MY GREAT GREAT GRANDFATHER FROM DENMARK!
My great great grandfather, Niels Christensen, was born in Soro, Denmark, near Copenhagen, in 1844. His father, Peder Christensen, was well thought of by the Danish crown and was given stewardship over some forestland and enough other land to have a small farm and garden. One day, while Peder was working on the farm, a cow kicked him. That cow kicked him so hard that in two days, he bled to death inside his stomach.
Ellen Christensen, Peder Christensen's wife, was left alone with her two year old son, Niels, and her three year old son, Poul. Because she was now a widow, the Danish crown, by law, was going to take away the farm and forestland that she and her husband were living off of. She knew if she did not hurry up and get married again, she would lose everything. So, she went out and found a man to marry. He happened to have the same last name as Peder. His name was Hans Christensen and he was nine years younger than she was!
A few days after Hans and Ellen got married, Hans was drafted into the Danish army and he left to help fight a war against Germany. He was gone for three years, leaving Ellen and her little boys to take care of the land alone. Those were very hard years for them, but Niels especially loved working the land. He became known for his love of climbing trees and he was also known for having very good balance! I suspect he probably knew how to ice skate, too, since most Danish people did, and he was probably very good at it since his balance was so good.
|Denmark near the sea|
After the war ended and Hans came back home, Mormon missionaries arrived in Denmark. They knocked at the door where Niels and his family lived. The missionaries were invited in and the Christensen family listened to their message. They believed the things they were taught and soon agreed to be baptized as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
It was difficult for them after that because people began to persecute the "Mormons". And so, although they loved their beautiful home of Denmark, they decided to leave and go to America where they could be closer to other people who belonged to their new faith.
On April 25, 1857, Niels Christensen, along with his family, left the only home he had ever known, never to see it again. He and his mother, stepfather and brother, got on a boat and traveled across the North Sea to England. From there, they boarded a large ship called the Westmoreland, (a two-decker with three masts weighing 990 tons). In it, they sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to America!
It took five weeks. They were on the ship with many, many people, including 544 other "Mormons". Of those, 540 were new converts from Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland. The other four were missionaries returning home. During their five-week voyage, two children died and also an old man. Five couples got married and one baby was born! The happy parents named the baby Deacon Westmoreland Goff, after the ship and its captain!
Niels Christensen was just twelve years old when he left Denmark. He probably left behind many good friends, favorite places to ice skate, a home that he loved and that beautiful countryside with its many happy memories.
He and his family arrived in Philadelphia in June 3f 1857. From there, they boarded a train to travel to Iowa City. It was not a passenger train. They sat on planks in box cars for one week, and during that journey another child died.
Upon arriving in Iowa City, Niels' parents had enough money to buy themselves a good wagon and a team of horses or oxen and provisions to make the trek to Utah where they intended to settle. However, they had become friends with many people on the ship. Most of those people had little or nothing. Niels and his family decided to give all that they could to help the others. Instead of buying a wagon and horses, they purchased a simple handcart and helped others buy handcarts, too. Then they, along with hundreds of other "Mormon pioneers" began to walk. They would eventually walk across half of Iowa, all of Nebraska and Wyoming and half the width of Utah, too.
Undoubtedly, coming from Denmark and being the strong Danish people that they were, helped them. But in their diaries and histories they indicate it was their faith in God and in the spirit they felt from those missionaries that sustained them. They endured unspeakable hardships and saw many friends die, sometimes daily. Much of the country they traveled was not at all beautiful like their beloved home in Denmark. But they did not regret their decision.
They helped settle a small community known as American Fork, Utah. They made many good friends and were loved and respected. The prophet of their church eventually asked Hans Christensen if he would be willing to take and care for a second wife. He and Ellen agreed and so Hans married a second wife and had seven children. He built a house five bricks thick on the outside with four brick thick walls on the inside. His polygamist family lived in that house for many years.
When my great great grandfather, Niels Christensen, was about twenty years old, he got married and he, too, had seven children. When his wife was forty-two years old, she got sick and died. Niels never married again. He lived thirty more years alone.
When he was old, he lived next door to my own grandfather, Paul Christensen, who was just a young boy at that time. My grandfather remembers him as a very kind man with a gray beard. And he remembers him coming to eat most of his meals and to spend time with him. He loved him very, very much.
One day, Niels Christensen was sitting at the table eating and afterwards he fell asleep in his chair. When he woke up, he said to his daughter-in-law (my great grandmother), "Maud, I dreamt I died." She answered him, "Oh, no, Father, you will live another ten years." He walked outside and got in his buggy. He took his team of horses to plow his field. He guided the horses around the field one time and then suddenly had a heart attack. My grandpa remembers how sad his family was when they found his grandfather dead in his field with his horses. He was on the ground next to his plough. He was seventy-nine years old.
I like to think that although I have never lived in Denmark and have never even been there, that maybe I am a little bit like my great great grandfather who was born in a small village called Soro. Of course, I did not know Niels Christensen, but I do know my own grandfather, Paul Christensen. And from what I know of him and what I have learned about Denmark, I am sure that my grandfather is very Danish in many ways. He is an especially hard-working and humble man. He is eighty-eight years old, but he still has a straight, strong back, a big smile and a determination to help as many people as he possibly can. He always makes me laugh. I once wrote a note to him to remind him that he "cracks people up". (So, obviously he has that Danish sense of humor!) And when I go visit him, he and I like to try to fool each other. We have a whole lot of fun!
My grandfather and his father were famous in American Fork, Utah for their ability to ice skate. My grandfather has told me about how he and his friends used to like to chase his father on Utah Lake. His father was so fast on ice skates that my grandpa and his friends could never skate fast enough to catch him!
I don't have a chance to ice skate very often, but when I do, I am pretty good at it and I really like it. Often, though, I get on my roller blades and sometimes I pretend I am an ice skater like my grandpa, my great grandpa and maybe even my great great grandfather!
I am very happy to have learned more about my ancestors and my heritage. One day I hope to walk along the shores of the North Sea and see a white cross waving against a red field on a flag and to think about a young boy who once climbed trees there. And maybe I'll even rent myself some ice skates and imagine that I, too, belong to that little kingdom of Denmark.
Pateman, Robert; Cultures of the World, Denmark; New York, New York; Times Book International; 1995.
Hintz, Martin; Enchantment of the World, Denmark; Chicago, Illinois; Children's Press; 1994.
Christensen, Alien C.; The Christensen Family of Soro, Denmark and American Fork, Utah; Bountiful, Utah; Family History Publishers; 1994.
Kindersley, Dorling; Eyewitness Atlas of the World; London, England; 1994.
Interview with Paul D. Christensen
Interview with Karen C. Luthy