Danish West Indies Chancery Records and Index to Wills 1671-1848
by Gary T. Horlacher, 1999
Introduction (listed below)
- The Danish Chancery
- East and West Indies Records, 1668-1799
- Wills confirmed through the Authorities 1800-1848
Following links provide a name index to the wills and a few other records listed in the Chancery records:
- West Indies Chancery 1671-1771 (4 volumes)
- West Indies Chancery 1771-1799 (3 volumes)
- Chancery - Confirmed Wills 1800-1848
[NOTE: The date listed first is the date of the chancery court proceedings where the will was certified. The dates listed after the names of the people are the dates listed on the actual wills and supplemental codicils and other papers.]
There are hundreds of films in our library that have been obtained from the National Archives of Denmark (Rigsarkivet), which are listed in our catalog under Denmark - Public Recordsbut are not well understood or heavily used. These records cover a period from the 1400s-1848.
When originally filming records in Denmark, a decision was been made to film probate records whenever they were available, but not to film will books. The apparent reasoning for this decision was that since all wills had to be confirmed through the official chancery offices, then filming will books would be duplicated. By filming all of the chancery books they would also have a complete listing of all the wills.
The question that arises at what point did it become mandatory for the wills to be confirmed through the chancery court? Were there will books kept before that period? Perhaps we should consider if those earlier books might not need to be identified and microfilmed as well. After studying the records of the West Indies, it appears that wills were not kept by the chancery court before 1758 and not comprehensively before 1760.
In an attempt to better understand these records and their genealogical value, an index and transcript was made for the West Indies. This allowed us to see a sampling of the type of information kept at various times throughout this record source. Perhaps similar studies and indexes could be made in the future for the other chancery offices. Certainly a comprehensive index by region and parish of all the wills for the period 1800-1848 would be necessary before those wills would become generally useable because of such common patronymic names.
The main priority and focus of this work was to create an index to the wills from the West Indies. In addition, records of divorce, guardianship, marriage contracts, and all entries prior to 1761 were extracted. Entries listing a person's name, the island, and a date, without any additional information refer to a will. Citations of other record types contain additional identifying information. Often the testator of a will was living in England, the United States, or another island. In that case, the Danish island where the deceased owned property, or with which he was associated, was listed in parentheses. Women's maiden names, when given, were also included in parentheses. The records include all sections of the free population including Jews, free-Blacks, French, English, Spanish, Dutch, as well as Danish citizens and residents of these islands. They included planters, merchants, officials, artisans, and residents. Generally they were people that owned property or left an estate of some type.
The records from 1800-1801 and 1808-1814 are missing, apparently due to the English occupation of the islands at those times. Perhaps wills from the islands for those years can be found among the chancery court records in London.
The chancery court, or the king's court, was originally the only administrative organ within the royal jurisdiction. The records of the Danish chancery extend back to the mid-1400s. Over time the purpose and role of the chancery court evolved and changed until it was discontinued April 5, 1848. At that point, the Ministry of Justice and Ministry for Church and Welfare took over the functions previously conducted by the royal chancery court and Denmark began to be ruled by a parliament rather than an absolute monarchy.
After 1685 an ordinance was passed stating that the chancery court should be used to expedite routine cases in the king's name. Over time the number of these cases increased dramatically. The chancery court handled requests and petitions made to the king and his court's rulings concerning decisions, decrees, judgements, appointments, and answers to supplications made to him. Petitions included overturning court cases, changing punishments due to circumstances, petitions for cousins to marry, petitions for an underage person to represent him/herself in court, etc. From the latter part of the 18th century there was a large number of cases that included wills, permissions to write wills (facultas testandi), and probate cases (including calls to creditors).
Up until 1572 there was one chancery court for the Danish realm and another court for the German duchies. In 1572 there was an administration reform and separate chancery courts were organized for the following regions: Skåne, Sjælland, Fyn & Småland, Jylland, and Norway. Another region was created with the colonization in the East and West Indies from 1668/1671. The regions remained the same for the most part until 1799 with the exception of the year 1771-1773. This was called the Struensee Period, when the chancery was consolidated into for departments: Sjælland/Fyn, Jutland/Småland, Norwegian, and East/West Indies and other islands (Iceland, Greenland, etc).
From 1800 on, the chancery courts were completely reorganized, this time more by type of proceedings and then by region. The chancery courts were divided into six separate departments, each keeping separate records (in 1814, when Norway was lost to Denmark, this was consolidated to five departments):
Church and School Department
Danish Justice and Police Department
The Norwegian Justice & Police Departments (including Iceland, Bronholm, Færø Islands, and the East/West Indies, which after 1814 united with 5th department to create a new 3rddepartment)
Feudal Estates and entailed property, militia and citizen corps, and the public diocese
Jutland, Fyn, and other islands Justice and Police Departments (after 1814 changed name to III. department)
Auditors department, with several offices (after 1814 called V. Department).
