Friday, January 30, 2015

Denmark Part Seven... Langeland and some tips on how to trace one's Danish ancestors

After Skagen we had a long drive to Langeland with a brief stop in Aalborg for coffee. I had hoped to meet a fellow blogger in Aalborg but it didn't happen. It's a fast-paced university town and probably worth another visit.

So here's the story about Langeland and why we went there:

Family lore told us that my Mom 's Grandmother's parents had emigrated from Langeland. Langeland is translated at “long island” and is part of Funen  or Fyn. Langeland is it’s own municipality. 

We had planned to do some genealogy sleuthing while there. We found the Archives in Rudkobing, thanks to a tip from a waitress on our first night there!  Here is the website in case you too have ancestors from Langeland: Only the contact page is in English, unfortunately.  (If your ancestors are from another municipality in Denmark, there probably is an archive there). 

Here's Mom/Nancy on the steps of the Archives in Rudkobing. 

 We walked in and met Else Wolsgård, the director. Apparently Else is PAID by the Danish government to manage the Archives and assist people in genealogy research(imagine that in the US!) Here are Nancy and Else chatting over a cup of coffee. Apparently Nancy chose the correct top and glasses that day!  Too cute!

The archives were most impressive with records dating back over 100 years

I had put together a tree on based on   a print tree that Nancy had previously documented. 

Our family name (Nancy's Great Grandparents) is  “Rasmussen” and I suspected that is was originally a  patronymic, meaning that at some point there was a “Rasmus” in our line  and his son, “Rasmussen” decided to keep that as a permanent surname for his children.  Here is an article on patronyms in Scandinavia from Wikipedia:

Else allowed me to use their computer and access my record and I printed out more on these individuals, mostly US censuses which she said might help her to trace some individuals.  This would be a task as there are 15 parishes on Langeland and one needed to know the parish for a definite identification, and of course there are many many Rasmussens.

Else noted that Americans tended to come to Denmark in search of  an ancestor’s grave. She usually cannot do this as there were no remaining graves. If someone died in Denmark 100 years ago, the grave was rented for 20 years. If no one paid the rent, the grave was reused. I asked whether remains were dug up (!). She said that bodies disintegrate within the course of 20 years and that occasionally  a piece of wood from a casket might be found. There was not enough room for all the graves.

Farming and fishing were the usual trades for the working class in Langeland and likely most of Denmark. Regarding immigration, Else noted that ¼ of Langeland’s population immigrated in the 19th century. By the 19th century, people tended to be healthier therefore more children survived. (That was a surprise to me...). Traditionally the oldest son inherited the family farm or estate (through primogeniture).  As the population grew and land became less available,   younger sons were forced to look elsewhere for a place to own land in order to not become “landless," often opting for immigration to another country.

In my reading, I also discovered this: In 1862, America’s Homestead Act made land available to immigrants, increasing the impetus to emigrate.  Of note, in 1864 Denmark lost about ¼ of it’s territory when Slesvig-Holsten was lost to Germany. While this territory is adjacent to Jutland and not Funen, the repression of Danish culture and mandatory German military service to the former Danes in nearby Jutland likely made immigration even more tempting in the general culture.  An important note here: part of family history is that Jochum, my Great Great Grandfather,  emigrated because of mandatory military service. Of course he did not live in Slesvig-Holsten and I am not of this writing able to find references to mandatory military service for Danes in other areas at the time.

We suspect that Jochum and Marian, his wife,  emigrated around 1861. Individuals who were emigrating would go to Esbjerg harbor, according to Else,  and take a ship to Liverpool where ships would embark to America. This is consistent with our oral family history that Jochum and Marian went to England before coming to New York. 

 "Rasmussen" was obviously chosen to be the permanent surname once the family emigrated.  Here again is the painting that I viewed at the Aarhus Kunstmuseum (art museum), by Edvard Peterson from 1890 "Emigrants at Larsens Plads." 

While painted 30 years after my family emigrated, this work describes in part the emotional challenges that my Great Great Grandparents suffered.

While we know that Jochum and his family stayed in the New York area, the majority of Danes moved onward to the midwest especially after 1862 to take advantage of the Homestead Act. 

Our encounter with Else proved to be most fruitful. As the Lutheran Church documented the comings and goings, weddings, funeral, and births, she was able to successfully corroborate our family in Denmark and their antecedents for two generations before my Great Grandparents.

Here's a photo of Mom on the balcony of our waterfront rental in Langeland with a photo (from our US family archives) of Marian and a son, a brother to her Great Grandfather.  Marian and another son, were buried in Connecticut, a fact that we did not know before this!

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