The Peter M. Petersen Family

Our Danish Roots

by Charles G. Petersen

Peder Pedersen Picture

My grandfather, born on a small farm in northern Denmark, had what would have to be considered a rather short, but rather adventuresome life. His life ended after only 38 years 9 months and 10 days when he was struck by lighting while tilling a field on his farm. The year was 1909, it was April and the time of year when all farmers in northern Iowa begin preparing for the Spring planting. In those days all farming was done with the use of horses. First the land was plowed and then, to smooth out the clods of rich black gumbo, a large iron grid with metal spikes protruding down into the soil was drug over the field. Try to imagine this relatively average-sized well-muscled man standing on this metal drag, reigns in his hands, being pulled by two horses as they plod slowly across the rough newly- plowed ground. It is afternoon and, as often happens at that time of day in the Spring of the year, storm clouds gather but no time to stop until the rain begins or the work is done. Then out of the blue, attracted by the metal grid, lightening strikes; the life of the two horses and a man is taken. So ended the life of Peter M. Petersen.
Peder Pedersen was born on July 7th in 1870 on a small farm near the village of Redsted. Redsted (pronounced Ray-still) is located in the southern part of the inland island of Mors (pronounced Morse, as in horse). Mors is in a body of water called a fjord; this particular fjord is called Limfjorden (The Lim fjord).

Peder Pedersen was born in the Parish of Redsted in the Harred of South Mors in what was then Thisted (pronounced Tee-still) Amt but is now part of the larger Viborg (pronounced Vee-bor) Amt. He was confirmed in the Danish Lutheran Church in Hvidbjerg (pronounced Vee-bee-yair) on October 5, 1884, by Pastor Sorensen (Sørensen, pronounced Sur-en-sen). Hvidbjerg is very near Redsted and it could have been that the Pedersen farm was between Hvidbjerg and Redsted. It appears from the records that Pastor Sørensen served several small churches in the vicinity of Redsted and that confirmations were performed twice a year (April and October) at one of his churches.

He died, Peter M. Petersen, on April 17th in 1909 on a farm south of the town of Armstrong in Armstrong Grove Township in Emmet County in the northwestern part of Iowa, just a few miles south of the Minnesota border. Prior to that time he farmed just north of the town of Ringsted, Iowa in Denmark township.

Jens Nørgård Pedersen
Jens Nørgård (Nørgård, pronounced Nur-gor) Pedersen, Peder's older brother, sailed from Ålborg (Ålborg, pronounced Awl- bor), Denmark for the United States on June 11th in 1889 and came directly to Humboldt County, Iowa. At the time of his immigration, Jens (pronounced Yehns) was 21 and working as a blacksmith on a farm near Frøslev (pronounced Fru-slave) which is located in the very center of Mors. Jens and Peder did not traveled together to the USA. I had been told that Peder came to Humboldt, Iowa when he was 18, but a recent find has shown that Peder was still in Denmark in December of 1890 when he was 20 years of age. Peder, along with his younger brother, Andreas, are listed as witnesses at their youngest brother's, Christian, christening by Pastor Kraarup (Krårup) in the Redsted church on December 30, 1890. At that time Peder's residence is listed as Dalgaard (the name of a farm) near Frøslev. It may have been the same farm that Jens had been working on before he left for America just a year and a half prior to this event.

It would appear that Peder followed in his older brother's foot steps, first working on a farm in Frøslev and then later immigrating to Humboldt, Iowa, USA. Peter sail from Copenhagen on November 11, 1891 aboard the S. S. Island bound for New York.

S. S. Island
The S. S. Island (pronounced ees-lan) was built in 1880. It was designed as a steam powered emigration ship (Udvandrerdamperen Skibe); however it we actually powered by a combination of steam and sail. The ship did not have side paddle wheels as some early combination ships had, but rather it had a screw type propeller just as modern ships do. The deck of the ship had several masts that were used for sails, just like the clipper ships of old.

The S. S. Island, shown in the picture, is a black and white copy of the original water color painting. Johannes Møller researched the ship and painted it for me in 1997. The ship is shown out bound from Copenhagen. The castle shown off the bow of the ship is Kronborg (Krown, as in own,-bor) Castle, better known as Hamlet's castle. The castle is located on a point of land in Helsingør (el-sing-ur) in northeast Zealland, Denmark. The Sound (Øresund, ur-ah-soon), the body of water between Zealland and Sweden and a major shipping lane between the Baltic Sea and the North Atlantic, narrows at Hellsingør and is less than 5 miles across to the Swedish city of Helsingborg. North of this point of land is the Kattegat (Cat-uh-gat), the body of water between Jutland and Sweden to the east. The water north of Jutland between the southern tip Norway and Sweden in called the Skagerrak.

Name Change
Peder Pedersen became Peter M. Petersen upon entry to the United States when he went through immigration in New York; he was not however part of the Ellis Island experience that many immigrants had around the turn of the century. Not all Danes spell Peder with a `d', many spell it Peter. The pronunciation in Danish of Peder and Peter is different but very close for the `d' in the Danish Peder is often pronounced like a soft `th' in English and the first `e' is pronounced like the `ay' in the English `pay'. The `er' on the end would be pronounced somewhat like we would say `air'. So Peder is spoken much like we would say `Pay-thair' in English. The `t' in Peter would sound more like a `d' as we would says it, thus making it come out more like `Pay-dair'. From this it is not hard to imagine how the spelling of Peder got corrupted into Peter when he went through immigration upon entry to the United States. Then again, it could have been intentional on Peder's part in order to make it more American. The names Peder Pedersen and Peter Petersen are about as common in Denmark as John Smith is in the United States. My Aunt Petrea, Peter's daughter, tells me that Peder, now Peter, added the middle initial M to his name when he entered this country in an attempt to distinguish himself from all the other Peter Petersens coming from Denmark. The initial M has no name attached to it, it is simply an initial much like former president Harry S. Truman.