join a loved one in the new country, or simply to pursue adventure in the new world.

Danish Family History Today

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According to the 2000 U.S. federal census, approximately 1.5 million Americans list Danish as their primary or secondary ancestry. The number of people with Danish ancestry in the United States is therefore about � of the number of people living in Denmark today. The Danes primarily established themselves in the Midwest. In the 1840's and 50's, they settled down in Wisconsin and Michigan. The mid 1850's saw the beginning of Danish settlements in Iowa. In the 1880's the Danes made permanent settlements in Minnesota, Nebraska, Montana and South and North Dakota. From 1870 to the 1960's, cities with a large Danish and Danish-American population include Chicago, Illinois, and Racine, Wisconsin.

In the area of education, one major historically Danish American college is Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa is still-operating. Until 2010, Dana College in Blair, Nebraska operated, but closed its doors in July of that year due to a failure to thrive. Grand View University continues to maintain a large archival collection of Danish American history. The archival collection that once resided there is now in the care of the Danish Immigrant Museum.  Many immigrants and their children later moved further west. Today, the majority of the people with Danish ancestry in the U.S. live in California. Other states with a larger Danish-American population are Utah and Minnesota. The following states make up the fourth tier: Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Texas, Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan and Florida.

Danish Family History Resources

Danes in America - Library of Congress

National Danish-American Genealogical Society

Danish-American Archives and Library Center for Research and Education

Danish Immigrant Museum in Iowa

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