Researching an Oops!

Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors challenge for this week focuses on an “oops.” The suggestion was made that the “oops” be in relation to a research error, but I am following a different path.

My “oops” is the kind of oops where there is an unexpected addition to the family. My attention is still firmly set on the Jensen-Molin family, a brick wall which began to crack open four years ago after 30+ years of no new information. I’ve written extensively about the trials and tribulations of finding my 2x great grandfather Frits Wille Oscar Emil Jensen’s family in Denmark.

That research led to his father, Johannes Jensen, who was given up for adoption soon after his 27 April 1810 birth at the Unwed Mothers’ Hospital in Copenhagen, Denmark.

I think about Johannes often and wonder what circumstances led his mother, Kirsten Jorgensdatter, to give up her son to another family.

Today, my reflections will be from the points of view of Johannes’ mother from the perspective of the era in which they lived.

First, in 1750, the Danish king decreed that Den Kongelige Fødselstiftelse be established in Copenhagen. This was the beginning of the unwed mothers’ hospital, which continued its task until the early 1900s. There were many babies being abandoned in the street by mothers who had no prenatal care and no way to care for them so the government stepped in to provide this service.

Den Kongelige Fødselstiftelse Today

The original hospital building still stands today, although it is now an office building. That is me standing in front of it when we visited Copenhagen last year.

 I only was able to discover the names of Johannes Jensen’s parents due to an unusual notation in his birth record. Women who came to this hospital could remain anonymous if they so wished and their babies’ hospital records were kept separately from their own.

JohannesJensenDenKglFodsBirth27Apr1810 copy

From this record, which is difficult to read, you can see that Johannes was the 160th baby born in the hospital that year. The number in the right hand column, 574, is the corresponding file number for his mother.

His mother’s record is actually three pages long, but it is the third page which gives the most important information.

Kirsten Jorgensdatter’s Record

According to the first two pages, Kirsten chose to remain anonymous in 1810 when she gave birth to Johannes. Shortly afterwards, she agreed to give him up to the wife of Master Tanner Zinn, who lived nearby, likely with the expectation that Johannes would receive care and learn the tanning trade at the appropriate time. I researched the Zinn family – Mr. Zinn died before Johannes was five years old and his widow had a child of her own to raise.

I can’t imagine what a kindergarten aged Johannes must have thought. He may well have understood that the Zinns were not his natural parents, but they provided the only home he had ever known.

I have never been able to find a confirmation record for Johannes, even though it appears he spent most of his life in Copenhagen, but I suspect that Mrs. Zinn sent him to the Copenhagen orphanage.

However, his mother was still living nearby – did he ever know that? I doubt it, but not only was Kirsten living close to him, she must have been aware of his circumstances, but did not take him back.

The proof of this is in the comments added (image above), most unusually, to the hospital record created when she gave birth. Ten years later, in 1820, a notation was made that not only gave her name, it also indicated her age, that she lived in the neighborhood WITH the child’s father, who agreed to provide a suit of clothing for him.

If Johannes had been placed with another master, the master would have been responsible for providing food and clothing for him as he grew up. An orphanage, on the other hand, would certainly try to obtain some kind of support for a child if they knew the parents were nearby.

What is known of Kirsten Jorgensdatter’s circumstances? She was born about 1780, probably in Sondersup, Soro, Denmark. Being about 30 years old when she gave birth, she was not what would be considered a young mother. I also have found no evidence that she gave birth to any other children, although if she again gave birth anonymously, it would be impossible to find the children without knowing their names and exact date of birth. Even then, if her name was not mentioned in her own record, she could not be identified.

What became extremely clear in the 1820 notation was that Kirsten AND his father both knew where Johannes was and of his circumstances. Yet, it seems that Johannes was not brought home to live with his parents.

A further search of Copenhagen’s church books turned up a marriage on 13 August 1824 at Vor Frelser Church for Jens Jensen Lundqvist and Kirsten Jorgensdatter. The bride’s age matched the age given for Johannes’ mother in 1820. Johannes, then, was 14 years old when his parents finally married.

Jens and Kirsten obviously had a long term relationship going for years before they married, at least back to the summer of 1809 when Johannes would have been conceived.

Jens Jensen, later Lundqvist, was from Helsingor, a town about 25 miles north of Copenhagen. Jens had been married before he met Kirsten, but his wife, Inger Andersdatter, died on 12 July 1809 in Helsingor. Why Jens was in Copenhagen around the time of her death is not known. Perhaps he had a quick affair with Kirsten during that summer visit and then returned to Helsingor? What is certain is that he and Inger were the parents of two daughters, Kierstine and Bodil, born in 1802 and 1805 and of one son, Jens Andersen Lundqvist, born Christmas Eve in 1808.

Whether Jens knew of Kirsten’s pregnancy at the time is not known either. Thus, from her point of view, she was 30, unmarried and facing the responsibility of raising a child on her own. Kirsten may have decided that her baby would have a better life being raised by someone else. The Zinns would provide a home and care for her child and her son would learn a trade which would provide a living.

I found it a bit shocking that a marriage record turned up for Jens Jensen Lundqvist exactly one week after the birth of Johannes. On 4 May 1810, he married Anna Dorthea Gyse. At the age of 43 when she married, Anna apparently had no children of her own so was the stepmother to Jens’ three children.

Did Kirsten know that Jens remarried in 1810? Did she keep in touch with him? Did they have an ongoing relationship between 1810 when he married Anna Dorthea and 1820, when the hospital record noted that Kirsten was living with Johannes’s father? What can be ascertained is that Kirsten and Jens kept in touch with each other in some way. Otherwise, unless by coincidence, how would they find each other after a ten year interval? Was Kirsten a  girlfriend down in Copenhagen while Jens was married to Inger and/or Anna? There is no way to answer that question either.

Church records have turned up no other marriage records for Kirsten and no burial record has yet been found for her either. Did she leave Jens at some point after their marriage? It is possible, but when Jens’s death and burial was entered in the church register on 22 December 1839, still at Vor Frelser Church where he married, his marital status was not noted.

From what I have read, there was no particular stigma against an unmarried woman having a child and I am having a difficult time not judging Kirsten and Jens to some degree for turning their backs on their son. Kirsten turning her child over to a family whose head would teach her son a trade is very understandable and she likely thought his future would be much brighter than with her.

What is much harder to understand is the knowledge that not one, but both parents knew of Johannes’s circumstances ten years later yet chose to keep him out of their own lives. Jens was a carpenter by trade so he made a comfortable living. He had three children of his own. Did he not want any more? Was he aware of Johannes’s existence before 1820? Or perhaps Kirsten wanted no children of her own. More questions that can’t be answered.

I’ve also wondered about Johannes’ take on the cards that life dealt him. I do know that just before his 16th birthday, he entered the army, which became his career. I also know that while he had no middle name, his only son had four given names in a time period when children were given anywhere from one to three names. I think he wanted Frits to know he was “somebody” with a father who loved him. I also know that of all the given names of his children, there is not a Jens nor a Kirsten among them.


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