Repository:Danish Immigrant Museum (Iowa)

Repository Danish Immigrant Museum (Iowa)
Postal Address 2212 Washington Street
Elk Horn, Iowa 51531-2116
Place Elk Horn, Shelby, Iowa, United States


The mission of the Danish Immigrant Museum is to tell the story of Danish immigrants and the Danish American experience and is organized to collect, preserve, study and interpret their materials, culture and traditions.

The Danish Immigrant Museum was founded in 1983 to preserve the history of Danish immigration to America. In 1994 the first phase building, reminiscent of Danish architecture was completed, housing significant artifacts important to the interpretation of the Danish immigration story.

The museum's artifact collection of over 35,000 artifacts is diverse and wide ranging. There are family heirlooms brought from Denmark, remarkable examples of needlework, tools of early immigrant tradesmen and memorabilia from Danish-American clubs and organizations. Many of the items on display are treasures which have been passed down through the generations in Danish families.

Four organizations work in cooperation to preserve and study the Danish immigrant experience across the entire United States.

  1. The Danish Immigrant Museum - Elk Horn, Iowa
  2. The Danish American Archive and Library at Dana College in Blair, Nebraska
  3. The Danish Immigrant Archives - Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa
  4. The Danish American Heritage Society – Salem, Oregon

Usage Tips

FHGC staff and volunteers are happy to assist visitors to the museum with their family history research. Indexes to many of these resources will appear on this page.

Resources at the FHGC include:

  • The Danish Immigrant Museum Wall of Honor files
  • Danish immigrant biographical files
  • Danish-American obituary collections
  • Over 600 family histories, biographies and memoirs of Danish immigrants
  • Copenhagen Police Emigration index (1868-1911)
  • Danish Brotherhood in America lodge records (1881-1995) -- see below
  • Danish maps, gazetteers and local histories
  • Bien (newspaper), 1893-present
  • Scandinaviens Stjerne (newspaper), 1851-1900
  • Many Danish-American organizational newsletters
  • HeritageQuest Online™
  • Ancestry LibraryEdition™
  • Aarhus and Vejle city parish records
  • Select Iowa Lutheran church records
  • Local cemetery transcriptions
  • Elk Horn-Kimballton newspaper indexes
  • Microfilmed and printed Iowa county histories
  • General genealogical reference materials
  • Handouts for getting started and suggested research resources
  • Internet workstations and wireless access
  • EmibasTM Swedish emigration database
  • A wide variety of materials may also be borrowed from the LDS Family History Library in Salt Lake City.

Researching Danish-American Ancestors

Researching immigrant ancestors is done the same way as researching non-immigrants - by working backwards generation by generation from the present to the past. Collect as much information as possible on the children of the immigrants, the immigrants themselves, and any known siblings. Typical information sources for Danish-Americans include the following resources:

*death, burial, marriage, confirmation, birth and baptismal records; also marriage applications 
  • obituaries and tombstone inscriptions
  • 40th or 50th anniversary newspaper articles
  • newspaper articles for ‘round’ (80, 90, 100) birthdays
  • funeral home records
  • church records (Lutheran records are especially valuable)
  • federal census information, beginning in 1930 and working backwards
  • state census information (Some states have excellent mid-decade state censuses)
  • declarations of intent and final naturalization petitions for foreign-born males over 21 (before 1920) and all foreign-born individuals after 1920. Before 1920 minor children and wives automatically became citizens when the male head of household did; children who had reached majority before then had to apply in their own names.
  • county and town histories in the area(s) of settlement
  • Danish Brotherhood Records (found at FHGC and at the Danish Immigrant Archives & Library at Dana College in Blair, Nebraska)
  • Social Security applications
  • WWI and WWII draft registration records
  • land records, including homestead files
  • online sources, such as the Ellis Island passenger arrival records (NYC arrivals 1892-1924), and the USGenWeb for the area(s) in which family members lived
  • Once the above materials have been checked, family documents such as correspondence (including letters, postcards, diaries, or photographs from relatives in Denmark) can help to form a picture of when immigrants came to this country, where they settled, and often where they came from.

Genealogical Links: For a listing of webpages that we've found useful, click on Useful Websites for Genealogical Research.

Be aware that many Danish immigrants Americanized their names, and consequently their original names in Denmark may have been different. One must have some idea of what the original names were before searching Danish records. This is sometimes simple (Jørgen and Marie/Maren often became Jorgen and Mary in North America), but is sometimes more difficult to figure out (Jørgen changed to George, Kjeldgaard to Kelgor; Østerbro to Easterbridge, Bruhn to Brown). In addition, not all family members may have kept the same surname or surname spelling.

Prior to about 1850 Danish surnames were patronymic and not ‘fixed,’ particularly in rural areas, and women kept their birth names throughout life until around the turn of the 20th century. In addition, there are 3 Danish letters not found in English - æ, ø and å (commonly found as ‘aa’ in older records) – which get rendered in various ways in English.

The FHGC has an experienced group of researchers and will be delighted to assist in your search.

Useful & Fun Things for Genealogists for Sale at the FHGC (items are also available through the Museum Shop):


  • Danish Emigration to the U.S.A.
  • A New Life: Danish Emigration to North America as Described by the Emigrants Themselves in Letters, 1842-1946
  • On Distant Shores
  • Searching for Your Danish Ancestors: A guide to Danish Genealogical Research in the United States and Canada
  • Give Your Family a Gift That Money Can’t Buy: Record & Preserve Your Failly's History
  • Unpuzzling Your Past
  • What Did They Do? in Danish... (a compendium of English translations of Danish occupations)
  • Danish Dictionary & Phrasebook
  • Danish Practical Dictionary
  • Elk Horn Community History
  • Avoca, Iowa Community History
  • Witch Way to Murder (Iowa mystery with a Danish-American sleuth, signed by author Shirley Damsgaard)
  • Charmed to Death (Iowa mystery #2, signed by author Shirley Damsgaard)


  • Quicksheet: Documenting Historical Resources
  • Map: Denmark-Greenland-Færoe Islands
  • 1897 map of Slesvig-Holsten
  • “Our Family Tree” charts (2 versions)
  • “I’ve Got Danish Roots” magnet
  • “Danish Roots – American Branches” canvas bag (small)
  • “Danish Roots – American Branches” canvas bag (large)
  • “Danish Research Outline”
  • Buttons with sayings about being Danish (or living with a Dane)
  • Silver bookmark with museum logo
  • Danish Immigrant Museum pen

Danish Immigrant Museum Xmas cards – 2008 & 2009