Source Information Danish West Indies, Probate Records, 1736-1893 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Operations, Inc, 2021.
Original data: Kilder til historien om den danske koloni i Vestindien. Danmark: Rigsarkivet.

About Danish West Indies, Probate Records, 1736-1893

This collection contains sensitive information about enslaved people, as well as outdated terminology describing race.

General Collection Information

Probate documents were put together following the death of a free person. Information in these documents may include detailed lists of the deceased’s property, ranging from whole plantations with lists of enslaved laborers and buildings, all of the way down to their pots and pans. Heirs would also be listed within these documents.

This collection contains probate records from the Danish West Indies between 1736 and 1893. The Danish West Indies consist of the islands of St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix. Most of these records are in Danish.

Using this Collection

To begin your search, it’s helpful to know the name of the enslaved person and the slave owner, as well as where they lived. You can search the index or browse by record type and date range.

Some of the records in these collections are searchable and have been transcribed, and some are only browsable. This database is best searched when you know whose property you’re looking for, as well as the date of that property owner's death.

The information available on these records includes:

  • Name
  • Residence information
  • Status
  • Gender
  • Occupation
  • Name of owner (in cases of enslaved individuals)

There are certain indicators and clues that can help you determine if a record belongs to someone who was enslaved or free. These clues can show up either in the body of the text or on an inventory list. For example, if a record includes just a first name, this can be a clue that the person was enslaved. The following terms can also help you determine if a record is for a free or enslaved individual (the Danish term is in parentheses):

  • Freeman (Frei)
  • Negro (Neger)
  • Slave (Sklave
  • Unfree (Unfrei)
  • Enslaved person with disability (Manqueron)
  • Mulatto

Probate records from before 1755 were organized based on whether an individual was a private citizen or employed by the West India and Guinea Company. Records from 1775 onward were organized into the following document types: registers of inventories and appraisals, probate court records of proceedings, registers of probate letters, and case papers of the probate court for individuals.

History of the Collection

Denmark annexed the Caribbean island of St. Thomas in 1672, and St. John in 1718. In 1733, St. Croix was purchased from France to establish sugar cane plantations. An estimated 120,000 enslaved Africans were imported to provide labor for the islands’ plantations. Though the slave trade in the Danish West Indies was outlawed by 1803, it would take 45 years for slavery itself to be abolished on the islands.

When St. John, St. Thomas, and St. Croix were sold to the U.S. in 1917, the majority of the Danish West Indian archives were to be sent back to the Danish National Archives (known as the Rigsarkivet) in Copenhagen. The collection proved too large to transport back to Denmark in its entirety, so the portion left behind became the property of the United States.

Ancestry has partnered with Rigsarkivet to bring our customers 5 million pages of digitized content from the Danish West Indies.


Encyclopedia Britannica. “Virgin Islands.” Last Modified September 10, 2020,

The Danish National Archives - Rigsarkivet. “How to Find a Place.” Last Accessed December 2, 2020,

The Danish National Archives - Rigsarkivet. “The Probate System (West Indies).” Last Accessed December 2, 2020,

The Danish National Archives - Rigsarkivet. “The West Indies.” Last Accessed December 1, 2020,