A Beautiful Day for a Picnic
This month, Elizabeth O’Neal has invited us to a Potluck Picnic to celebrate the end of summer and has asked each of us to bring a dish to share – our favorite genealogy resource, aside from the big boys.
My favorite genealogy resource is one upon which I stumbled in January 2011. You see, I had a 30+ year brick wall and my pre-internet attempts to smash through it weren’t enough to even put a chip in one of the blocks. The information I needed just wasn’t easily obtainable.
My brick wall was the family of my grandmother Hazel Coleman’s mother’s family. Anna “Johnson” was born in Denmark.
Anna Coleman, 1872-1916
She emigrated to America in 1884 with her parents and younger brother. Her mother died before 1900 and I didn’t even know her name. Her brother was Henry and her father had the unique name of “Frits William Oscar E.” Johnson, according to that census.
I questioned my grandmother several times – about her grandmother, who she never knew, about her uncle Henry, who died soon after her mother, and about grandfather Frits and their home in Denmark. She said the family claimed to be from Copenhagen.
If you have ever researched in Scandinavia, you already know that vital records were kept at the local parish level, not by the central government. Soooo, the big question was whether the family actually lived in Copenhagen itself, resided in a village or town nearby or did they just emigrate from Copenhagen.
A second research issue was knowing the family’s surname because “Johnson” is the Americanized version. It could have been Johannsen, Jensen or some other variation.
These questions kept me standing behind the brick wall for decades. Even a professional researcher said I needed more to go on to have any chance of finding them.
With the dawning of the age of technology, the answer finally came and it’s the dish I brought today to share with you. Late one wintery January night, I was sitting at the computer working on family history when an idea popped into my head. I wondered what kind of resources Denmark had available for genealogical research. That’s when I stumbled upon one piece of a fabulous website known as Arkivalieronline.
Yes, it is in Danish, and, no. I speak no Danish, there is an icon on the home page to switch to English. Click and an entirely different (and more user-friendly) looking page appears.
Why is Arkivalieronline such a tasty treat for a picnic? Well, my first bite was into the 1880 census of Denmark. What I found that night was a computer-searchable by name and place census record AND it was free. It took a bit of maneuvering, especially since wild cards for spelling names didn’t seem to work, but after about an hour, up came an entry that sent my adrenalin soaring through the roof.
There was my 2X great grandfather, now with his complete Danish name – Frits Wille Oscar Emil Jensen – with previously unknown wife, Margaret, f. Bruun (f=born and yes, the census gives the married women’s maiden names), my great grandmother, Anna Elisabeth, her brother Henry, along with a sibling who died young and Frits’ eldest sister, Wilhelmina.
This was more than a crack in my brick wall, it was an implosion! The census gave the town of birth for each family, confirmed that the Jensens were from Copenhagen and gave me the impetus to start searching other census records and troll through church registers.
All of these records have been digitized and are available for FREE online. What census records are available? The earliest census online was taken in 1787 and then it jumps to 1801, 1834, 1840, 1845, 1850, 1855, etc. up to 1940, when privacy laws kick in.
In addition to the census records (folketaellinger), the parish registers (kirkboger) are also available online.
The Danish National Archives frequently update the records on site and also the complete look and layout of the website, so it can be a bit of a challenge to navigate as some sections aren’t available in English. Google Translate solves that problem.
Reading the records themselves isn’t difficult because they were mostly kept in table forms. Baptismal records will have the date, the child’s name, parents, godparents and comments. The comment section usually has nothing unless perhaps the child died soon or godparents came from elsewhere. Organizing the info into columns makes translating a non-issue.
Church records – baptisms, confirmations, marriages and burials – sometimes include items such as the actual date of birth, parents’ names, town of origin if they moved in, age at death and other miscellaneous information. It makes it fairly easy to track a family if they moved.
From these records, I not only discovered my Danish roots, but also found the Swedish family branch, as Frits’ mother, Johanne Elisabeth Molin, was born in Öved, Sweden, which is near the southern tip of the country.
In 2013, my husband and I visited Copenhagen and walked the Jensen neighborhoods. I definitely felt as if my ancestors were guiding me along the way.
I purposely didn’t say anything about the photo at the top of this post because it is a fitting end to the Potluck Picnic. Before arriving in Denmark, I asked on a Facebook page if anyone knew a person who would be willing to drive Dave and me over the bridge that connect Copenhagen to Sweden so we could visit Öved. In less than 10 minutes, a wonderful lady named Lissa Pedersen said she would be happy to spend the day with us.
The photo above was taken looking out from the Öved Church grounds and, thanks to Lissa, we sat down on the grass outside that gate to enjoy a wonderful Scandinavian picnic. It was a day I’ll never forget. Thank you, Lissa, for making it happen.
If you have Danish roots, you absolutely need to be taking some leftovers home with you from the picnic. Be sure to take a serving of Arkivalieronline.
What would be even better? How about a great dessert? Like some indexed records? Since 2011, FamilySearch has indexed many of the Danish baptismal – marriage and burial records into the early 1900s. (Each of those record sets is a separate link.) If you don’t already know your ancestral town and you can find your ancestor on FamilySearch, you are on your way to knocking down your own brick wall.