Tag Archives: Olsen

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.

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A Pioneer Cemetery

On a flat patch of land off a dirt road in southeastern South Dakota, not far from the predominantly Czech community of Tabor, a small Danish pioneer cemetery can be found.

Elm Grove Cemetery, Yankton County, South Dakota photograph, 2019; privately held by Melanie Frick, 2019.

Elm Grove Cemetery is said to date to the summer of 1875. The first child of Danish immigrants Christian and Mathilde Elise (Bramsen) Olsen, Marie Evengiline, was born that June, but lived only two weeks.1 Devastated at her loss, her father fashioned a small wooden casket and stained it pink with the juice of wild raspberries, while her mother lined it with fabric cut from her best dress.2

Baby Marie Evengiline was buried on a corner of the Olsen homestead and a small cedar tree was dug from a ravine and planted at her grave. As the story goes, it was soon trampled by the cattle who roamed freely as they grazed. Mathilde implored Christian to fence their daughter’s grave, and he obliged, thus designating an acre on a corner of their property as a cemetery.3 It was incorporated as Maple Grove Cemetery in 1907—not as Cedar Grove, as one might have thought—and today is known as Elm Grove Cemetery.4

No stone marks the grave of Marie Evengiline, nor the graves of up to a shocking seven of her infant siblings.5 The graves of her maternal grandparents, Erik and Inger Marie (Hansen) Bramsen, who died within a decade thereafter, are also unmarked. However, numerous headstones exist at the graves of pioneer kin who were buried there in the years to come, among them her parents Christian and Mathilde.

Christian Olsen (1845-1909) was said to have immigrated from Denmark to Dakota Territory in 1866 at the age of twenty-one, while Mathilde Elise Bramsen (1842-1935) immigrated alongside her parents in 1872 at the age of thirty.6 They married circa 1874 and together farmed the one hundred and sixty acres in Yankton County that Christian had acquired under the Morrill Act—a farm conveniently located within walking distance of the homestead of Mathilde’s sister and brother-in-law, and boasting a house made of homemade clay and straw bricks that Christian had built himself.7 The names of six of their supposed ten children are known: Marie Evengiline, Edward, Mary, Anna, Henry, and Cecilia.8 Only two of their children, Edward and Anna, survived to adulthood, and they, too, are buried at Elm Grove Cemetery.

Today, the Elm Grove Cemetery is shady and well-tended, with a chain link fence duly keeping any rogue livestock at bay. Although it is bordered on two sides by homes, on the others it faces windswept plains almost as far as the eye can see—a view perhaps not entirely unlike that of nearly one hundred and fifty years ago.

Copyright © 2019 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved. Continue reading

A Golden Anniversary Celebration

One warm afternoon during the summer of 1902, a crowd gathered at the home of local pioneers Niels and Juliane Sophie (Hennike) Olsen. The couple, who had retired from farm life several years before, was celebrating fifty years of marriage, and all of their children and grandchildren were invited to their home located near the center of town at 605 Broadway in Yankton, South Dakota.1 The event was surely a memorable affair, and the local newspaper gave a glowing report of the afternoon’s activities:

Mr. and Mrs. Nels Olson celebrated their golden wedding yesterday afternoon at their home on Broadway. All their children, eight in number, were present with their families. Their names are as follows; Ole Nelson, Mission Hill; John Nelson, Viborg; Christ Nelson, Lakeport; Fred Nelson, Lakeport; Mrs. J. Nissen, Yankton; Mrs. C. Calleson, Yankton; and Miss Helena Nelson, Yankton. Rev. C.K. Solberg spoke a few words appropriate to the occasion and presented to the venerable couple two fine presents from the children, a gold headed cane to “father” and pair of gold glasses to “mother.” The “old folks” came from Denmark in 1874 and made their first home in America near Lakeport, S.D. Eight years ago they moved to Yankton, their present home. They are in fairly good health and enjoy comfort and happiness surrounded by kind children.2

Niels Olsen and Juliane Sophie Hennecke had married in Haraldsted, Soro, Denmark, on 30 July 1852.3 For the first twenty-two years of their married life, they resided in Denmark; their twenty-second anniversary, however, was spent aboard ship as they ventured to America.4 Their years since had been spent in southeastern South Dakota, where they claimed a homestead and where Niels had recently served a term as a rural postmaster. All eight of their surviving children remained in the area, and to commemorate their fiftieth anniversary, an informal group photograph was arranged on the porch of their home beneath the shade of several large trees.

