Copenhagen Discoveries

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The family origins of my great great grandfather, Frits Wille Oscar Emil Johnson, had been my brick wall for thirty years, in spite of the fact that my grandmother, Hazel Coleman, knew Frits, her grandfather, and knew that her mother’s family hailed from Copenhagen. I have already written about how I picked up the family trail, proving that they were actually the Jensen family and that they did, in fact, live in the city proper of Copenhagen. In April, my husband Dave and I took a cruise from Fort Lauderdale to Amsterdam. Besides the fact that we like to cruise and it was a great price, I had an ulterior motive. I decided that this was going to be the year I visited Denmark and planned out all the places in Copenhagen that I wanted to visit. From Amsterdam, we took a short flight to Copenhagen and got settled in. Yes, we did the tourist stop visits – the Little Mermaid and the various castles, museums and palaces, but the important places to me were the places that were part of the daily life of the Jensen family.

The first stop on the Jensen tour was Amaliegade #25. This house was built in 1755-1757 as the home of Lauritz de Thurah, a noted Danish architect who lived from 1706-1759, although he never lived in it.  The house was quite a mansion, even by today’s standards. Today, it is a somewhat unassuming building full of small offices.  However, from the late 1700’s until the early 1900’s, it became known as Den Kongelige Fødselsstiftelse, the Royal Birth Foundation, begun by Queen Juliane Marie, providing care for unwed mothers-to-be and their newborn children.

On 27 April 1810, Johannes Jensen began life in that hospital and a few days later, after he was baptized there, he was given up by his mother to the wife of Master Tanner Carl Henrich Zinn. As I put the pieces of Johannes’ life together, I wondered why he joined the Danish army a month before he turned 16 and, although I have found out a lot about his life, I have had to speculate about his life before he became a career soldier. His mother, Kirstine Jorgensdatter, likely believed she found a good life with a future for her son. Johannes was to be apprenticed to Mr. Zinn and learn the tanning trade.  There were few people named Zinn in Denmark at that time, so it was not long before I found the master tanner and his family.  However, Mr. Zinn died before 1816, when his widow buried their young son. Mrs. Zinn did not remarry and she died a few years later. No record has been found of Johannes between his birth in 1810 and a new notation written in 1820 in his mother’s record at Den Kongelige Fødselsstiftelse. This notation gave his mother’s name, her age and stated that she was currently living with Johannes’ father, who agreed to provide a suit of clothing for Johannes. No confirmation record has been found for Johannes, although I have searched every extant parish record in Copenhagen for it. I believe, but can’t yet prove, that after Mr. Zinn died, Mrs. Zinn couldn’t afford to care for him and sent him to the orphanage. Confirmation records for the orphanage for the years in which Johannes would most likely have been confirmed have been lost. It might also explain why the father was providing some clothing for Johannes ten years after he was born and given up for adoption. It would definitely explain why a fifteen year old would be joining the army. Military life would provide Johannes with food, clothing, shelter, a family of sorts, and an income. He eventually was promoted to the rank of sergeant; Johannes was the company drummer and fiddler.

Johannes was not the only member of his family to be born at Den Kongelige Fødselsstiftelse. I had been able to locate all the baptismal records for his children, with the exception of his eldest daughter, Wilhelmine Amalie, born on 5 July 1840. It wasn’t until I found the children’s confirmation records in Saeby, Hjorring County, where Johannes retired, that I discovered that Wilhelmine had also been born there. Johannes and wife Johanne Elisabeth Molin didn’t marry until three months after the stillborn birth of their second child in April 1842. Wilhelmine was born, baptized and vaccinated at the same hospital where her father had been born.

The picture in this post is the entrance to the door into the former hospital, Den Kongelige Fødselsstiftelse, at Amaliegade 25.

Next stops on my Copenhagen family tour were Garnisons Church and Trinitatis Church, where Johannes Jensen married Johanne Elisabeth Molin and where their other children were all baptized.

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