Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Danish, anyone?

Warning: if you are not interested in genealogy, or just just bored with me in general....feel free to move on to your next blog on the reading list :)

My sweet, loving Grandpa (my mom's dad) was the son of a Danish immigrant. He came to America and kind of late in life, married an American woman who had already been previously married and had children. They had my grandpa (and 2 other sons) when my great-grandfather was 44 years old. Sometime before WWII, great-grandpa Peter went back to Denmark and was never heard from again.

From my mom's records, I had his full name and date of birth. That's the only info I had, besides "Denmark" and that my grandpa was born and lived in North Dakota as a child. I found him listed in the 1920 and 1930 census's.  The only other thing that came up for someone with his name and age on was a passenger list in 1909, listing a Peter Andersen, coming from Copenhagen, Denmark on his way to Janesville, Minnesota.  Could be him. The age is right, and Minnesota is near N. Dakota, so that could have been his starting point.

Apparently Danish records are very hard to research - first it's in Danish and mostly written in cursive, so again hard to read, and anything back to the 1800's and before the names get really tricky, where they didn't use the same surname for families. For example, Peter Andersen's father's first name might have been Anders and therefore Peter might have been given the name Peter Andersen.

So, just for kicks I googled "finding Danish ancestors" and came up with a couple databases I could search (in English) so I entered in his name, Peter Jorgensen Andersen and date of birth, Feb 22, 1873. One person came up: a Peder Jørgensen Andersen, listed in 2 Danish census records for 1880 and 1890 and listing his age at those times, he could be a match. And sure, Peder is probably the Danish version of his name, changed to Peter on English speaking documents (passenger list and US Census's). The 1880 Denmark census listed him as 7 years old and listed his other family members, father (Niels Veng Andersen), mother, younger sister (Sofie Katrine - love that name!) and brother, all living in the Parish of Adslev. The 1890 census listed him also living there, but as a border in another household at age 17, occupation servant. Could be him.....and no other's were coming up with same name/age.

Could be him, might not be him. How could I know? Then I found a search where I could look at the pages of the churchbook from that parish during that time period. Since I had his exact date of birth, I might be able to find him. And I did! All written in Danish (I had to use an online translator to translate some of the words from that and the census's) but I could certainly read his name and date of birth! That meant the parents listed on the 1880 census were the right people for my great-great grandparents. They were also listed as the parents on the churchbook birth and baptism record.

So, now I knew my great-great grandfather was named Niels Veng Andersen. I knew his approx year of birth from the census. I found the churchbook from the same parish and looked through the pages and found the page with his birth year and found him listed in 1846 and baptised same year. From that I cannot read his parents name. The writing is too hard to read and I can't make out the Danish names. The only census I found him listed on had him in a household (as a 15 year old), with what appears to be his mother and a stepfather and the stepfather's mother. Trying to decipher the Danish words on the 1860 census a 28 year old was the husband/head of hous. Niels mother, listed as age 48. It lists those 2 as "married" next to their names. 20 year age difference? Plus the 28 year old's head of house's widowed mother living with them. So, from that I could not find his father and am probably at a stand still. I will probably try to see if I can find something on my great-grandfather Peder's death after the late 1930's. But, I'm still tickled pink to have found what I did (and on my own!) and since I don't speak/read Danish I'm probably done with that branch of the family tree. According to the Danish records website it's unlikely to get back farther than 200-250 years. Unless you were nobility, it wasn't recorded much prior to that, plus the surnames are all different one one generation to next.  In the 2nd half of the 1800's the Denmark population was at about 2.5 million. During the 2nd half of the century 10% of the population emigrated out of Denmark, due to poverty and looking for a better life.

I enjoyed googling the parish on a map and seeing some arial and street views of the area. So pretty and green.  My half sister (on dad's side) is going to see what she can find/remember on our grandmother's maiden name and see if I can find anything more on that family branch.


  1. Well done!
    And yes, sometimes the husband was very much older, or vice versa.
    Remember, it wasn't about love back then but survival.

    I have a friend who reads Danish. LMK if she can help you with something.

    1. Thanks! I'll email you the 2 documents :-)

  2. And older children were often "lent" out to earn their keep if money was tight. It's often the case to see a teenager disappear from a household and turn up in another relatives household or even a neighbor's family(to earn $). Children regularly left school at 5th or 6th grade.

  3. Good for you! I've got a gr. grandfather from Denmark .. came over in the 1880's. One day I blogged about him and a distant cousin from Denmark, now living in the U.S. 'found' me. Our families are close now and we visit at least once a year Good find on your part.

    1. That is awesome! Neat to make those kind of connections.