Olsen Golden Anniversary

Olsen Golden Anniversary, Yankton, South Dakota, July 1902; digital image 2010, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2014.

The couple of honor is seated near the center, surrounded by those in attendance. Niels wears a wool three-piece suit and tie, as do most of the men, while Juliane wears a patterned shirtwaist with a bow at the neckline. Patterned, striped, or light-colored cotton fabrics seem to be popular choices among the women for their summertime wear. The adults, including the couple’s children, sit or stand in two rows, and three infants are perched on laps. Nine young grandchildren – including four sisters in matching dresses – cram together in the front, sitting cross-legged on the wooden plank floorboards. The group is relaxed; there are a few smiles, several women cross their arms comfortably, and a few maternal faces are turned away from the camera, intent on minding the couple’s many grandchildren.

I have to hope that this well-dressed crowd had the opportunity to partake in some refreshing lemonade in honor of the occasion!

In the back row, from left to right, are Reverend Solberg, Mrs. Solberg, Harry Nissen, Fred Nelson, Ole Nielsen, Harry Nielsen, John Nielsen, Eric Boysen, unknown, and Chris Callesen. In the middle row, from left to right, are unknown, Dora Nissen, Cleora Nielsen, Hannah Nielsen, Stena Callesen, Cecilia Boysen, J. Chris Nelson, Niels Olsen, Juliana Olsen, Helena Olsen, Jennie Nelson, Edith Nelson (child), Christine Nelson, and Helen Nelson (child). In the front row, from left to right, are Robert Nelson, Anna Nelson, Louise Nelson, Andrea Nelson, Julia Nelson, Bessie Nelson, Ole Nelson, Alvin Nielsen, and George Boysen.5

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Choose Your Own Backdrop

When they posed with their children for this photograph in 1893, Niels and Juliane Sophie (Hennike) Olsen of Yankton County, South Dakota had been married for just over forty years. They had raised nine children to adulthood, eight of whom were born in their native Denmark.1

nielsolsenfamily1893

Family of Niels and Juliane (Hennike) Olsen, 1893, Yankton County, South Dakota; privately held by Melanie Frick, 2013.

Niels and Juliane had purchased a farm upon their arrival in America, but in their later years, they moved to a more comfortable life in town. The couple would go on to celebrate fifty years of marriage in 1902,2 although their youngest son, Andrew, would be missing from that gathering. He drowned in 1897 while hunting ducks on the nearby Swan Lake.3

The photograph is a large print, roughly 8×10 inches, pasted onto cardboard with the date marked on the back. Do you notice anything strange about the backdrop? The family poses in front of a backdrop of painted trees that is slightly too small for a group of that size. To one side, the edge of the backdrop of a wallpapered room is visible, and the backdrop cuts off altogether on the other. All seem to be dressed in their best, the men in dark suits and the women in good black dresses. In 1896, Godey’s wrote, “All of us who are wise, possess a black gown.”4

The women’s dresses are distinct, although the two sisters seated on opposite ends, Stena and Cecilie, could easily have made their dresses from the same pattern. Their sisters’ dresses also bear similarities, though all have their own touches – pleats, contrasting material, or, in Dora’s case, large decorative buttons. Their mother’s dress, however, has no unnecessary frills. Notably, all of the women’s sleeves are of the fitted fashion of the previous decade; as the 1890s went on, puffed sleeves gained popularity. Perhaps this fashion had not yet become popular in Yankton County, or maybe these women simply didn’t care for the new style enough to want to rework dresses that were still perfectly serviceable.

