Identifying “Mother” in a Vintage Photograph

When making an attempt to identify the subject of an old family photograph such as this one, the provenance of the photograph is of the utmost importance.

This photograph was part of a collection of family photographs once held by Cecilia Marie Christensen Petersen (1900-1993). Cecilia Marie, who was called Marie, was the biological daughter of Christen Christensen and Cæcilie Marie Jensen of Denmark. Cæcilie sadly died within days of her daughter’s birth. Marie was thus raised by her paternal aunt, Kristine Marie Christensen, and Kristine’s husband, Jens Christian Petersen. When Marie was five years old, she emigrated from Denmark to America with her adoptive parents; her biological father remained in Denmark.

Unidentified photograph, circa 1905, Vestervig, Thisted, Denmark; digital image 2016, privately held by Nicole Kilanowski, 2016.

Pictured in the photograph is an older woman, rather heavyset, in a loose-fitting dark dress. The dress has a horizontal gathered seam across the bodice, and a flounce over the shoulders. It hangs loosely with what looks to be an asymmetrical gathered seam across her hips. A brooch is fastened at her throat and a ring is on the fourth finger of her right hand; in Denmark, among other countries, this is the customary placement of a wedding ring. The woman’s face is lined and her hair appears gray. She stands looking down at a small dog who is perched atop a table, and holds the dog steady with both hands. The dog itself could be a terrier of some kind; it is possible that it is a Danish-Swedish Farmdog, a breed known for its rat-catching abilities as well as its mild and friendly demeanor as a house dog.

This is not the most straightforward photograph to date, particularly as older women may not have worn the latest fashions. However, an approximate date after 1900 seems reasonable; for one thing, by that point, I suspect that photographs—even in a small village in Denmark—would not have been so unusual or costly that it would have been unthinkable to be photographed with a pet.

Reverse of unidentified photograph, circa 1905, Vestervig, Thisted, Denmark; digital image 2016, privately held by Nicole Kilanowski, 2016.

The reverse side of this photograph has a handwritten note that, translated from its original Danish, reads: “Vestervig. Karbol’s greetings. Mother.” Vestervig is a village in northern Denmark. One can assume that Karbol is the dog and that “Mother” is the woman pictured. One might also assume that the recipient of this message was not currently in Vestervig. Perhaps Karbol was a beloved family pet and “Mother” wished to send a whimsical greeting to one of her offspring away from home.

Although this photograph was in Marie’s possession, the woman pictured here appears far too old to be Marie’s mother—either biological or adoptive—based on the assumption that this photograph was taken around the time of Marie’s birth at the turn of the last century. However, it is possible that she was one of Marie’s grandmothers: her biological maternal grandmother, her biological paternal grandmother/adoptive maternal grandmother, or her adoptive paternal grandmother, all of whom were living at the time of the 1901 Danish Census.

  • Marie’s biological maternal grandmother, Marie Andresen (1835-1912), was a resident of Vamstrup Parish, Ribe, Denmark. This was a distance of more than one hundred miles from Vestervig, the place name written on the back of the photograph.
  • Marie’s biological paternal grandmother/adoptive maternal grandmother, Ane Nielsen (1844-1905), was a resident of Vestervig Parish, Thisted, Denmark.
  • Marie’s adoptive paternal grandmother, Maren Knudsen (1838-1923), was a resident of Hurup Parish, Thisted, Denmark, a distance of about five miles from Vestervig, as of 1901, but by 1906 was a resident of Vestervig.

It would seem that only Marie’s biological maternal grandmother, Marie Andreasen, can be ruled out with any confidence, as she lived a long distance from Vestervig. Marie’s biological paternal grandmother/adoptive maternal grandmother, Ane Nielsen, and her adoptive paternal grandmother, Maren Knudsen, are both strong contenders as both were residents of Vestervig in the early 1900s.

Ane Nielsen was the youngest of Marie’s grandmothers and was sixty years old when she died in early 1905. Although the woman in this photograph looks to me as though she could be older than sixty—or even seventy—it also seems reasonable to consider that a hardworking farmwife and mother of eleven children might well look older than one might expect a woman of the same age to look today. If this is indeed Ane, then, to whom might she have directed this photograph and the accompanying message? One possibility is that she might have mailed it to her daughter Kristine, Marie’s adoptive mother/paternal aunt. Although Kristine did not venture to America until after Ane’s death, she had moved from Vestervig to Copenhagen with her husband and child in 1902. Copenhagen being a significant distance from Vestervig, mother and daughter certainly must have corresponded, and if they happened to have shared a fondness for the family dog, Ane might well have sent this photograph and note simply to bring a smile—perhaps intending that it amuse her young granddaughter as well.

