Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Duh! Overlooking A Major Breakthrough in a Moment of Stupidity

Elsie and Jens Eriksen
Subtitled: The Porch Light's On, But Nobody's Home

Like many people who have been working on their family's history for a long time, I've plucked all of the low-hanging fruit.  Sometimes I'll pick an ancestor, block out all other distractions, lay my head back and pretend I'm her (or him).  I'll think about her life, imagine her daily routine and interactions, and sometimes come up with different avenues to pursue in my search for more information. The only caveat is that your assumptions about their lives need to be correct if you're going to have any success.

During one such creative session, I was pondering the life of my great-great grandmother, Elsie Eriksen.  Her son, Peter Christensen, came to the United States at the age of 17 to learn the baking trade from an uncle in Omaha.  What did I know of Elsie?  Not much.  I had one photo of her with her husband, Jens Eriksen.  I had heard that her first husband, Mr. Christensen, was a mailman and had died.   I didn't enjoy researching Elsie, as I knew so little and it was typically a frustrating exercise in futility.  She lived her life in Denmark; I didn't read Danish, there weren't a lot of resources available, and I had no idea how to move forward.  However, I had an idea that I don't even remember now, and began looking at various databases.  To make a long story short, by the end of the night (or should I say the wee hours of the next morning) I had well-documented her life in Omaha, and identified her parents, who, surprisingly, lived in Iowa!

Peter Christensen
One of the things that held me back with this branch of my family were my assumptions - assumptions that led me down a completely erroneous trail for nearly 15 years.  I thought Peter Christensen was the immigrant ancestor, when in actuality, it was his grandfather, Peder Larsen, who, in 1886, at the age of 42, left Denmark for greener pastures in Exira, Iowa.  His daughter, Elsie, chose to stay behind.  As Elsie's children reached adulthood, most of them crossed the pond as well.  And, as it turned out, Elsie and her husband Jens did eventually leave Denmark and settle in Omaha where other members of the family had been for years.

I pulled out every bit of information I had on Elsie's son, Peter, to re-examine what I thought I knew.  And there, on his 1901 ship manifest from his first trip here, it said that he was going to his grandfather, P. C. Larson in Exira, Iowa.  There it was, right there the whole time.  Suddenly I had a flashback to all those years earlier, when I first saw that information.  The lines on the manifest were hard to follow, and there was writing in between the lines that confused things even more.  That is my excuse for being so incredibly dense.  I vividly remember thinking, "His mother was still in Denmark, so her parents surely were there too.  He COULDN'T have a grandfather in Iowa.  Besides, the last names don't match."  I concluded that the information was for the person on the line above him.  I'd love to travel back in time and thunk myself in the noggin for being so obtuse.

P. C. and Jacobine Larson

However, the story does have a happy ending.  I made contact with a descendant of Elsie's brother, who had abundant information and photos, and very generously shared them with me.  Despite myself, I have a goldmine on a part of the family I truly never expected to know.

Many thanks to Elizabeth Swanay O'Neal of Little Bytes of Life for hosting the Genealogy Blog Party.