Anna Elisabeth Jensen is the last of my four great grandmothers to be spotlighted in my new endeavor to write life sketches for all the females in my family tree from great grandmothers back in time.
This is the only surviving photograph of my grandmother’s mother, taken in Calais, Washington, Maine about the turn of the 20th century.
I love Anna’s dress. The extremely puffed shoulders and tight sleeves were in vogue in the second half of the 1890s, which would fit with Anna’s age in this photo when she was in her later 20s.
My two paternal great grandmothers represent my Rusyn heritage and my first maternal great grandmother, Annie Maude Stewart/Stuart passed down my colonial New England heritage.
Anna Elisabeth Jensen is part of the Danish/Swedish branch of my family tree.
Anna Elisabeth Jensen was born 30 September 1872 in Frederiksberg, Copenhagen, Denmark, the eldest of four daughters and one son born to Frits Wille Oscar Emil Jensen and Margrethe Bruun.
Her parents met in Flade, Hjorring, Denmark, where Frits’ soldier father had retired after Danish army service at Rosenborg Castle in Copenhagen.
Frits seemed to prefer city life and the couple moved to Copenhagen, Frits’ birth place, soon after marriage.
Frits was a prison guard by trade and the family lived in Frederiksberg and Herstedvester, both outside of Copenhagen, close to his workplace.
By 1884, the family decided to leave Denmark for a new life in North America. Their initial destination was listed as Canada on the emigration list, but where they entered North America is unknown.
The Life Story of Anna Elisabeth Jensen
Anna, unlike my Rusyn great grandmothers, was born into a family of comfortable circumstances. While her grandfathers had been a life soldier and fisherman, respectively, her father described his occupation as “detective,” possibly an attempt at translating his police/prison guard title.
She also lived in the Copenhagen suburbs, which put them on the outskirts of “big city” life.
In spite of the middle class living style, Anna had much sadness in her life. Before the family left Denmark, her baby sister had been buried. Anna was likely very excited, at the age of 4 years, to be welcoming a baby brother or sister. Ida Julie Jensen was born in the summer of 1876, but only survived for six weeks.
Also unlike my Rusyn family, Anna attended school and was literate both in Danish and, later, in English. Leisure time was becoming more common in the latter part of the 19th century, so Anna would have had time to play and socialize with her friends. There were no farm chores to be completed.
The 1880 census of Denmark records Anna’s mother, Margrethe, as a housewife. Anna was no doubt expected to help with house chores before or after school and definitely before going off to play.
Frits and Margrethe made the decision to emigrate to North America around 1883. The 1900 census indicates that, not uncommonly, Frits ventured to the United States first, likely to decide if opportunities were really available. When he returned, Frits and Margrethe probably discussed the notion of leaving Denmark and then made the final decision to go.
I don’t think my grandmother ever asked her mother how she felt about leaving Denmark and moving to North America. However, as a 12 year old, she probably wasn’t terribly happy about leaving family and friends behind. A 12 year old would just be starting junior high school in the United States. That is almost the same age that I was when my family moved from Passaic. I wasn’t pleased about moving and I didn’t have to face not only a new school and neighborhood, but also a place where a new language would have to be learned.
I imagine it was both exciting and scary for Anna.
The initial departure information from Copenhagen says their destination was Canada. Whether or not the Jensens ever actually lived in Canada is unknown. Anna’s death certificate says that she lived in Fort Fairfield, Aroostook, Maine, which sits right on the border of New Brunswick, Canada, as the last residence prior to her death. However, their stay in that town was short lived.
Fort Fairfield is about 140 miles due north of Calais, where the family had settled by 1890 and where they remained for the rest of their (mostly short) lives.
There was no political unrest at the time in Denmark, nor was there any religious persecution since the Jensens were members of the Lutheran church. In their case, the push-pull factor seems to be entirely economic. The Jensens hoped for a better life in Maine than they had had in Denmark, but that was not to be.
The next tragedy for Anna, after the death of her baby sister, was the death of her mother Margrethe. Her mother left little in the way of a paper trail, but a notice in the Eastport Sentinel newspaper reported her death on 10 November 1890 in Calais. Anna had just celebrated her 18th birthday.
There was another death in the family, too. Sometime after leaving Denmark in 1884 and before the 1900 census, Anna lost another sister, the baby of the family. Records are a bit unclear, but Elfrida Ingeborg Jensen was born on 2 November 1879 in Denmark. There is a baby Elfrida on the emigration list with her family indicating a birth year of about 1882. Whether her recorded age was wrong or whether there were two Elfridas born to Frits and Margrethe, there is no record of any Elfrida with the family in Maine.
It’s possible that Anna lost one sister Elfrida as a young child in Denmark and lost her second sister Elfrida sometime before 1900 in Maine or Canada.
Anna married master mariner Hartwell Thomas Coleman on 14 July 1892 in Calais. The Coleman family was well known in the Calais area as Hartwell and his father, William, both worked the local waterways. Anna worked in the home while Hartwell went to sea each day as a tugboat captain.
Anna had convinced her husband to allow her widower father, Frits, and her brother, Henry, to live with the Colemans and they appear at home in Calais in the 1900 census.
Two children were born to Anna and Hartwell – son Hazen in 1895 and daughter Hazel, my grandmother, in 1901.
When my grandmother was 15 years old, Anna died a terrible death. She suffered abdominal pain and a young doctor came to the house to care for her. My grandmother said she had appendicitis, although Anna’s death certificate said she died of shock with gall stones as a contributory factor in her death, so she might have had a gall bladder attack.
In any case, the doctor operated on Anna right in the house on the kitchen table. Anna bled to death and my grandmother said it was her job to mop up all the blood. Grandmother said the doctor was a butcher.
Anna was laid to rest a couple of days later in Calais Cemetery, survived by Hartwell, her two young children, her father and her brother, Henry.
However, just two months later, on 16 May 1916, Henry succumbed to tuberculosis. He was unmarried and left no descendants.
Although the Jensen family left Denmark in 1884 with hopes for a better life, they all died quite young except for Frits.
Frits, himself, passed away in Calais on 26 November 1920, having had his wife and all his children predecease him by many years.
Anna’s story is one of the sadder moments in my family tree. She does have descendants today, though, through both her children.