For centuries the Danish Citizens have been subject to a census and the church books have existed for centuries. Everyone born in Denmark had to be written – and hereby registered, in a church register, or today called the “church book”.
For almost 20 years now, (since 2004) the registrations were conducted in a digital register book.
King Christian IV (1577-1648) initiated a census – a method of counting the people of the Kingdom of Denmark to gain an overview of the total tax base in the kingdom, among other reasons.
Since the priests were well-educated, it was decided to charge them with this task.
In May 1645, Christian IV ordered the priests to "keep a proper parish register with the day and date of births, deaths and marriages in the parish". These provisions were repeated in the Danish Law of King Christian V of 1683 and again in later legislation.
In Denmark, the census has a 375-year long history.
The oldest Danish church book that has been preserved is from the parish of Østrup with the oldest transcriptions dating back to 1574 - quite a few years before it was ordered to keep church books in Denmark.
From the church books to the CPR-register
The church books have evolved over the centuries and other information were registered. As early as the year 1652, records of men aged 16-40 were used as a basis for the Danish army. Later, the church book formed the beginning of the national registers and the Central Register - CPR, that was introduced on 1 April 1968 where everyone in Denmark was given a central registration number.
The registration itself
In Denmark, new rules were introduced in 1812. Previously, the priest was free to decide how he wanted to keep his church books. Everything could be in the same books, written in chronological order. This meant that there could be births, deaths, marriages, confirmations, etc. in between each other.
From 1812, church books were introduced for church ceremonies – and for 'civil' registrations such as births and deaths, so that church registrations and civil registrations were written in separate books.
At that time the official name of church books was to be called ministerial books. Two copies of every book were kept in separate locations to avoid loss in case of fire or theft.
Today, the registrations are in principle divided into two separate procedures.
The registrar at the church office has two independent and separate roles - parish clerk in the Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Denmark (Folkekirken) and public servant for the state.
The Southern part of Jutland
The Duchy of Schleswig came under Prussian rule after the war of 1864. Prussia introduced a registration system in which the state was responsible for all civil registrations in the form of a local municipal registrar.
At the reunification with Denmark in 1920, Schleswig made it a condition that they would keep this civil registration. This was accepted, and therefore all civil registrations in the Southern part of Jutland are still made by registrars who are public servants of the state employed in the municipalities of the Southern part of Jutland.
The church records in modern times
In 1968, it was written by law that all citizens had to report births and deaths to the registrar in the Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Denmark (Folkekirken) - and for the people born in the Southern part of Jutland in the municipalities.
Now, all civil registrations are conducted by the parish of residence (despite for those born in the Southern part of Jutland) and registrations for ecclesiastical events are conducted by the parish of event.
Any records in the church books are valid proof of changes or events that have taken place in people’s lives.
From 2004 - the digital church book
Between 2002 and 2004, a digital church book was introduced to all parishes in Denmark making it possible for a quicker process, registration, and direct transfer of information to the CPR-register.
The increasing requirements of the State to exploit digital possibilities have resulted in the citizen’s growing use of digital self-services accessible on borger.dk where they can apply for numerous things such as certificates, change of name, care- and responsibility declaration (paternity/co-maternity for unmarried couples) or funeral.
The old church books are still used
The old church books are the basic record of persons and are still used to verify information for some citizens that were born during that time. The verification process is carried out by a special verification unit in the Danish Ministry for Ecclesiastical Affairs.