DANISH MILITARY LEVYING ROLLS
What are the Military Levying Rolls?
The most accessible of the Danish military records are the Lægdsruller, the military levying rolls. These are similar in intent to the American Selective Service draft registration records: the purpose was to determine where the king could get manpower for the armed forces when he needed them.
Between 1733 and and 1788, the law of Stavnsbåndet (compulsory residence) was in effect. During that era, male peasants were not allowed to leave the manorial estate (gods) where they were born without permission from the estate owner (godsejer). This law had two purposes. First, it enabled the godsejer to keep an adequate labor force available at all times, so that he could pay his taxes in kind for the support of the government and the regular army and navy. Second, this law enabled him to keep track of males who could be sent into the local militia to meet his obligation to provide an annual quota of recruits.
It is important to note that Stavnsbåndet did not mean that all peasants had to stay in the same parish where they were born. Since the manorial estates often had property in many parishes, a peasant could get permission (or orders) to move to his lord’s property elsewhere. That’s why in this period you have so many people suddenly appearing in the churchbooks “out of nowhere” or mysteriously disappearing from the parish where they were born. If you look in other parishes where the same estate had property, you may find those mystery ancestors.
Until 1774, the regular army units consisted almost entirely of “volunteers” from foreign countries, mostly Germans, and the official language of the army was German until 1772. By the time Stavnsbåndet was repealed in 1788, the ranks of the regular army were being filled mostly with Danish peasants, and another method of keeping track of potential draftees was needed. The solution was the lægdsruller system.
How are the rolls organized?
Within each county, each lægd (usually a single rural parish) was to keep a list of males eligible for conscription. The “lægdsmand” charged with the responsibility of keeping the list was usually the largest landowner in the parish. This was supposed to keep the local lords from running the system for their own benefit, but the largest landowner was usually one of the local lords and naturally he (or rather, his underlings, who did the actual work) had his interests in mind when deciding which young men to send into the army.
Complete levying rolls (lægdsruller) were to be compiled at 3-year intervals (with a couple of exceptions). Supplemental rolls (named A, B, C etc.) were also made every year, to record changes such as new births, persons transferring into the parish, deaths, and persons moving to another parish. This information was cross-referenced onto the immediately preceding complete roll and onto the subsequent one.
If your ancestor moved in, say 1794, there will be a notation added to his record in the 1792 roll, lining out his name and giving the number of the lægd where he appears on the 1794 supplement (Supplement B) and his individual number there. If he was still at the new location in 1795, the next regular roll, he will appear towards the end of the roll for that lægd, along with the others who were added on supplement B who are still there. There will be a notation telling you which lægd he came from and where to find him on his most recent appearance on that lægd’s rolls.
If, however, he moved again before the 1795 roll was compiled, he might not appear at all on that lægd’s regular roll for 1795 and you will have to order the film which contains all of Supplements B and C (for the part of 1795 which came before the regular roll was compiled) to find out where he was in 1792 and where he can be found on the 1795 roll.
How can I find the levying rolls for my ancestor’s parish?
Under the new system, Denmark was, for military purposes, organized into 6 registration districts, each consisting of several counties.
In 1793, the county system was re-organized, and new lægd numbers were assigned to each parish in the new county. In several areas the old county names and lægd numbers remained in use until about 1806. This is not a major problem for the researcher, since the old rolls were later re-organized and re-numbered to match the new county system.
Lægdsruller for the army have been microfilmed up to 1860 by the LDS (Mormon) Family History Library and may be ordered through any Family History Center.
Look for the rolls that include your ancestor’s parish in the online catalog (www.familysearch.org) with a Place Search for the “new” (1793-1970) county name. This will find all the rolls, including those made under the “old” (pre-1793) county name. The “old” and “new” counties and lægd number in each will be given for each parish.
Rolls compiled later than 1860 are accessible only in Denmark.
Who is on the rolls?
