A Danish Family Portrait

The Schmidt family left Denmark for America in 1870, when Jens Madsen Schmidt was thirty-five years old and his wife, Anna (Bramsen) Schmidt, was thirty-seven.1 With them were their two young daughters, Inger Marie, who was not yet three, and Christine, who was just twenty months old.2 Jens and Anna had married in 1866, not long after Jens was discharged from military service following the Second Schleswig War.3

Jens Madsen Schmidt, Anna [Bramsen] Schmidt, and daughters Inger Marie and Christine, ca. 1869-70; digital image 2010, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2018. Image courtesy of Alvie Jorgensen as printed in A Few of my Grandchildren’s Ancestors (Massachusetts: Alvie Jorgensen, 1989).

This is the oldest known photograph of the Schmidt family, believed to have been taken shortly before they departed Denmark or soon after their arrival in America. Dated circa 1869-70, it is quite possibly a carte de visite, a small card-mounted photograph popular before the larger cabinet card format became more common in the 1880s.4 The family may have wanted to share copies with their family members at home; while Anna’s parents would later follow them to Dakota Territory, Jens’s parents would not.

In the photograph, Jens and Anna sit side by side in a carpeted studio, their daughters perched on their laps. Jens is heavily bearded, although his upper lip is clean-shaven. His hair is brushed back from his forehead and he wears loose trousers in a lighter color than his jacket, a similarly dark shirt buttoned underneath. Anna’s hair has a center part and is pulled back, although it seems that it may be looped over her ears. Her headwear looks vaguely medieval in appearance, something like a circular roll with a scarf at the back, although its true style is unclear as well. Additionally, few details can be distinguished of her dress, which is obscured by the child on her lap. The silhouette of the full sleeves gives the suggestion of Bishop sleeves, which would have been gathered at the cuff.5 There appears to be some detail at the neckline of the dress—perhaps a white collar with a bow tied above—and the skirt is long and full. Her attire, with the exception of her headwear, appears relatively modern and less like one tends to think of as traditional Danish folk attire.

Fair-haired Inger Marie and Christine appear to wear tot-sized versions of their mother’s overall style of dress. The scalloped hem of a petticoat peeks out from under Inger Marie’s skirt; Christine’s petticoat has a straight hem. Both wear stockings and shoes. It is possible that their dresses are made of matching fabric; less than thirteen months apart in age, the girls could almost appear to be twins.

This photograph appears in a spiral-bound volume entitled A Few of My Grandchildren’s Ancestors, researched and compiled by late Schmidt descendant Alvie Jorgensen nearly thirty years ago, as well as in the Yankton County Historical Society’s 1987 publication History of Yankton County, South Dakota.6 It would be exciting to view a high resolution scan of the image to observe more details and, perhaps, even learn the exact location that it was taken. The next known photograph of the Schmidt family was taken nearly twenty years later at their homestead in what is today Bon Homme County, South Dakota. Although they were by that time young women, Inger Marie and Christine wore matching dresses.

Copyright © 2018 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.


1 “New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957,” digital images, Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com : accessed 25 Nov 2018), manifest, S.S. Allemannia, Hamburg, Germany, to New York, arriving 30 June 1870, J.M. Schmidt; citing National Archives microfilm publication M237, roll 331, line 38.
2 “Danmark Kirkebøger, 1484-1941,” database with images, FamilySearch (www.familysearch.org : 25 November 2018), Inger Marie Christiane Schmidt, 21 Sep 1867, Skrydstrup, Haderslev, Denmark, and “Danmark Kirkebøger, 1484-1941,” database with images, FamilySearch (www.familysearch.org : 25 November 2018), Christiane Marie Schmidt, 11 Oct 1868, Skrydstrup, Haderslev, Denmark.
3 “Death of James M. Smith,” unidentified South Dakota newspaper, January 1919, and “Danmark Kirkebøger, 1484-1941”, database with images, FamilySearch (www.familysearch.org : 25 Nov 2018), Jens Madsen Schmidt and Anne Bramsen, Skrydstrup, Haderslev, Denmark, 1866.
4 “Carte de Visite,” Photo Tree (http://www.phototree.com/id_cdv.htm : accessed 25 November 2018).
5 Deborah Sweeney, “Fashion Moments: Pigeon Breast,” Genealogy Lady (https://genealogylady.net/2015/07/26/fashion-moments-bishop-sleeve/
: accessed 25 November 2018).
6 Alvie Jorgensen, A Few of my Grandchildren’s Ancestors (Massachusetts: Alvie Jorgensen, 1989), 146, and Anne Schmidt, “Schmidt, Jens,” in Ben Van Osdel and Don Binder, editors, History of Yankton County, South Dakota (Yankton, South Dakota: Curtis Media Corporation and the Yankton County Historical Society, 1987).

2 thoughts on “A Danish Family Portrait

  1. Pingback: A Pioneer Cemetery | Homestead Genealogy

  2. Pingback: One of Dakota’s Pioneer Mothers | Homestead Genealogy

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