Elizabeth O’Neal’s Genealogy Blog Party for May 2016: My “Duh” Moment

Elizabeth O’Neal’s May topic for the genealogy Blog Party is a “Duh” moment in our family history research. I have to admit I had to think for a while because a variation in the theme was to share how an error in the tree was discovered and fixed. I’ve had a few of those, but not too many. The problem there was that the mistakes were in the early years of my 35+ research and I honestly don’t remember enough about fixing them to make much of a story.

Then I saw the “duh” moment idea and, right away, one scenario popped into my head. I’ve written many times about my Danish brick wall – my grandmother’s mother’s family, said to be from Copenhagen. However, I have never approached the topic from the “duh” standpoint, so I will take the opportunity to do that here.

Collapsing a 30 year brick wall into one blog post will take quite a bit of editing, but here goes. Anna Elisabeth Johnson was the daughter of Frits Wille Oscar E. Johnson and wife Margrethe Bruun.

This is the only surviving photo of Anna. She was born in 1872 in Denmark and Margrethe died before my grandmother was born. Frits, her grandfather, had always said the family was from Copenhagen, but she never knew the family’s original Danish name – Johansen, Jensen, etc.

In 2011, I finally made the connection in Copenhagen, finding Frits in the 1880 census and was able to work my way back in time to 1850, when he was a little boy at home with his siblings and parents, Johannes Jensen and Johanna Elisabeth Molin.

1850 Census, Copenhagen
Source: Arkivalieronline.dk

Johanna was from Öved, Sweden, which is way in the southern area, not far from Malmo and Lund. The Swedish branch is another story.

My “duh” moment came while trying to identify the parents of Johannes Jensen. Johannes was a career soldier in the Danish army, serving most of his years in Copenhagen at Rosenborg Castle, home to the Danish crown jewels. He was a drummer and fiddler and eventually retired as a sergeant.

Rosenborg Castle
From My Personal Collection

The Danish censuses put Johannes’ birth mostly in 1810. It was possible that he might have been born late in 1809 or early 1811, but that didn’t seem to matter. Copenhagen baptismal records have been indexed on FamilySearch and, as hard as I looked, I couldn’t find any Johannes Jensen who seemed to be mine. If you are thinking that there must have been tons of them, you would be wrong! I was quite surprised to find maybe a dozen or so babies born with that name (plus a middle name or not) in that time period.

Had Johannes not been a career soldier, I might never have unraveled the story of his life. It took several years of trips to Salt Lake City and lots of help from the Scandinavian volunteers in the Family History Library, but I learned to somewhat navigate the military records.

Finally, one record was unearthed giving a birth date of 27 April 1810 in Copenhagen. However, the big disappointment was that on a list that included the names of the soldiers’ fathers, after Johannes’s name, it simply said “father unrecorded.” Hmmm.

I set that problem aside for a while and decided to followed the family to Saeby in Hjorring County, Denmark, where they moved after Johannes retired.

At this point, the family consisted of Johannes and Johanna Elisabeth and their children Vilhelmine Amalie, born in 1840, Emilia Olivia Frederikke born 18 May 1843, Frits Wille Oscar Emil born 12 May 1845, Ludovica Josephine Henriette born 4 June 1847 and Avilda Eleonora Philipine born 11 October 1850, all born in Copenhagen.

I was still missing two pieces of information. It certainly looked like Johannes and Johanna would have married in Copenhagen, as Johanna moved there in 1838. I had also never been able to find a baptismal record for Vilhelmine even though the other children’s baptismal records were easily located. I noted to myself that it looked like the family had perhaps lost a child around 1842.  I kept these details in the back of my mind, but they all became part of my “DUH” moment.

In Saeby, I read the church registers looking for confirmation records for Frits and his sisters. Vilhelmine’s was the first in the domino line that set off “DUH.”

Vilhelmine Amalie’s Confirmation Record

The highlighted portion of the church record gives Vilhelmine’s birth as 5 July 1840 in Copenhagen at den Fodselsstiftelse! Exactly, what is that? it’s the King’s hospital for unwed mothers! I couldn’t find a marriage record for Johnnes and Johanna because I searched 1834-1840. They hadn’t yet married when Vilhelmine was born.

I went back to Copenhagen church records and looked at both Garnisons Church and Trinitatis for more clues. Emilia was baptized at Garnisons, but Trinitatis Church wasn’t far away. Working backwards in time from Emilia’s 18 May 1843 birth, Trinitatis church books yielded  the first piece of missing information. A stillborn daughter arrived on 8 May 1842 and was buried.

Finding no marriage record, I switched back to Garnisons Church and began with 5 July 1840, the date of Vilhelmine’s birth. There it was – on 31 August 1842, two and a half months after losing their stillborn daughter, Johannes and Johanna were married at Garnisons Church!

So, how did all of this lead to my “duh” moment when I finally found Johannes Jensen’s birth record? First, Danish records are quite complete and I couldn’t find a single candidate who might be my Johannes. Even when I found Johannes’s exact date of birth in his military record, I still couldn’t find him, even though every single record said he was born in Copenhagen. I also though about the strange note on that record that said “father not recorded.”

Next, having discovered Vilhelmine’s birth happened at Den Kongelige Fodselsstiftelse, the King’s Hospital, and noticing that Johannes and Johanna waited until child number 3 was on the way before they married, all the pieces started to fall in place.

What if Johannes had also been born at the Fodselsstiftelse? What if he had been orphaned or given up for adoption? It would explain why I hadn’t been able to find any records for him before the time he enlisted in the army at the age of 15 years and 11 months. It would explain the note in his military record about an unknown father. It might even explain why, even though he had only a first name and no middle name, his daughters each had three given names and his only son, Frits, had four! (very unusual in that era)

Records from the Unwed Mothers’ Hospital were kept in two parts, one for the baby and then a coded number that corresponded to the mother’s file, as she could remain anonymous if she so chose. The infants’ records have been filmed and are available in Salt Lake City. I pulled out the film for 1810 and found that only two babies were born there on that day, a boy named Nicholas and a second boy named. . . .yes, you guessed it – Johannes!

The brick wall came tumbling down.



4 thoughts on “Elizabeth O’Neal’s Genealogy Blog Party for May 2016: My “Duh” Moment”

  1. Quite a story of genealogical ingenuity! Your Johannes must have been a very strong person–he succeeded in a career and at family life, despite being abandoned at birth.

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