In general, the sons of nobles, large landowners, clergy, parish clerks, schoolteachers, and other prominent persons or families were exempt from conscription and do not appear on the levying rolls. The main burden fell, of course, on the peasant class.
Between 1789 and 1849, an eligible boy was supposed to be registered before his first birthday; supposedly he was dropped from the rolls around age 43-45, but some disappear (or never appear) well under that age, and some were kept on the rolls longer. In 1849, the law was changed: youngsters were not entered on the rolls until they’d been confirmed (age 14-15), and men were to be dropped from the rolls at age 38. By 1869, boys were not entered until they were age 17.
Bornholm Amt and every market town (Købstad) had local militias and are not included in the military levying rolls.
What information is on the rolls?
The levying rolls on microfilm are obviously copies of the original rolls submitted by each lægdsmand, since they are all transcribed by the same hand and with the end of one roll followed on the same page by the beginning of the next. On every page there are pre-printed headers and lines delineating the 8 columns, to insure complete uniformity of information.
In 1789, the first registration, all the sons of a particular father were usually grouped together, and clearly some parishes grouped all the enrollees by village. After that, new entries are added to the end of the list in chronological order.
Every roll assigned to each enrollee a number which was simply the number of his place on that list. Column 1, headed Gl. Løbe No. is for the enrollee’s number on the previous complete roll and should be blank on the 1789 rolls. Column 2, headed Nye Løbe No. is for his number on the current roll, the first person listed being 1, the second 2, and so on. The combination of lægd number, prior number, and current number forms a unique identification for each person on the rolls. in any year.
In consecutive regular rolls, males are listed in the same order on the later rolls as on the earlier ones, but you will find that people move up in the rolls as persons ahead of them in the lists are taken into the army, die, cease to be eligible, or move elsewhere. Number 47 on one regular roll becomes Number 41 on the next, Number 38 on the third, and so on.
Column 3, headed Fædrenes og Sønnernes Navne, is for the name of the enrollee and his father, whose name is supposed to be listed above that of his son. If the enrollee is illegitimate, the name of the mother is usually given instead. However, if the parents did marry after the boy was born, the father’s name may replace that of the mother on later rolls. The father may be listed with or without tilnavn (example: Rasmus Nielsen OR Rasmus Hvitved OR Rasmus Nielsen Hvitved). The son is listed only by his personal name, the patronym being deduced from the name of the father. Therefore, if you are looking for Anders Pedersen, look down the list for fathers named Peder, then see if he has a son named Anders of the right age.
If an enrollee’s name and number is lined out (usually it’s still legible), that tells you he has either died, been conscripted into the army, or moved elsewhere, and there will be a notation telling you what has happened.
If he’s in the army now, there will be a notation to that effect, generally with the name of his regiment and the year he was called up. Example: “1JIR Sess 1791”, meaning he went into the First Jydske (Jylland) Infanterie Regiment in 1791.
If he hasn’t been conscripted, usually the notation as to where to find him on the next supplement or regular roll (or information as to his death) is written under his name, unless there isn’t enough room, in which case that information will be in the 8th column. Example: 51b312, meaning he is on the B supplement for Lægd #51 in the same county, line number 317. If he has moved to another county, that county’s name will also be given.
Column 4, headed Sønnernes Fødested, is for the son’s place of birth, which is usually given not by parish but by the village within the parish, unless the birth parish is quite distant, in which case both village and parish may be listed. If only the village is given, it is almost certainly the one in or closest to the parish where he is listed. This is an enormous help when trying to figure out which of several Jens Jensens on the roll is yours or, if this is the 1789 roll, where you are most likely to find his baptism record and his parents.
When a young man actually entered the army, he would be given a tilnavn consisting of his place of birth (example: Jens Rasmussen Tolstrup) so as to distinguish him from all the other Jens Rasmussens in the same regiment, even if the draftee already has a tilnavn. Niels Jensen Balle is plain Niels Jensen on the levying rolls but Niels Jensen Peerstrup in the regimental records.
