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Denmark and Germany -- Historical Background

Denmark Home Page

By Norma Storrs Keating

(from pages 88-89 of her book, Beginning Danish Research by Norma Storrs Keating)

A word or two of explaination is needed to understand the unique history of the southern part of Denmark that was formerly part of Germany. This area of Denmark currently known as Sønderjylland includes the counties of Haderslev, Tønder and Aabenraa-Sønderborg.

Denmark began a war in 1848 with Prussia over the status of two duchies called Schlesvig and Holstein. (Danish spelling= Schlesvig; German spelling= Schleswig.) The Danish kings ruled over these two areas on a personal basis. They were not an integral part of the kingdom itself. Prussia kept an eye on the area, since the majority of the inhabitants were German speaking. Denmark won the war and, thereafter, included the area in her territory.

Then followed 16 years of confusion as Denmark changed her mind several times about the status of the two areas. In 1852 the status of the two areas reverted to the same as it had been in 1848. Then in 1855 they were again incorporated as part of Denmark. This ruling was cancelled in 1858 only to be reinstated again in 1863. By 1864 Austria and Prussia had enough. They declared war on Denmark and won. Schlesvig went to Prussia and Holstein to Austria. But just three years later, another fight over the two duchies occurred between Prussia and Austria. This time Austria was the loser. Both dutchies were then included in Prussia.

Following World War I, a plebiscite in 1920 brought the northern part of Schlesvig back under Danish control. The current Danish-German border is roughly a line across the Jutland Peninsula just north of the city of Flensburg in Germany. There are still several thousand German speaking people living in southern Denmark."

Because of all the controversy and border changes, there is an unfortunate lack of records for the above named three counties in southern Denmark. Finding the census records, parish records, etc. for the areas of Schlesvig-Holstein will depend to a great extent on the time frame you are looking at.

Parish registers and census records before 1848 can be found in Danish archives and on microfilm at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA. Records generated after 1848 could be in either Germany or Denmark. For the most part, the records for the area of Schlesvig that remained in German hands after the plebiscite are at the Landesarchiv Schleswig-Holstein, Schloss Gottorf, 2380 Schleswig, Germany.

You will need to check your area of interest on an individual basis to see which parish register records, land records and other genelogical records can be found in Denmark. After first checking the catalog of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA to discover their holdings, you might want to write to either of the following archives for more information:

Landsarkivet for de Sønderjyske Landsdele
Haderslev 45
6200 Aabenraa
Telefon 74 62 58 58

Det Sønderjydske Landsbibliotek
Haderslevvej 3
Postboks 1037
6200 Aabenraa
Telefon 74 62 25 62
Telefax 74 62 14 80

Local libraries, historical and genealogical groups also have scattered records for their individual areas. The above archiv (archive) and bibliotek (library) can provide you with the name and address of the library or group in the area you are searching.

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