Category Archives: Coleman

Copenhagen Discoveries


The family origins of my great great grandfather, Frits Wille Oscar Emil Johnson, had been my brick wall for thirty years, in spite of the fact that my grandmother, Hazel Coleman, knew Frits, her grandfather, and knew that her mother’s family hailed from Copenhagen. I have already written about how I picked up the family trail, proving that they were actually the Jensen family and that they did, in fact, live in the city proper of Copenhagen. In April, my husband Dave and I took a cruise from Fort Lauderdale to Amsterdam. Besides the fact that we like to cruise and it was a great price, I had an ulterior motive. I decided that this was going to be the year I visited Denmark and planned out all the places in Copenhagen that I wanted to visit. From Amsterdam, we took a short flight to Copenhagen and got settled in. Yes, we did the tourist stop visits – the Little Mermaid and the various castles, museums and palaces, but the important places to me were the places that were part of the daily life of the Jensen family.

The first stop on the Jensen tour was Amaliegade #25. This house was built in 1755-1757 as the home of Lauritz de Thurah, a noted Danish architect who lived from 1706-1759, although he never lived in it.  The house was quite a mansion, even by today’s standards. Today, it is a somewhat unassuming building full of small offices.  However, from the late 1700’s until the early 1900’s, it became known as Den Kongelige Fødselsstiftelse, the Royal Birth Foundation, begun by Queen Juliane Marie, providing care for unwed mothers-to-be and their newborn children.

On 27 April 1810, Johannes Jensen began life in that hospital and a few days later, after he was baptized there, he was given up by his mother to the wife of Master Tanner Carl Henrich Zinn. As I put the pieces of Johannes’ life together, I wondered why he joined the Danish army a month before he turned 16 and, although I have found out a lot about his life, I have had to speculate about his life before he became a career soldier. His mother, Kirstine Jorgensdatter, likely believed she found a good life with a future for her son. Johannes was to be apprenticed to Mr. Zinn and learn the tanning trade.  There were few people named Zinn in Denmark at that time, so it was not long before I found the master tanner and his family.  However, Mr. Zinn died before 1816, when his widow buried their young son. Mrs. Zinn did not remarry and she died a few years later. No record has been found of Johannes between his birth in 1810 and a new notation written in 1820 in his mother’s record at Den Kongelige Fødselsstiftelse. This notation gave his mother’s name, her age and stated that she was currently living with Johannes’ father, who agreed to provide a suit of clothing for Johannes. No confirmation record has been found for Johannes, although I have searched every extant parish record in Copenhagen for it. I believe, but can’t yet prove, that after Mr. Zinn died, Mrs. Zinn couldn’t afford to care for him and sent him to the orphanage. Confirmation records for the orphanage for the years in which Johannes would most likely have been confirmed have been lost. It might also explain why the father was providing some clothing for Johannes ten years after he was born and given up for adoption. It would definitely explain why a fifteen year old would be joining the army. Military life would provide Johannes with food, clothing, shelter, a family of sorts, and an income. He eventually was promoted to the rank of sergeant; Johannes was the company drummer and fiddler.

Johannes was not the only member of his family to be born at Den Kongelige Fødselsstiftelse. I had been able to locate all the baptismal records for his children, with the exception of his eldest daughter, Wilhelmine Amalie, born on 5 July 1840. It wasn’t until I found the children’s confirmation records in Saeby, Hjorring County, where Johannes retired, that I discovered that Wilhelmine had also been born there. Johannes and wife Johanne Elisabeth Molin didn’t marry until three months after the stillborn birth of their second child in April 1842. Wilhelmine was born, baptized and vaccinated at the same hospital where her father had been born.

The picture in this post is the entrance to the door into the former hospital, Den Kongelige Fødselsstiftelse, at Amaliegade 25.

Next stops on my Copenhagen family tour were Garnisons Church and Trinitatis Church, where Johannes Jensen married Johanne Elisabeth Molin and where their other children were all baptized.

Part 3 – Fast Forward Danish Research to 2011

The Anna Johnson story is a great example of why one should never give up, particularly with all the technological advances that are being made. Just about three years ago today, I was sitting at my computer and hadn’t thought about my Danish roots for quite some time. I’ve told my friends that my grandmother, Hazel, who died in 1995, was up there one night in January 2011 telling me that it was time for me to resume the hunt. The thought crossed my mind to see what kind of records Denmark had on line that were free and searchable. (I have added a page on the bar above to some fantastic free Danish help sites.)

Lo and behold, there was an 1880 census of the country that was searchable by individual names and places. I was up until about 2 that morning trying different variations of Frederick’s name in Copenhagen. Now that search engine didn’t bring up Soundex spellings – spelling had to be exact – and I don’t speak any Danish so when I got an error message, I used Google translation to figure out what I did wrong.

