The Olsens in the Old Country

Niels Olsen and Juliane Sophie Hennike spent the first twenty-two years of their married life in their native Denmark before venturing together to America.

They had married on 30 July 1852 in Haraldsted, Soro, Denmark. A nineteenth-century stereoscope image of what appears to be the church at Haraldsted was handed down through descendants of their second son, along with a stereoscope image that preserves the view of the village itself.

Haraldsted, Soro, Denmark, 1800s; digital image 2019, privately held by Stevan Worley.

The couple resided in Osted, ten miles or so northeast of Haraldsted, in the early years of their marriage; this is where their sons Ole and Johan Henrik were born and baptized in 1853 and 1855. Niels, Juliane, and Ole appeared in the 1855 census here with two servants in their household, prior to the birth of Johan Henrik. Niels was a farmer.

The family relocated to the Orslevvester district five miles southwest of Haraldsted, near the village of Gyrstinge, within a year or two. Here their children Karen Sophia Dorthea, Karen Kirstine, Sesilie Johanne, Frederik, Anders Christian, Jens Christian, and Anders Julius were born and baptized between the years 1857 and 1871.

Haraldsted, Soro, Denmark, 1800s; digital image 2019, privately held by Stevan Worley.

The 1860 and 1870 Danish census records raise questions about the family’s living situation. In 1860, Niels and Juliane, by then the parents of three children, lived only with their youngest child at the time, daughter Karen Sophie Dorthea, age three. Where were their sons Ole and Johan Henrik? Ole, age seven, lived in Osted with his maternal grandmother. Johan Henrik’s location is less clear, but a census index indicates that a “Jens” Nielsen, age four, born in Osted, was a “foster child” in Jyrstup, located roughly between Osted and Orslevvester.

Although it seems odd that the Ole and Johan would not have lived in their parents’ household, it should be noted that Juliane was in the late stages of pregnancy in early 1860. One could speculate that she might have been unwell and therefore her older children were placed with relatives or friends for a temporary period.

There was no census in 1865 to give an idea of the family’s household structure, but in 1870, Niels and Juliane continued to reside in Orslevvester with five of their seven surviving children: Johan Henrik, Karen Kristine, Sesilie Johanne, Frederick, and Jens Christian.

Olsen Family Home, Soro, Denmark, 1800s; digital image 2019, privately held by Stevan Worley.

Their oldest son Ole, sixteen, and oldest daughter Karen Sophie Dorthea, twelve, resided in a household in Haraldsted where they were recorded as foster children. Three servants, ages sixteen, eighteen, and twenty also resided in the household, so it is notable that their statuses differed from those of Ole and Dorthea; however, the sixteen-year-old servant was female, and one possible theory is that males might not have been considered to be grown men and therefore actual servants until an older age. It seems plausible that the brother and sister may have worked in exchange for room and board, if not yet for a wage; whether they had left their family home for work experience or due to space constraints or poverty is unknown.

In any case, a nineteenth-century stereoscope image of what is believed to have been the family home, presumably in Orslevvester, has also been preserved by descendants. It appears to be an example of a u-shaped housebarn, a practical structure that connects the barn and the house and allows for protection from the elements in a cold climate.

In 1873, sons Ole and Johan Henrik immigrated to America, and in 1874, Niels, Juliane, and their six younger children, namely Karen Sophie Dorthea, Karen Kristine, Sesilie Johanne, Frederick, Jens Christian, and Anders Julius, followed. Their youngest child, Helena, would be born in Dakota Territory in 1875.

Family lore indicates that Niels purchased his farm near present-day Yankton, South Dakota for five hundred dollars; perhaps the sale of the family home in Denmark allowed him to make this cash purchase of good farmland at a time when many other immigrants opted to homestead for a nominal filing fee.

Niels and Juliane made a comfortable life for themselves and their children in America—and it can easily be imagined that they may have gathered around a stereoscope from time to time to view these very images and reminisce about their old home in Denmark.

Copyright © 2020 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.


SOURCES

“Denmark, Marriages, 1635-1916,” index, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 10 July 2014), Niels Olsen and Juliane Sophie Henneche, Haraldsted, 1852.

“New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957,” digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 15 January 2020), manifest, S.S. Humboldt, Stettin, Germany, to New York, arriving 4 August 1874, Niels Olsen; citing National Archives microfilm publication M237, roll 392, line 149.

1855 Danish census, database, Dansk Demografisk Database (http://ddd.dda.dk : accessed 15 January 2020), entry for Niels Olsen, Mannerup By, Osted, Roskilde, Denmark.

1860 Danish census, database, Dansk Demografisk Database (http://ddd.dda.dk : accessed 15 January 2020), entry for Niels Olsen, Ørslevvester, Grystinge, Soro, Denmark.

1860 Danish census, database, Dansk Demografisk Database (http://ddd.dda.dk : accessed 15 January 2020), entry for Ole Nielsen, Haraldsted, Grystinge, Soro, Denmark.

1860 Danish census, database, Dansk Demografisk Database (http://ddd.dda.dk : accessed 15 January 2020), entry for Jens Nielsen, Jystrup By, Jystrup, Soro, Denmark.

“Denmark Census, 1870,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QL81-HZ3Q : 15 January 2020), Niels Olsen, Gyrstinge, Alsted, Sorø, Denmark.

“Denmark Census, 1870,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QLDM-H4F4 : 15 January 2020), Ole Nielsen in household of Ole Ludvig Emil Smith, Tystrup, Øster Flakkebjerg, Sorø, Denmark.

“Danmark Kirkebøger, 1484-1941,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QG3Y-9PDL : 15 January 2020), Ole Nielsen, Osted, Roskilde, Denmark, 1853.

“Danmark Kirkebøger, 1484-1941,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QG3Y-9PDL : 15 January 2020), Johan Henrik Nielsen, Osted, Roskilde, Denmark, 1855.

Harold W. Jorgensen, “Olsen, Niels,” 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), 53.

“Haraldsted Kirke,” Kirker i Danmark (http://www.danmarks-kirker.dk/roskilde/haraldsted_ros.htm : accessed 15 January 2020).

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