Tag Archives: Christensen

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.

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A Mother and Her Sons

Kathrine (Christensen) Walsted had lived in America for nearly thirteen years when she was photographed with her two young sons in 1919.1 She had immigrated from Denmark at the age of twenty; now in her early thirties, she resided with her husband and children in a small rental house in Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa.2

Kathrine (Christensen) Walsted with sons Roy Louis Walsted and James Herman Walsted, circa 1919, Sioux City, Iowa; digital image 2010, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2019.

It is a bit puzzling why her husband of nine years, Jens Jacob Walsted, known as James, was not photographed with her. Although James registered for the draft in September of 1918, it is not believed that he ever served in World War I.3 However, as he was a bricklayer by trade, it is possible that he traveled at times to work on building projects. Perhaps his wife wanted to surprise him with a portrait to keep with him when away. This may also be why Kathrine alone was photographed with her eldest son when he was an infant, several years prior.

Of course, James may simply not have enjoyed having his photograph taken! Although he lived to the age of seventy-five, only three informal photographs of him have been uncovered.4 One gives a glimpse of him as a young man, while the other snapshots were taken in his later years.

In any case, in this photograph, Kathrine appears elegant yet warm, with a faint smile at her lips and a hint of a dimple at her cheek. Her thick hair is pinned up in a bun, the trend of the bob having not yet swept America, and soft curls escape at her temples. She wears what might have been a white cotton voile waist.5

Her eldest son, Roy, seven or eight years old here, wears a dark suit and tie.6 His hair is neatly trimmed and combed to the side, and his expression is wide-eyed and solemn. Young James, named for his father, looks to be about a year and a half old, his fair hair in a bowl cut.7 His loose-fitting garment appears to feature some embroidery; as Kathrine was known to have been a member of a local needlecraft club, perhaps this was her own handiwork.8

Notably, Roy had barely recovered from a life-threatening brush with polio when his brother was born in November 1917. In September of that year, the Sioux City Journal had reported, “Roy Walstead [sic], 6-year-old son of Mr. and Mrs. James Walstead [sic], 406 South Helen avenue, Morningside, is expected to recover completely from an attack of infantile paralysis, according to the attending physician. The boy is able to walk alone now and in six months he is expected to have recovered entirely. If recovery is complete it will constitute one of the few cases on record, according to the physician.”9

Roy did indeed recover, although he always walked with a limp, and it has been said that his younger brother was his staunch defender against bullies. However, Kathrine was surely grateful to have both of her sons by her side and in good health when, one hundred years ago, she dressed them in their finest clothes and ventured with them to the portrait studio.

Copyright © 2019 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.

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A Danish Marriage in Sioux City

It was 09 December 1909 when Jens Jacob “James” Walsted and Kathrine Christensen were married by Reverend Julius A. Larson of the Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa.1 Both James and Kathrine had been born in Denmark; both had left their native country several years prior, James in 1902 and Kathrine in 1906.2 At the time of their marriage, James was twenty-nine years old and Kathrine was twenty-three.3

Sioux City’s sole Danish church, located at 1113 12th Street, was organized in 1890, and met in a former Norwegian Lutheran Church that was moved to this site in 1892.4 While what may well be this original building, a modest one-story frame structure situated in a residential neighborhood, still stands to this day, it is now the Iglesia de Dios Evangelio Completo Pentecostes. At the time that James and Kathrine were married, however, it was home to a congregation of nearly two hundred and sixty Danish Lutherans, and it seems quite likely that it was through this immigrant community that James and Kathrine had the opportunity to meet.5 There is no known account of their marriage, nor any known photographs.

The couple settled in Sioux City, where in 1910, within a few months of their marriage, they could be found rooming at a property on the corner of 7th and Pearl Streets in downtown Sioux City, a location that is now a parking lot across the street from a children’s museum.6 James worked as a bricklayer, and family lore suggests that he may have helped lay the brick for St. Boniface Catholic Church at this time.7 Kathrine, who before her marriage had been a servant at a house that stood on what is now the campus of Bishop Heelan Catholic High School, was at home.8 The couple’s first child, Roy Louis Christian, would be born in 1911.9

Kathrine (Christensen) Walsted and son Roy Walsted, Sioux City, Iowa, 1911; digital image 2010, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2018.

The congregation of the Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church eventually outgrew their space on 12th Street, and in 1922 a new church, located at 1924 Jones Street, was dedicated.10 In 1930, the church was renamed Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, and within a few years, Danish language services ceased.11 Some seventy years later, the church once again introduced bilingual services, this time in Spanish, but soon after, in 2009, the church closed its doors.12

At the time that James and Kathrine married, Sioux City’s population was nearly forty-eight thousand, and included a diverse immigrant population represented in its many foreign-language churches.13 For recent immigrants James and Kathrine, it must have been a great comfort to find there a close-knit Danish community that shared their native language and cultural heritage.

