Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Needle in the Haystack – Finding Elsie in the Census

Just last night, burning a little “midnight oil,” I finally came upon the document that has knocked down half of my Christensen brick wall: the 1920 census of Omaha, Nebraska.
I’ve been looking for the family of my great-grandfather, Peter Christensen of Denmark, for some time.  I’ve looked for them in the census before, but when you’re working with “heresay” information, and names as common as Christensen and Ericksen, in an area thick with Danish immigrants, it gets overwhelming quickly.  I knew the first names of his brothers and sisters, knew his mother’s name was Elsie, and many of the men in his family were bakers.  I had heard his father died in Denmark, and Elsie remarried a Mr. Erickson/Ericksen/Eriksen/Erikson etc., and probably lived in Omaha or Council Bluffs, Iowa, or Onawa, Iowa.
It started with an address for “Aunt Agnes” in my grandmother’s old 1930s address book, and clue by clue, I ended up with my great-great grandmother in the 1920 census.   New information gained from this document:
1) A definitive place for them – Omaha.  Plus, I got a street address!
2) “Mr. Ericksen” now has a name – Gents Ericksen.
3) Gents was 11 years younger than his wife – probably not a terribly important piece of news, but kind of interesting nonetheless.  I may never find out, but I’d love to know their story.
4) I have a location and birth years for Elsie’s children Soren and Martin.  Another thing I discovered on the path to the 1920 census was a married name for Elsie’s daughter Mary, an address in Omaha, a date of death, and a relocation to California.
PetesMom Elsie and Gents Ericksen
Now it’s really time to get busy – I have an obituary for son Soren coming, and will get one for daughter Mary; I need to find a date of death for son Martin, as well as Elsie and Gents, and try to get obituaries for them as well in hopes of going back another generation.  Now that I know Gents’ name, and their birth years, I can attack the censuses once again, and differentiate them from all of the other Ericksens. Gents and Elsie, as well as Soren, are listed in the census as being naturalized – I need to get those papers.  Soren and Martin were bakers, and I’d like to go through the city directories and get more information on where, specifically, they worked.  Did they own their own bakery, as their brother Pete (my great-grandfather) did in South Dakota?  If so, what was the name, and where was it located?    I feel a trip to Omaha coming on!
One very important piece of information has eluded me so far – I’d like to know the name of Elsie’s first husband, my great-great grandfather.  I am hoping it will show up in one of the obituaries.  If so, I’ll be learning how to do Danish research – a task I thought I’d never need to know.  It’s been a long time since I’ve heard the crumbling of a brick wall, and it sounds wonderful!


  1. How wonderful, congrats! And, good outline for the future research.

  2. Congrats on the tumbling of your brick wall. It seems you've got plenty to keep you busy for awhile.