Maren Knudsen, however, is also a plausible potential subject of this photograph. She was sixty-seven years old in 1905, the year that her son, Jens Christian, her daughter-in-law, and their adopted daughter Marie immigrated to America. She lived until 1923, so would have had many years during which she could have corresponded with her son and at some point passed this photograph on to him.

Can this, then, be identified as a photograph of either Ane Nielsen (1844-1905) or of Maren Knudsen (1838-1923), both of Vestervig, Denmark? It seems likely that it is a photograph of one of the two women, but unless another photograph of either Ane or Maren turns up for comparison—or a more conclusively identified copy of this same photograph—it is impossible to be absolutely certain. A handwriting comparison could also be conducted thanks to the inscription on the back of the photograph. In either case, the bond between this woman and her dog is certainly charming to behold and the photograph was surely treasured by whomever received it.

Copyright © 2021 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.


SOURCES

“Denmark, Church Records, 1812-1918,” digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 25 January 2021), Cæcilie Marie Christensen, 16 Feb 1900, Vamdrup, Ribe; citing “Kontraministerialbog 1812-1918,” Rigsarkivet, København, Denmark.

“Marie Matthiesen, 93, Long Prairie,” St. Cloud Times, 07 December 1993, digital image, Newspapers.com (http://www.newspapers.com : accessed 25 January 2021).

“Denmark, Church Records, 1812-1918,” digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 25 January 2021), Cæcilie Marie Jensen, 21 Feb 1900, Vamdrup, Ribe; citing “Kontraministerialbog 1812-1918,” Rigsarkivet, København, Denmark.

“Denmark Census, 1901,” digital images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QL6T-XVPH : 25 January 2020), Cecilie Marie Kristensen, Vestervig, Refs, Thisted, Denmark; from “1901 Denmark Census,” database and images, MyHeritage (https://www.myheritage.com : 2016); citing Rigsarkivet, København, Denmark.

“New York, U.S., Arriving Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957,” digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 25 January 2021), manifest, Hellig Olav, Copenhagen, Denmark, to New York, arriving 24 July 1905, Cecilia M. Pedersen; citing National Archives microfilm serial T715, 1897-1957, page 77, line 10.

“Mrs. Kristine M. Petersen,” Sioux City Journal, 01 May 1952, digital image, Newspapers.com (http://www.newspapers.com : accessed 25 January 2021).

“Churchbook 1923-1931, Vestervig,” digital images, Danish Family Search (https://www.danishfamilysearch.com/churchbook/sogn1775/churchlisting27736/opslag5579544 : accessed 25 January 2021), Marie Jensen [Andresen], 06 March 1912, Vamdrup, Ribe.

“Denmark, Church Records, 1812-1918,” digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 25 January 2021), Ane Nielsen, 18 February 1905, Taabel, Vestervig Sogn; citing “Kontraministerialbog 1812-1918,” Rigsarkivet, København, Danmark.

“Churchbook 1923-1931, Vestervig,” digital images, Danish Family Search (https://www.danishfamilysearch.com/churchbook/sogn1775/churchlisting27736/opslag5579544 : accessed 25 January 2021), Maren Knudsen, 20 October 1923, Vestervig Sogn.

“Denmark Census, 1901,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QL6B-2PNY : 25 January 2021), Marie Andresen, Vamdrup, Andst, Ribe, Denmark; from “1901 Denmark Census,” database and images, MyHeritage (https://www.myheritage.com : 2016); citing Rigsarkivet, København, Danmark.

“Denmark Census, 1901,” digital images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QL6T-RWW5 : 25 January 2021), Ane Nielsen, Vestervig, Refs, Thisted, Denmark; from “1901 Denmark Census,” database and images, MyHeritage (https://www.myheritage.com : 2016); citing Rigsarkivet, København, Danmark.

“Denmark Census, 1901,” digital images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QL6B-KCF6 : 25 January 2021), Maren Knudsen, Hurup, Refs, Thisted, Denmark; from “1901 Denmark Census,” database and images, MyHeritage (https://www.myheritage.com : 2016); citing Rigsarkivet, København, Danmark.

“Denmark Census, 1906,” digital images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QLXH-YWLB : 25 January 2021), Maren Knudsen, Vestervig, Refs, Thisted, Denmark; from “1906 Denmark Census,” database and images, MyHeritage (https://www.myheritage.com : 2016), film 00182; citing Rigsarkivet, København, Danmark.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s