All of this enables you to trace any conscription-eligible male either forward or backward in time during the period for which the levying rolls are available.
If he disappears from the churchbook of his home parish around 1796, the 1795 regular roll will tell you where he went.
If the first record you have for an ancestor is his marriage record in 1832, you can check the 1830 and 1833 regular levying rolls for his parish of residence at the time of the marriage (or the parish where his first child was born) to see if he’s there. You may have to check the complete supplemental rolls if he moved around a lot.
Once you find him, you now know his father’s name, the exact village where he was born, and whether he has already served in the army. Since the rolls are arranged by parish, each of which has a number, you can determine which of the fourteen parishes which have villages with that name is the one where your ancestor was born by backtracking him through the previous rolls. This is particularly useful for a male ancestor who died before 1845, the year of the first census which asked for place of birth.
Column 5, headed Alder Aar gives each enrollee’s age in years, obviously very useful information.
Column 6, headed Højde Tommer, gives his height in “thumbs”. 1 Tomme = 2.615 cm, slightly longer than 1 inch.
Column 7, headed Nu havende Opholdsted tells his current place of residence, again by village.
Column 8, headed Vedtegninger, is for miscellaneous information or remarks. This may include first year and regiment of actual military service; rank or specialty; year of discharge from service or the fact that he is now released from the rolls; physical defects or injuries which led to his discharge or his removal from the rolls; date of birth or baptism; date and place of death; the year he acquired a lease on a house or farm. There may even be a record of a protest against his being called into service.
The lægdsruller are generally very accurate, but the very first roll, 1789, is full of peculiarities, presumably because the lægdsmanden were not entirely clear about the rules. Some recorded the father’s place of birth and current residence as well as the son’s, even if the father is not enrolled on the list. Some didn’t record the youngest boys or oldest eligible men until 1792 (by which time some of the oldest were too old to be eligible anymore).
Some lægdsmanden failed to record men who “should” have been on the rolls. A few listed all males born in the parish of the right age group who were not known to be deceased, even if they had long since left the parish, so there are some cases where the same man may appear both on his birth parish and his current parish that year. (Usually this was corrected by 1792.)
Age in the 1789 rolls may be off, too. This is because until the 20th century, many people, especially the poor and uneducated, didn’t keep track of their own or their children’s ages and often didn’t know their date of birth. So, the lægsdmand (or one of his assistants) would go through the churchbook to find out when Peder Huilmand’s son Søren was born, locate the record in 1780, and duly record his age as 9, unaware that the Søren born in 1780 had died the next year, and that the boy who was actually registered was Peder’s second son, born in 1783 and also named Søren. This could (and sometimes did) put a youngster into uniform before he was actually old enough to serve. The parish baptism registers are still the most accurate records of age.
What about the Navy?
The levying rolls for the royal navy (Søforsvar) begin in 1802 and have also been filmed by the LDS. You can find them in the catalog with a Keyword search on Søforsvar. Naturally, the navy recruited mainly from coastal areas, and the naval rolls include information as to a potential conscript’s sea experience in fishery or merchant marine; they also add his marital status and number of children. If your ancestor was of a class eligible for conscription but doesn’t appear on the army levying rolls, it’s possible that you might find him on the naval rolls instead. Denmark has a lot of coastline.
Until 1849 men on the naval rolls stayed there for life, but after 1849 they were released around age 50. If they were not fishermen or in the merchant marine, they were released around age 38. The navy rolls are divided into 3 sections: Sø Ungdomsrulle (males too young to serve); Sø Hovedliste (men at an age to serve); and Sø Estrarulle (extra or reserve rolls of older men who could be called to serve in a national emergency).
My ancestor was too old to appear in the 1789 levying rolls. Are there older Danish military records that can help me?
