Thursday, November 24, 2011

What do you know about your ancestors?

Several years ago I gathered all the information I could find about my genealogy. Luckily, between the family history research done by my mom and others, there was a TON of information on both sides of my family. I found, for instance, that my first ancestor to come to America was a Pilgrim, George Soule, who came on the Mayflower. The last was my Grandma Green, who came from Denmark with her mother in 1903 when she was just a baby. I also found that I am basically an American mutt:
  • 31% Danish
  • 14% German
  • 10% English
  • 6% Swedish
  • 6% French
  • about 3.5% Irish
  • less than 1% Scottish and Welsh
  • and about 29% unknown
The 29% unknown are lines that haven't been traced beyond America. They dead end in places like Kentucky, Virginia, and Pennsylvania and I expect most (if not all) came from England and some may have even been early settlers at Jamestown (and that would make me more "English" than "Danish").

(As an aside, it reminds me of an episode of "The Wonder Years."  Kevin comes home from having dinner with Paul's family and listening to Grandpa Pfiefer tell stories and he says to his mom, "I know Paul's Jewish, but what are we?"  And she says "Well, I think Jack's grandmother was Italian and his grandfather came from Romania and..."  And then the narrator voice says "And that's when it hit me: I was a mutt.")

But gathering names and dates is fine, but what makes it most interesting is when you find actual stories about them and if you're lucky  photos. That helps them feel more like real people instead of just names. And it makes reading history so much more interesting to better understand the events that might have affected their lives and wonder if they participated in them, and to realize why they moved from Virginia to Kentucky or New Jersey to Pennsylvania and things like that.

I thought of this again because there was a couple visiting at church who were Christensens from central Utah (my Grandma Green was a Christensen) so we're probably related a few generations back. My great grandfather Niels Christian Christensen was born in 1879 in Raunkilde, Denmark. We don't know who his father was except that he was German and his family owned a fleet of fishing boats. He was raised by his grandparents and that's how he got the name Christensen. They did names differently in Denmark, and his grandfather was Kristen Sorensen (because his father was named Soren) and so his children were Christensen. Niels grew up with his uncles and aunts being more like brothers and sisters.

But when it came time for Niels to go into military service he decided instead to go to America where many of his brothers and sisters (both the Christensens and the Jensens from his mother's second husband) had already emigrated. They must have joined the LDS (Mormon) Church because they all settled in the town of Moroni in central Utah. He got a job working for the railroad and because he could read and write, he got work keeping the books for his employer. He earned enough money to go back to Denmark where he met Dagmar Marie Mikkelsen, and they were married in 1902. He had to return to America or enter the military so he left his wife behind, but sent money as soon as he could for her and their baby daughter (my grandmother) to join him.

My grandmother said he loved America and seeing Mount Nebo made him feel "at home." Niels and Dagmar joined the LDS Church a few years later and raised 11 children. Family was always very important to them - both their own children and their extended family. Niels was a hard worker and he encouraged his children to get an education. Later in life he had a heart attack and his health wasn't as good for the last few years of his life but he still worked as much as he was able before he died in 1935 at 56 years old.

But those are the kinds of stories and information I like to find, and it's what makes them come alive as real people and helps you to feel a connection with them. And when I'm reading my history books I always hope to see a name that looks familiar I haven't, but it would be nice.

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