Anna Lodberg Sparre

Anna Lodberg Sparre

PhD fellow

Layman's Death. Death certification by Ligsynsmænd in rural Denmark, 1871-1920

In 1832, certification of death was made mandatory before a corpse could be buried in Denmark. Ideally, physicians were to conduct post mortem examinations to provide a reliable cause of death. However, in the period up until the early 20th century there were not enough doctors in Denmark outside the cities, so in the countryside laymen (ligsynsmænd) were appointed to issue death certificates. Because ligsynsmænd were not medically trained, health authorities never fully trusted the causes of death from these certificates, and they were entirely omitted from the contemporary mortality statistics before 1920. Thus very little is known about who these lay postmortem examiners were, and how the system functioned. It also meant that Denmark had a late start in systematically gathering knowledge of causes of death in rural areas compared to other countries. This project will examine ligsynsmænd as a) a registration practice, occupation and cultural phenomenon, and explore the death certificates they produced using digital methods to bring to light b) differences in rural and urban death causes and c) age and sex specific mortality patterns in rural Denmark 1871-1919.


Supervisor: Anne Løkke, Copenhagen University

Co-supervisor: Barbara Revuelta-Eugercios, The Danish National Archives

ID: 365539390