Besides these, there were some offices that had to do with each of the divisions: Archive office, Cashier's office, Accountants office. The II. and III. Departments included all the cases that went to the Justice and Police Departments, i.e. marriage by traveling priest or without waiting for banns, divorces, wills, probate and guardianships, district doctors, appointments, etc.
Within these II. and III. departments, the wills for all of Denmark and the Danish territories were kept in a record separate from other books. Included with the wills were also marriage, deeds of gift, and other miscellaneous documents.
These records include Royal confirmation to letters, complaints, orders of the King or Company directors, appointments of governors and pastors, permission for cousins to marry, permission to be a self-representative in probate/court matters, confirmation of wills, etc. In the period 1671-1756 there were references to only about four wills, however after that point there are several wills recorded in each year, their confirmation in the court being mandatory to their being valid. During the early period many ship captains obtained passports for various trips, however later chancery court records no longer include such requests.
The transcript of each chancery transaction, as well as indexes to these records, are found on the following films:
West Indies Register
1671-1699 FHL #0399524 (no index)
1699-1746 FHL #0410349
1746-1771 FHL #0410350
1771-1773 FHL #0426768 (w/East Indies)
1773-1786 FHL #0426943, item 2
1787-1799 FHL #0426944
East Indies Register
1668-1699 FHL #0399522
1690-1730 FHL #0410345
1730-1799 FHL #0410345, item 2
Besides these general registers, there is another set of records that cover the same time period. These are the original documents which are summarized and mentioned in the general registers. These records are written in their original languages. For example, an original will of a planter might be in French or English in these records, along with a translation into Danish, while the register only lists the Danish translation. The original documents are not page numbered and are not indexed. However, they appear in the same order chronologically as they do in the register and the case numbers match. The register books can therefore be used as an index to these records. Following are the film numbers for these original documents:
Documents for West Indies
1671-1699 (no documents available)
1699-1730 FHL #0410351
1730-1746 FHL #0410352
1746-1756 FHL #0410353
1756-1760 FHL #0410354
1761-1763 FHL #0410355
1764-1766 FHL #0410356
1766-1768 FHL #0410357
1769-1771 FHL #0410358
1771-1773 FHL #0426769
1773-1775 FHL #0426945
1776-1777 FHL #0426946
1778-1779 FHL #0426947
1780-1781 FHL #0426948
1782-1783 FHL #0426949
1784-1786 FHL #0426950
1784-1786 FHL #0426951
1787-1788 FHL #0426952
1789-1791 FHL #0426953
1792-1794 FHL #0426954
1795-1797 FHL #0426955
1798-1799 FHL #0426956
Documents for East Indies
1668-1699 FHL #0399523
1699-1730 FHL #0410346
1730-1746 FHL #0410347
1746-1771 FHL #0410348
During the period 1771-1773 there was a temporary change in the jurisdictions so that the records of the East and West Indies were combined with those from Iceland, Greenland, and the Færø Islands.
In creating this index, a summary of each individual account or record in the chancery records for the period 1671-1760 was listed. After 1760 only wills, probates, marriage contracts, divorces, self-guardianships for underage heirs, and similar entries were indexed. Entries skipped included appointments to official offices, calls to creditors for various estates, reversals of judgments or penalties, and general orders. This was done to save time and since this was primarily to be an index to wills and other genealogical data. It may be worthwhile at some point in the future to go back and list every entry as was done for the earlier period. Only the wills and other genealogical documents for the West Indies were extracted from the 1771-1773 volume, while those from Iceland and other territories were not included.
The set of wills for this period includes not only inhabitants from the West Indies, but also Norway (before 1814), Iceland, Færø Islands, and other parts of Denmark. Generally once or twice a year a packet of wills was sent to Copenhagen from the West Indies and integrated with the other wills. Each year was skimmed through looking for these packets of West Indies wills, which were then identified and are listed in this document. The original wills are found on the same film numbers as listed in this register, often in both the original language and translated into Danish.
Other chancery records, which include court cases, supplications to the chancery, guardianships, etc. can be found in the locality section of the Family History Library Catalog™ catalog under: Denmark - Public Records. They are listed as the Femte (Trejde) Afdeling [Fifth (third) Department]. They include year by year indexes and after 1819 these include a section for the West Indies cases.