In a town close to where I live is a humble little 14’x18’ log cabin built in 1855. It was one of the first permanent structures in its community, and, as it happens, was the home of my great-great-great-grandparents, Wilhelm and Laura Amelia Knudsen. Laura gave birth to six of her thirteen children in that house. While over the years the log cabin has changed locations, it has been painstakingly restored and preserved for our generation to look at with wonder…and perhaps question how in the world a family of fifteen lived in that tiny home.
Before his life in the little cabin, Wilhelm Otto Knudsen emigrated 4,977 miles from Denmark to America. While abundant records are available about his life in America, I was fascinated with the records created during his time in the land of his forefathers.
From a life sketch I knew that he was born in Copenhagen, and his grave marker provided the birth date–26 January 1834:
With this information, I searched the microfilms housed at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City for Copenhagen church records. Danish church records date back to 1572 and were kept at the parish level. The christening ceremony generally happened within a short time of the birth and the associated records usually included vital information such as the birth date, the parents’ names, and the family’s place of residence.
Knowing where and when in Denmark Wilhelm was born, I found this beauty – the 180-year-old record of his infant baptism:
This record, written in Danish, tells me that my ancestor was born on 26 January 1834, that his full name was Wilhelm Otto Knudsen, that he was christened 28 March 1834, and that his parents were Jens Knudsen and Juliane Marie Jensdatter. Somehow, seeing this ancestor as an infant in the care of his mother and father with his life stretched out before him, rather than as a worn out old man as represented by his grave marker, made my ancestor come to life for me.
Two additional invaluable documents were created during his time in Denmark. According to the 1845 Census of Denmark, Wilhelm Knudsen, age 12, lived with his family in the parish of Brøndbyøster in greater København. Although this census did not give relationships, in his home were what appeared to be his father Jens, age 46; his mother Juliane Marie, age 39; his sister Ane Kirstine, age 15; and two tailor apprentices who studied under Wilhelm’s father:
Wilhelm appeared again in the 1850 Denmark Census taken five years later – this time as a 17-year-old single person living in farmer Niels Pederson’s household in his hometown of Brøndbyøster, where he worked as a servant:
Because he immigrated just two years after this census was taken, one wonders if the money Wilhelm earned working as a servant bought him passage on a ship to America.
From the censuses I could locate the hometown of Wilhelm Knudsen, Brøndbyøster, on a map of greater Copenhagen:
This Danish research resulted in finding records that filled in the unknowns about my ancestor Wilhelm Otto Knudsen, identified his parents and sister, informed me of how his father supported the family, and opened a window on how Wilhelm may have financed his trip overseas. My genealogical research efforts in gathering Danish records about my ancestor proved to be extremely fruitful and certainly satisfying. How astonished would Wilhelm have been, crowded in his little cabin on a cold winter night, that 150 years into the future his descendant would be spending time researching for documents created about him and would be fascinated by his life.
Do you have Danish ancestry? If you would like to dabble in Danish genealogical research, an excellent resource for learning what is available is found here at the FamilySearch Wiki. This website walks you through what is available and what to look out for in the various time periods.
In addition to parish and census records, watch for Danish probate records coming online at arkivalieronline.dk. Wills and estate files can be brick-wall-breakers in many international areas, and Denmark is no exception. One can expect to see in a probate the name of the decedent, the place of residence at time of death, an enumeration of legal heirs, the residence of the deceased, age and spouses of the heirs, and an inventory of the estate.
Genealogists at Legacy Tree can also research your Danish ancestors! We’re trained to find them in Danish church records, in censuses, and in other documents that will add rich detail to the story of their lives in their home country. Contact us today for a free consultation and to speak with a project manager about your goals.