Copyright © 2018 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.
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A Turn of the Century Danish Confirmation

Like most young Danes, Kathrine Christensen was just about fourteen years old when she was confirmed as a member of the Lutheran church.1 This ceremony, which took place on 22 April 1900, would also have signified the conclusion of her formal schooling, making it, in a sense, a graduation ceremony as well.2 Kathrine, the youngest daughter of Laust Christensen and Ane Nielsen of the rural community of Taabel, was confirmed at the imposing Vestervig Abbey, said to be the largest village church in all of Scandinavia.


Kathrine Christensen, 1900, Hurup, Thisted, Denmark; digital image 2013, privately held by Nicole Kilanowski, 2014.

For Kathrine, this occasion may have warranted posing for a formal portrait in her elegant confirmation dress, as this photograph is believed to have been taken in honor of her confirmation. The photographer, A.B. Hansen, was based in Hurup, a railroad town about seven kilometers east of Vestervig. Perhaps Kathrine ventured there for her portrait, or else an enterprising photographer may have seen reason to take advantage of the confirmation crowd by setting up a temporary studio in Vestervig.

This cabinet card portrait features Kathrine standing before a painted backdrop and behind a high back chair, upon which she rests her arms in a way that hides her fingertips but displays a wide ring on her left hand. Perhaps this was a confirmation gift, as despite what its placement suggests today, it is certainly not a wedding ring. Kathrine’s brown hair is pulled into a braid or bun, with a few soft curls loosely framing her face. Her dress is of a popular pigeon-breasted style and appears to be white. It has sweet eyelet lace trim at the high neck and long sleeves, which are slightly puffed on the upper arms. Kathrine’s expression is serious, even cautious; although her attire is sophisticated, she still looks very much like the thirteen-year-old she is.

Kathrine Christensen Confirmation 1900

Vestervig Parish (Vestervig, Denmark), Konfirmerede Piger, Kathrine Christensen (1900). Record courtesy of Janet Walsted.

In addition to acknowledging the completion of schooling, at one time, confirmation records in Denmark also typically included a notation of whether the individual had received a smallpox vaccination. This practice, started around 1814, must have been the most feasible method of ensuring that all were vaccinated in order to prevent the spread of disease.3 Today, certainly, medical records are maintained apart from the church, and of course, Danish youth attend school beyond eighth grade. While confirmation ceremonies remain significant in Danish culture, as a whole these affairs are commonly celebrated in a traditional sense and are more secular than in the past – if not entirely secular, as “nonfirmations” have also become part of the norm. Danes honor their coming-of-age with family, friends, a formal dinner, and lavish gifts.4

At the time of Kathrine’s confirmation, several of her siblings had already immigrated to America. This photograph was found among the possessions of one of their descendants, which suggests that it was originally sent to those who might have liked to have seen how their youngest sister was growing up. In fact, another photograph in this collection shows Kathrine as she neared her twentieth birthday, shortly before she, too, said farewell to Denmark.5

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A Keepsake from Denmark


Kathrine Christensen, ca. 1905, Thisted, Refs, Denmark; digital image 2013, privately held by Nicole Kilanowski, 2014.

This is a beautiful cabinet card portrait by L. H. Gram of Thisted, Refs, Denmark, whose stamp features a quaint floral pattern. Kathrine Christensen of Vestervig, Thisted, Refs, Denmark, pictured here circa 1905, wears a dress with a high “officer’s” collar, set off by a simple looped chain necklace.1 A fine decorative fabric with crocheted lace trim is draped over her shoulders, something  like a shawl or an open collar. Her seemingly abundant hair is piled elegantly in the style of the time, with a few soft curls at her forehead.

Kathrine gazes just beyond the camera, her expression serious. In the summer of 1906, she would leave Denmark behind – saying farewell forever to her father and three of her siblings – to join five other siblings and their families in Iowa.2 This photograph was previously in the possession of her young niece, who immigrated to America with her parents a year before Kathrine.3 Perhaps Kathrine sent it along as a keepsake to be shared with her older siblings in advance of her own arrival; at least one of her sisters had not seen her since she was a toddler.4 It’s possible that additional copies remained in Denmark with her family and friends.

I have only a few photographs of Kathrine, my mother’s grandmother, and never would have seen this one in particular if it weren’t for my Public Member Tree on Ancestry.com. Several months ago, I heard from a member of the family of Kathrine’s aforementioned niece – a niece I hadn’t known existed until I found her in the records and added her to my tree a few days previously – who had come into possession of a collection of her family photos.5 This treasure was among them.

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Finding Your Danish Immigrant Ancestors


Kathrine Christensen at the Christensen family home photograph, 1905, Vestervig, Thisted, Denmark; digital image 2013, privately held by [personal information withheld].

When searching for Danish immigrant ancestors, you might feel as though they have been lost in a sea of Scandinavians. Nielsens, Larsens, and Hansens abound. Given names might be different than those used in American records. Family members might not have traveled together. All of these factors, on top of the typical transcription errors that make life exciting for genealogists, can make Danish immigrants difficult to track down.

