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.


Part 1 – The Long Saga to Find Anna Elisabeth Johnson’s Family

She was only 45 years old and died a heart wrenching death. Her death certificate states that she died of shock following an operation. My grandmother Hazel filled in the details. Anna had been having stomach pains of some kind. The doctor came to the house and actually operated on her there. Anna bled to death and my then 15 year old grandmother had the job of mopping up what she recalled as being buckets of blood. Anna’s  death certificate also states that she was born in Copenhagen, Denmark and that her parents were F. W. O. Johnson and Margaret Brown, both born in Denmark. Anna’s birth date is not given, but says that she was 43 years old.

My grandmother knew her mother’s father, as he lived in the house with the family, at least until Anna died, but that is another story. She said his name was Frederick William Oscar E. Johnson. She never knew Anna’s mother, who died before Hazel was born. She didn’t even know her name. or had forgotten it if she had heard it when she was younger.

Back in 1979, the latest census open to the public was the 1900 census. Off I went to the library and found the Calais, Maine page with the Coleman family. In the household were the following:

Coleman, William, 65, born June 1834

Coleman, Sarah, 67, born May 1833

Coleman, Hartwell, 30, born Dec 1869

Coleman, Anna, 27, born Sept 1872, Denmark

Coleman, Hazen R., 5, born Feb 1895

Johnson, Frederick W.O., 55, born May 1845, Denmark

Redding, Rebecca R., 8, born Sept 1891

The immigration year is written over on the census record, but the Johnsons clearly arrived in the 1880’s. The last number could be a 3, 4 or 5.

Five doors down the street, I found a boarder, Henry Johnson, born Mar 1879 in Maine and parents born in Maine. Hazel told me that her mother had a brother named Henry that she had known, but that he died a long time ago and hadn’t married. Even though the census taker reported that this Henry and his parents were all born in Maine, I found it interesting that he lived in close proximity to my Colemans.

Six doors away was the family of Jones S. Coleman, brother to Hartwell Coleman and son of William and Sarah Coleman.

This was the sum total of what I knew about the Johnson family.  I was working at the time and I couldn’t travel to Salt Lake City, so I did the next best thing – I hired a Danish researcher.  More to come in my next post on the results of that project and the questions it raised.




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