The Peter M. Petersen Family

Our Danish Roots

by Charles G. Petersen


Genealogy has been an interest of mine for many years. Earlier I had done genealogical research on my mother and her relatives and learned a great deal about that side of my family, chasing them back to Scotland in the 1600's. However, knowledge of my father's side of my family was a mystery. It wasn't a lack of interest that stopped me, but rather the fact that both grandparents, who died before I was born, came from somewhere in Denmark that no one seemed to know. Thus I had always thought it was a lost cause. Oh, I had heard that my grandmother came from southern Denmark and that my grandfather was from the main peninsula, but that was all I knew. As I learned more about my relatives on my mother's side of the family, I started to feel that I was missing the half of me that comes from my father's side.

Although I had collected a few facts about my direct line of Danish-American relatives, like birth and death dates, they were just cold facts. What haunted me were questions like, where specifically did they come from, what did they do before they came to America, why did they come to America leaving friends and family behind?

My Danish heritage is something of which I have always been proud and I really wanted to know more about my past and present relatives in Denmark. In the Spring of 1991 my son talked me into going with him to Denmark to sightsee via the seat of a bicycle and to do some genealogy. It turned out to be quite an adventure from a sightseeing point of view, from a bicycling point of view, and with some last minute heroic efforts involving, a long train trip, some detective work, some guess work and just plain blind luck, it was a success from a genealogical point of view. It was in the last minute of the last day that I was able to find my grandfather's Danish birth record. In the Summer of 1992, I was fortunate enough to visit the Mormon Family History Library in Salt Lake, City, where I found additional information from their copies of Danish records.
In the Summer of 1994, and again in 1996 and 1998, my wife and I spent a month in Denmark. I took that opportunity to visit the sites where my grandparents were born. I also spent time in the archives looking through old records in search of more information about the relatives I had previously found and to search further into the past based on facts I had found since my last visit.
What follows is a narrative that I have composed based on facts discovered in Iowa, Utah, and Denmark. Most of the facts, I know to be true. Some information, I have surmised from those facts. If anyone reading this believes that any of my facts, surmised or otherwise, are wrong, please help me get it right. If anyone knows additional facts, please let me know, for I want to record a history of our Danish ancestors.
Danish spellings and pronunciations have been added to many of the place names and personal names encountered. The Danish spelling is shown, however, only if it differs from the English spelling. The pronunciations may not always be 100% accurate from a linguistic point of view, but they are pretty close. Also included is a Danish map to help give a better perspective of exactly where things are located.
Birth names
The headings shown in the following text are the birth names of our Danish relatives and are there to indicate where a discussion about them begins. The birth names may cause some confusion for they are not always the same as the names they used in later life.

The story starts with my grandfather and works backward as far as I know at this time. As I said previously, when I started this process of discovery I knew only that my grandparents came from Denmark (pronounced Dan-mark). As you will soon see, I now know more about my Danish roots than I can easily keep track of.

More help
Once the past has been discovered, the story and information moves forward toward the present (1998). I would like, with your help, to eventually list information and stories about all descendants of Peter M. Petersen.
Ancestors - Descendants
After the story of Peter and Cecelia comes the ancestors; this part is subdivided into parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great-grandparents. Following the ancestors comes the descendants; this part is subdivided into siblings (the children), cousins (my generation), 2nd cousins (my children's generation). 3rd cousins (my children's children's generation) appear but are only listed as part of the documentation given with each 2nd cousin.

Before starting the history, here is some background information about Denmark in general and about the locale of the birthplaces of Peter, Cecelia, and many of our other ancestors.

If you click on the map I've provided, you will see that water separates the northern and northwestern part of the Jutland (Jylland, pronounced You'll-lan) peninsula of Denmark from the rest of the peninsula. A quick study of the map shows that Jutland is the largest land mass in Denmark and that it is the only part of the country that is physically attached to continental Europe. The rest of the country is made up of several main islands and many smaller ones. Peter's birthplace is on one of the smaller islands in the northwest part of the country. The two largest islands are: Funen (Fyn, pronounced Fewn as in strewn), laying just off the southeast coast of Jutland, and Zealland (Sjælland, pronounced Shale-lan), which is north and east of Funen. The capital city of Denmark, Copenhagen (København, pronounce Koo-been-how-en), is located in the northeast part of Zealland, only a few miles across The Sound (called the Øresund and pronounced ur-ah-soon) from Sweden (Sverige, pronounced Svair-ee-uh).

Amt - Herred - Sogn
The differently colored outlines shown on the map represent the 14 geopolitical divisions into which Denmark is subdivided. The country's subdivisions are called amts and they subdivide Denmark in much the same way that states subdivide the U. S. Each amt (state) is subdivided into Herreds s much like our states are subdivided into counties. The herreds are again subdivided into Sogns; the counter part in Iowa would be the Township. A sogn is really a church parish, where each parish is the area of responsibility for a particular church. Each city (by, pronounced boo) and village (landsby pronounced lans-boo) is inside a parish.
Border movement
The connecting parts of southern Denmark and northern Germany have gone back and forth between Danish and German control for over a thousand years. Prior to 1815, Denmark extended south to include all of the areas of Schleswig and Holstein. In 1815 the German-Danish border was drawn so that Holstein was in Germany and Schleswig (Slesvig, pronounced Slays-vee) was in Denmark. Then in 1871 all of Schleswig, including the area that is now called Southern Jutland became part of the German Empire. The border as we know it today splits through Schleswig and was established in 1920. Rødding, Cecelia's birthplace, was Danish prior to her birth, was part of Germany during the 6 years that she lived there, and then reverted back to Denmark 40 years after her parents took her with them to America.
As part of the World War I armistice, Slesvig, as the Danes spell it, was divided into 3 zones. Zone I being what is now Southern Jutland (Sønderjylland, pronounced Soon-air-you'll-lan), Zone II being the area from Flensburg south to the city of Schleswig, and Zone III being the area south to the Holstein border. The allegiance of each zone was to be determined by the people in the zones via a vote. Denmark did not contest Zone III as being German because almost all those in Zone III were German-speaking people. Zone I voted overwhelmingly to be part of Denmark. Zone II, which had been predominately Danish prior to the Second Slesvig War, 1864, was in 1920 made up of more German-speaking people. The vote was still a surprise to Denmark for many thought the vote would be for Denmark, but it wasn't to be. Thus the present border runs basically east to west across the peninsula just north of Flensburg.