I was running out of options of Johansen, Jensen, Frederick and Fritz when I finally tried searching for a “Frits.” To my shock, up came “Frits Wille Oskar Emil Jensen” born in Copenhagen in 1845 and still living in Copenhagen. There he was! Click on the census image of the 1880 Herstedvester (suburb of Copenhagen) enumeration and check out Family #36.

Frits-1880-Census-1The information on this page was invaluable. Head of household was Frits Ville Oscar Emil Jensen, 34, Lutheran, born in Copenhagen, prison guard. Also in the household is Margrethe Jensen f. Brun, which means “born Brun” or her maiden name was Brun. She is 36, Lutheran and born in Frederikshaven, housewife. Remember, Anna Elisabeth’s death certificate said her mother was Margaret Brown. Children in the household included Anna Elisabeth, 7, born Copenhagen, Henry Robert, 1, born in this parish, unnamed baby (who died soon) born in this parish and Vilhelmine Jensen, 39, born Copenhagen, sister of head of household. Frits’s sister, Vilhelmine, would give me an additional clue in pinpointing the correct Jensen family if I found more than one who could be Frits’s family.

As I looked at the other censuses digitized on line, I found 1870, 1860, 1855, 1850, 1845, 1840, 1834 and 1801 and 1787.

Of course, after waiting for 30+ years to find Frits in Denmark, I wasn’t about to plod through each census right away – I had to check the 1845 census to see if Frits was a baby with his family. I discovered that the Danish censuses were taken on February 1. Since Frits reported in the U.S. census that he was born in May 1845, I did not find him. However, I did look for Vilhelmine, who was apparently about five years older than Frits.

I don’t have a screen shot of the 1845 census, but I did find the family of Johannes Jensen, aged 35, born Copenhagen, drummer,  living at the 10th Line Infantry Batallion 1st Company, Kronprindsessegaden No. 404, 4th floor in Copenhagen. With him were wife Johanne Elisabeth, 31, born Sweden (hmm – remember in the 1910 census of Calais, Maine Frederick said his father was born in Denmark, but his mother was born in Sweden) and two daughters. Vilhelmine, 5, born Copenhagen and Emilie Olivie Frederikke, 2, born Copenhagen.

Finding 5 year old Vilhelmine in Copenhagen with a Swedish mother and not finding another Vilhelmine the same age made me think I probably had the right family. If I could find them in 1850, when Frederick, or Frits, would be 5 years old, I would have the proof I needed.

These two census records represent the first progress I had made in three decades. Knowing that there were multiple other census records PLUS church registers gave me hope that I would quickly enlarge the small hole created in this brick wall. If only it were that simple!


Part 2 – The 1980 Research Brick Wall

Around 1980, my research into Anna’s family was at a standstill. The only new information I had came from the 1910 census, which was released in 1982. Nothing new had been discovered about Anna. However, Frederick, her dad, reported in 1910 that while he and his father were born in Denmark, his mother was born in Sweden. I also determined that Henry five doors away from the Colemans in the 1900 census was, indeed, Anna’s brother.  However, the 1910 census was the last time Anna or Henry would be enumerated. Henry died of tuberculosis on 16 May 1916, only two months after Anna died.

Henry Johnson Death Certificate

I hired an Accredited Genealogist who specialized in Scandinavian research in the hopes that someone named Frederick William Oscar E. Johnson born in May 1845 reportedly in Copenhagen wouldn’t be all that difficult to find.

I had a quick learning curve about Scandinavian records. First, they were housed by local parishes, not in a centralized government repository. Second, although I had an emigration year narrowed to 1883-1885, Frederick William Oscar E. Johnson could not be found regardless of the spelling of his last name. Third, without knowing the original form of the surname (Hazel had never heard anything but the Americanized “Johnson”), it would be quite difficult to find him in a church record. Fourth, my grandmother had always been told the family was from “Copenhagen,” but she had no idea if that meant the city proper, an outlying village, or that the family originated from some other area of Denmark but left from Copenhagen. This made a huge difference in any potential church-to-church search through the records.  So, with the exception of the release of the 1920 census in 1992, there was no other apparent route to search in the quest for Anna’s roots in Denmark. Frederick was alive and living alone in 1920. My grandmother said that after her mother died, her father kicked Fred out of the house because he apparently showed no inclination to get a job. Hazel married in 1920 and my grandparents moved to the Boston, MA area and she didn’t see much of her grandfather after that time. Frederick passed away sometime between 1920 and the 1930 census. I’ve been told that he is buried in a pauper’s grave at Calais Cemetery because my great grandfather wasn’t about to pay for his burial either. I figured back then that that was the end of my search for my Scandinavian roots and I left that line for many years.