The National Archives has many archive groups and documents relevant to the history of the Danish West Indies. There are documents from the authorities whose particular task it was to manage the situation on the islands and that were located centrally in Copenhagen (central administration), as well as documents from the local authorities on the islands (local administration). The National Archives has digitized the great majority of these documents and made them available via this website. The material accounts for about 5 million digital images of pages of documents. The only documents that have been omitted are those in too poor condition to withstand the scanning process. They represent only about 0.5% of the 5 million image files. For more information see Damage and scanning.
Record groups in the archives of other authorities held at the Danish National Archives
In addition to the digitized records from the central and local colonial administration, there are also relevant archive groups in the archives of other authorities, which are also in the Danish National Archives. This is because Denmark was a colonial power for 250 years, and during this long period the management of the colonies inevitably left traces in the administration of most domestic authorities. For example, there are relevant cases scattered around the Danish Chancellery archives, relating for example, to health care, schools and much more.
There is no complete inventory of how many records about the Danish West Indies that exist in other authorities’ archives since this would require a review of most of the National Archives’ collection from a period of approximately 250 years. This would correspond to a review of about 70,000 linear meters of records that, if they were stacked on top of each other, would reach far past the stratosphere. In other words, it would be a very significant task in terms of resources. However, there is an attempt at an itemized overview on this website, but the list cannot be considered to be exhaustive. Since these records have not been digitized along with the records from the colonial administration, they should be sought through the normal channels of the National Archives. Therefore, it will mainly be possible for a Danish-speaking audience to search for them.
Records from the Danish West Indies in the U.S.A.
After the sale of the Danish West Indies to the U.S.A. in 1917 the documents were divided between Denmark and the U.S.A. It had been decided that the documents that were still relevant for the administration of the islands were to be handed over to the U.S.A. The documents included state archives, records, papers or documents relating to the cession or the rights and property of the inhabitants of the islands that were ceded. The same applied to material documenting the current rights of the inhabitants, for example, property rights.
Documents that were no longer relevant were Denmark’s to keep. Neither did the Americans ask to have the material located in Denmark at the time handed over.
In 1919, the Danish archivist Georg Saxild travelled to the islands, where it became clear that Denmark’s share of the documents was by far the larger. A great number of documents were sent to Denmark by ship, but in Saxild’s judgement it was neither possible nor desirable to have all the documents shipped back home. Therefore, he had to leave a considerable number of documents behind. The majority of these were transferred to the National Archives in Washington, D.C. in 1936-37.
National Archives in Washington, D.C.
Documents from the West Indies are here registered under Record Group 55. The archive group includes material of the same type as in the West Indian local archives in the Danish National Archives in Copenhagen: administrative, legislative, legal, police, military, and economic matters.
U.S. Virgin Islands
Today, only very few documents from the Danish period remain in the U.S. Virgin Islands. They have mainly to do with registration of property and people in 1754-1917. Most are located in the Enid M. Baa Library on St. Thomas and in the Florence M. Williams Library on St. Croix.