There are a number of records—minor biographies, in some cases—which were compiled by Danish military buffs from actual service records which have not been microfilmed. These compilations, available on film or fiche, include:
1. Card Index of Army Officers of Denmark, 1757-1860, films #41959-41966. This collection groups by infantry, cavalry, and artillery/engineer personnel
2. Officerer og mellemstabspersoner (Berliens Collection) ca 1658-1841, films #41967-41969. Berliens includes both commissioned and non-commissioned officers.
3. Index of military personnel, with some genealogical notes, from ca. 1612-1888 (Feilberg and Dittmann’s Collections), films #41970-41971
4. Danske og Norske Officerer 1648-1814 (J.C.W. Hirsch and K. Hirsch), films # 41949-41958 OR fiche # 6060093-0606104
The above indexes are all arranged by surname or patronym and are by no means complete lists of everyone who served in the military during the periods covered. They are obviously most useful for finding information about officers. Moreover, sometimes the information is not accurate. Berliens at least cites his sources, which may be available if you request a copy of the specific document from Hærens Arkiv in Denmark.
Beyond the indexes, there is a surprising number of early military records which survived not only the ravages of time or someone’s desire to “clear out the old stuff” but also the fact that each unit—Regiment, Bataillon (batallion) or whatever—took its records with it everywhere, including into battle.
Some of the Reserveruller and other early military records made by the manorial estates have survived and have been microfilmed. There are similar rolls for several dioceses (such as Aarhus Stiftamt) and various early records organized by pre-1793 county or by modern (1793-1970) county. If the right records for your ancestor’s estate, county, or military unit exist, you may be able to verify that your ancestor was in fact the person you think he was and perhaps acquire new information about him.
Locating the records of a particular early ancestor can be quite difficult, because the Danish army was re-organized frequently, meaning that unit names changed and the men (and their records) were transferred to new units. Moreover, the early records weren’t very specific as to place of birth of native Danes. They may tell you that Johan Friedrich Müller came from Hamburg, but that Niels Jensen came from Fyn, which isn’t much help.
There are a great many early unit muster rolls (Stambøger) which did survive and have been microfilmed. However, the Danish army was re-organized so many times, unit names were changed frequently, and men were transferred from one unit to another, and the records followed the men. The surviving early muster rolls (from about the 1740s) wound up in whatever Bataillon was, in 1842, the then-current successor of the earlier units.
A staff member at the Family History Library (FHL), Brentnall H. Barlow, produced A Guide to Danish army units, which addresses this problem. The call number for the book is 948.9 M2b, but unfortunately, the book has not been microfilmed and you have to go to Salt Lake City to use it.
Otto Vaupell’s very thorough Den Danske hærs historie til nutiden og den Norsk Hærs historie indtil 1814, written during the early 1870’s, is another great help in locating unit records since it traces unit name changes as well as giving a fascinating account of Danish military history. It is available on FHL microfilm # 0354273.
Surviving early military records may be found listed in the Family History Library catalog, but you won’t find all of them with a Place search for Denmark-Military Records. I find that Keyword searches are often more fruitful than Place searches.
Most of the early records for Jylland are most easily found by a Keyword search for Regimentsskriver Jylland. Manorial estate military records are found under the name of the estate. Keyword searches such as Regimentsskriver, Stambøger, Sessionsprotokoller (annual reimbursement records for men who were in charge of billeting soldiers in their parish), Reserveruller, Stiftamt, etc. will dredge up other strays.
Keyword searches for the pre-1793 county name will turn up not only early military records but all kinds of interesting other records which you may want to investigate, such as land and tax records.
Be sure to use the Danish characters in all FHL searches. Kalo Amt will turn up nothing, but Kalø Amt turns up genealogical treasure.
By Rootsweb Denmark member, Betty Jack
Links for research and photos, provided by Rootsweb Denmark member, Cai Andersen
18th century Danish uniforms-- images at the New York Public Library
Military terms used in levying rolls -- pdf file with definitions
Military terms from about World War One -- definitions are Danish to Danish
Abbreviations used in the military levy rolls