I met a challenge of this nature when attempting to locate the siblings of my mother’s grandmother, who carried the woefully common Christensen surname. As it turned out, between approximately 1889 and 1906, at least six of the nine surviving children of Laust and Ane (Nielsen) Christensen of Vestervig, Thisted, Denmark1 left the thatched roof of the only home they had ever known for America, traveling one or two at a time over a period of seventeen years. All came, at least temporarily, to Newell, Buena Vista, Iowa.

Else Marie Christensen was the first to arrive in northwestern Iowa. It was there that she married Anton Mikkelsen in the summer of 1889, when she was seventeen.2 Fully ten years later, in 1899, Niels H. Christensen and Ane Petrine “Anine” Christensen journeyed together to join their older sister in Newell.3 Niels settled there, where he married Kathrine “Katie” Larson;4 Anine moved west to the urban center of Sioux City, Woodbury, Iowa, where she married John P. Hansen.5

In 1900, their brother Laurits Anton “Louis” Christensen arrived.6 He too settled in Newell, and married Anna Marie Godfredson.7 Kristine “Christina” Christensen came to America in 1905, along with her husband, Jens C. Pedersen, and her young niece,8 the daughter of her widowed brother Christen Christensen, who had remained in Denmark.9 They settled first in Newell, before moving to Sioux City.10

The following year, in the summer of 1906, Kathrine Christensen, my great-grandmother, was the last to leave home,11 leaving only her aforementioned brother and sisters Johanne Christensen and Ane Marie Christensen in Denmark.12 Kathrine, twenty, also joined her siblings in Newell before moving on to Sioux City. It is there that she married Jens “James” Jacob Walsted in 1909.13

Where can you find Danish immigration records? If you’ve been over- (or under-) whelmed with your search results on databases such as Ancestry.com or Ellis Island’s Passenger Search, I recommend visiting the Dansk Demografisk Database. By selecting “Emigrants,” you will be able to access an index of Danes who traveled via Copenhagen or Hamburg. The search options are flexible; try searching for everyone of a particular surname who originated in the same parish, or search for anyone bound for the same destination. It goes without saying to be creative with spellings, although, in my experience, this index remains truer to the original Danish spellings than others. With the information you find here, you might just have luck turning up a passenger list with your ancestor’s name!

1 “Denmark, Marriages, 1635-1916,” index, FamilySearch (http://www.familysearch.org : accessed 30 October 2013), entry for Laust Christensen and Ane Nielsen, 1868.
2 “Iowa, County Marriages, 1838-1934,” index, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 30 Oct 2013), Anton Mikkelson and Elsa Marie Kristensen, 1889.
3 “New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957” digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 30 October 2013), manifest, S.S. Paris, Liverpool, England to New York, arriving 13 February 1899, Niels Christensen and Anine P. Christensen; citing National Archives microfilm T715, roll 47.
4 “Iowa, County Marriages, 1838-1934,” index, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 30 Oct 2013), Niels Christensen and Kathrine Larson, 1901.
5 1920 U.S. census, Woodbury County, Iowa, population schedule, Sioux City, Enumeration District (ED) 232, p. 4857 (penned), sheet 6-B, dwelling 129, family 129, Anine Hanson; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 30 October 2013), citing National Archives microfilm T625, roll 521.
6 “Border Crossings: From Canada to U.S., 1895-1956” digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 30 October 2013), manifest, S.S. Parisian, Liverpool, England to Quebec, arriving 9 June 1900, Laurids Christensen; citing National Archives microfilm M1464, roll 6.
7 “Iowa, County Births, 1880-1935,” index, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 30 Oct 2013), Lewis A. Christensen and Anna Marie Godfredsen in entry for Ludvig Arnold Christensen, 1907.
8 “New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957” digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 30 October 2013), manifest, S.S. Helig Olav, Liverpool, England to New York, arriving 24 July 1905, Karoline M. Pederson; citing National Archives microfilm T715, roll 602.
9 [personal information withheld], to Melanie Frick, Ancestry.com message, 7 August 2013, “Cecelia,” Christensen Family File; privately held by Melanie Frick.
10 1920 U.S. census, Woodbury County, Iowa, population schedule, Sioux City, Enumeration District (ED) 234, p. 5951 (penned), sheet 5-A, dwelling 90, family 97, Christina Peterson; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 30 October 2013), citing National Archives microfilm T625, roll 521.
11 “New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957” digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 30 October 2013), manifest, S.S. Cedric, Liverpool, England to New York, arriving 22 July 1906, Kathrine Kristensen; citing National Archives microfilm T715, roll 744.
12 “Public Member Trees,” database, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 30 October 2013), “Christensen Twete,” entries for Christen Christensen (b. 1869), Johanne Christensen (b. 1876), and Ane Marie Christensen (b. 1879); submitted by [personal information withheld], citing Vestervig Church Book.
13 Sioux City, Iowa, Marriage Register, Book E: 1906-1910, James Walsted and Kathin Christinsen, 1909.