Standing, left to right, are Helena (Neilsen) Larsen, John Neilsen, Andrew Neilsen, Fred Neilsen, Ole Neilsen, and Chris Neilsen. Seated, left to right, are Stena (Neilsen) Callesen, Dora (Neilsen) Nissen, Juliane Sophie (Hennike) Olsen, Niels Olsen, and Cecilie (Neilsen) Boysen. Variations of the surname, including Nelson, were also used by some members of the family.



SOURCES
1 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.
2 Jorgensen, “Olsen, Niels,” 53.
3 Jorgensen, “Olsen, Niels,” 53.
2 Jorgensen, “Olsen, Niels,” 53.
4 Joan Severa, Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion, 1840-1900 (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press), 460.

The Little Postmaster on the Prairie

After reading today that the cost of stamps could rise yet again, I was reminded that my third great grandfather, Niels Olsen of Lakeport, Yankton County, South Dakota, once served as a postmaster.

Niels Olsen photograph, 1893, Yankton, South Dakota; digital image 2010, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2013.

Niels Olsen (1827-1908) photograph, 1893, Yankton, South Dakota; digital image 2010, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2013.

Niels Olsen emigrated from his native Denmark in 1874,1 settling on a farm in what is now southeastern South Dakota. His wife and six children accompanied him on the ocean crossing; his two eldest sons had already left Denmark, paving the way, and another daughter was born the following year.2

In the fall of 1890, Niels would have been sixty-three. With two grown sons and a daughter still at home to assist him and his wife, Juliane, with the farm, Niels may have found himself with some extra time on his hands. Lakeport, an unincorporated village, was the nearest place to buy supplies and receive mail; it even boasted a hotel for weary stagecoach travelers. While the post office did not seem to have a permanent location, as it reportedly bounced between the hotel, the general store, and a grocery store, regular mail deliveries were undoubtedly a major attraction for the Czech and German settlers of the area.3 On 24 October 1890, Niels Olsen signed on as postmaster of Lakeport, a position he held for four years.4

nielsolsenlakeportpostmaster02

“U.S., Appointments of U.S. Postmasters, 1832-1971,” digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 25 September 2013), entry for Neils Olsen, Lakeport, Yankton, South Dakota; citing National Archives microfilm publication M841, Record of Appointment of Postmasters, 1832-1971.”

Although Lakeport has all but vanished, due to competition from other trade centers and the rerouting of a major highway,5 in the final decade of the nineteenth century, Niels Olsen would have played an integral role in this village as its postmaster. He may have been attracted to the position as an opportunity to earn extra money, or he may have fallen into it if no one else in the community was interested or eligible. At the very least, it tells us that Niels was literate, an American citizen, and that he may have had a sociable personality. I like to think that Niels would have known all of the latest gossip – after all, who else would have had the opportunity to interact with so many members of the community on a regular basis?

How can you find out if one of your ancestors was a postmaster? Ancestry.com makes this easy with the collection, “U.S., Appointments of U.S. Postmasters, 1832-1971.” If you want to locate this collection, you will find it categorized under “Schools, Directories, and Church Histories.” Then, you can search for an ancestor by their name and/or location. Niels Olsen held his position as postmaster until 18 October 1894; it was just a few years later, in 1901, that the Lakeport post office closed its doors for good.6



SOURCES
1 “New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957,” digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 25 September 2013), 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.
2 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.
3 Sister Verena Kaiser, “Lakeport, South Dakota,” 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), 605.
4 “U.S., Appointments of U.S. Postmasters, 1832-1971,” digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 25 September 2013), entry for Neils Olsen, Lakeport, Yankton, South Dakota; citing National Archives microfilm publication M841, “Record of Appointment of Postmasters, 1832-1971.”
5 Kaiser, “Lakeport, South Dakota,” 54.
6 “U.S., Appointments of U.S. Postmasters, 1832-1971,” digital images, Ancestry.com, entry for Neils Olsen, Lakeport, Yankton, South Dakota.