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.




Welcome to Empty Branches on the Family Tree

I have been doing genealogical research for 33 years,  but have only recently decided to blog about some of my experiences. My own family lines are Slovak, colonial New England and Danish/Swedish. One side of my husband’s family hails from Germany via colonial New York and the other is a mixture of German and British who settled in the colonial South. Like most everyone else, I have run into many brick walls, which led to empty family tree branches. The focus of this blog is to share some of the successes I’ve had in breaking through the stumbling blocks to fill more of the family tree. One of my emptiest branches was that of Anna Elisabeth Johnson, my maternal great grandmother who, according to my grandmother,  was from Copenhagen, Denmark. It took 33 years for me to make real progress. Tomorrow I will begin to tell the story of Anna Elisabeth’s family and how I found them.

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