Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: A Research Problem & Lessons Learned

It’s Saturday of the holiday Memorial Day weekend, but I’m glad Randy Seaver still posted his weekly SNGF challenge on Genea-Musings. 🙂

This week’s challenge didn’t take much thinking on my part:

1)  Think back to when you first started doing genealogy and family history research.  What was one of your first real research problems?  How did you attack the problem?  Did you solve the problem?  If so, how?  What lessons did you learn from this experience?

Right at the beginning of my trek into the family tree back in 1980, my grandmother, Hazel Coleman Adams, told me about her mom, Anna ElisabethJohnson, who emigrated to Calais, Maine with her family from Denmark and reportedly from Copenhagen.

That was the brick wall that remained firmly in place until January 2011. I knew very little, actually nothing, about Danish research back then. Remember, there was no internet, but I was aware that Danish records were generally wonderful. Also, Grandmother was very interested in learning more about her family’s life in Denmark, particularly since her mother died during surgery when Grandmother was a teenager.

I did know enough about researching that accessing the records would be difficult because I was working and Salt Lake City was a long ways from southern California.

Looking back, it is easier to explain the lesson learned before sharing how I broke down the brick wall. I contacted an accredited genealogist who specialized in Danish research at the Family History Library. This person passed away not too many years ago, but with the experience I now have, I should have looked for another researcher.

I definitely had enough information for the family to be found, assuming that Anna’s father’s information had been correctly reported on the 1900 U.S. census. Further research proved that his information was right on the mark.

Her dad, my 2X great grandfather, was Frits Wille Oscar E. Johnson, born in Denmark in May 1845 according to both the 1900 and 1910 censuses. In addition, he reported that his father was born in Denmark and his mother in Sweden, which also turned out to be correct.

The accredited genealogist told me that without knowing the original form of the Johnson name, it wouldn’t be possible to find Frits in Copenhagen.

In my case – NOT TRUE!!!

Well, first of all, there aren’t that many different ways that Johnson could be rolled back to the Danish version – Johansen and its spellings and maybe Jensen.

Also, Grandmother was adamant that her mother’s family was from Copenhagen and with a birth month and year of May 1845, realistically, just how many Frits Wille Oscar E(???) boys were born in the city in that one month and year???? There were only a handful of churches in Copenhagen at that time.

What the researcher should have offered was to have me pay for perhaps 5 hours of research and tell me that if I wanted, a search would be done for a six month span of time – February to August of 1845 – in those parishes that existed in 1845 and had extant records.

I would have definitely said yes, but that wasn’t given as an option. Instead, it wasn’t until January 2011 that I returned to the brick wall with the serious intention of breaking it down, or at least to get it to begin to crumble.

The internet had obviously been around for a very long time by then and I decided to check the Danish National Archives for records. Not only did I find the family in various censuses, but Frits Wille Oscar Emil JENSEN was baptized in Garnison Church, Copenhagen on 14 May 1845 at the age of two days.

Fritz Wille Oscar Emil Jensen, Entry 3
Source: FamilySearch

His parents were Johannes Jensen and Johanna Elisabetha Molin. Molin is a somewhat common Swedish surname.

It was also evident reading that records that few children were baptized with FOUR given names. Most babies had the typical first and middle name.

If there was any question about this being my 2X great grandfather, the mother of the Garnison Church infant had a Swedish surname, which fit the information that Frits reported in the 1910 Calais, Maine census.

What did I learn from this experience? Well, this early research experience combined with a few other later ones taught me one thing – educate myself about resources and methods and DO MY OWN WORK!

Thank you Randy for this challenge. It was a great topic.





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