I have to admit that, although we had a fantastic time on our recent cruises, I have missed Randy Seaver’s weekly Saturday Night Genealogy Fun challenge.
This week, we are to share our best genealogy day ever.
Although I have been researching the family history since 1980, one find immediately jumped out as my “best genealogy day ever.”
Anna Elisabeth “Johnson” was my maternal grandmother’s mother. My grandmother, Hazel Coleman Adams, told me about her mother and her grandfather, Fritz William Oscar E. Johnson. Her grandmother, Margaret “Brun,” died before Hazel was born and she didn’t even know her name. I discovered it when I obtained Anna’s death certificate.
The family was reportedly from Copenhagen, Denmark and the U.S. census records supported a family origin in Denmark. In spite of knowing these details and, from the 1900 census, that Fritz was born in May 1845, Grandmother’s family became a 31 year brick wall. Not only had I searched for the family in Denmark, early on I had hired a professional Scandinavian researcher who told me that unless I knew the parish from which they came AND the original version of their Americanized surname, it would be quite impossible to find them.
Grandmother was always very interested in everything I found out about the family and I was always sorry that her dad’s side of the family faced a brick wall with her great great grandfather, Joseph Coleman and her mother’s family was an even tougher brick wall somewhere in Denmark.
Grandmother died in her sleep on 21 April 1995 without ever knowing anything further about her ancestry.
Fast forward to January 2011 – we were well into the internet age and I was sitting at my computer one Saturday night. I hadn’t thought about Danish research in years, but about 10:00 that evening, I believe that Grandmother was “up there” telling me that it was indeed time to delve into the Johnson family history. I can come up with no other reason why, at that particular moment, I wondered what types of records might be available online for Denmark.
A quick Google search took me to arkivalieronline, the Danish national archives website.
I quickly discovered that there were many records that had been digitized and could be accessed for free, including the 1880 Danish census. I knew from the 1900 U.S. census that my Johnsons had arrived in America about 1883 so they should be in the 1880 Danish census.
This census was searchable by name, place, age and gender and I started with Copenhagen records since family lore gave that as their home. I tried variations of Fritz’ name, like Fred, Frederick, and Friderich and then did the same with Johnson, looking for Johansen, Johannsen and Jensen, but I was having no luck. Finally, I tried searching for “Frits” alone in Copenhagen and up came “Frits Wille Oskar Emil Jensen,” born in Copenhagen in May 1845! With him were wife Margrethe Bruun, daughter Anna Elisabeth and son Henry Robert!
That wall had finally crumbled!
It was after midnight when I found them and I was most definitely on an adrenaline rush! No way was I going to be able to go to sleep. I set aside Frits’s wife and children for the moment and decided to look for Frits as a child with his parents in the 1850 census.
Frits was living with his family in Copenhagen in 1850 and I was also able to find the family there in 1845. His father, Johannes Jensen, was born in Copenhagen, too, per the information in both of those censuses.
I was also able to confirm his mother’s place of birth. In 1900, “Fritz” reported in Calais, Maine that his mother had been born in Denmark, but in 1910, the census showed his mother as being born in Sweden.
The Danish censuses are a dream for researchers because not only do they include the ages and birthplaces of its citizens, but they also include the MAIDEN NAME of married women. His mother, Johanna Elisabeth Molin, was born in 1814 in Sweden.
That night, I not only found Grandmother’s grandparents, her mother and her uncle, I also identified Frits’s siblings, his parents, and learned that his father, Johannes, was a career soldier in the Danish army, stationed in Copenhagen.
It was about 3 in the morning before I finally calmed down enough to try to go to sleep.
There is no doubt about it – that Saturday night was my best genealogy day ever!