Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Petersens from Ålborg Denmark

Carriage maker Peter Christian Petersen (born in 1822 to Peter Christiansen of Aastrup & Mariane Pedersdatter of Tolne) and Petrea Thalia Thomsen (born in 1825 to Peder Haderslev & Else Larsdatter), were my 3rd great grandparents.  This Peter is THE Peter patriarch for thousands of Petersen descendants.  Due to the end of patronymics in the mid 1800s (Denmark was one of the last holdouts), surnames began to stick to the father's surname rather than his given name.  Peter's ancestors came from Svendborg Denmark in the 1700s.  Interestingly, Peter's son Christian (my 2nd great grandfather) married Lena Mortensen, also from Svendborg. 

Patronymic Ancestry of Peter Christian Petersen:

Father:  Peter Christiansen of Aastrup, Arhus County (1792-1865)
Grandfather:  Christian Frederick Carlsen of Svendborg County, Fyn Island (1754-1834)
G Grandfather:  Carl Ziegesmunder Zander of Svendborg (1715-1785)
2G Grandfather:  Hans Jacob Zander of Svendborg (1678-1752) - not sure why the patronymics stopped here too...

Peter & Petrea spent their lives in the north Danish City of Ålborg (also written as Aalborg), which is Denmark's fourth largest city. 

Nytorv Square
Ålborg, Denmark

Peter & Petrea married in the Lutheran Budolfi Church in February of 1849:

Ålborg, Denmark
(since 1132)

Petrea was christened in 1825 at St. Budolfi by Dr. Claus Vilhelm Claudi.

In 1849, they were married at St. Budolfi by Dr. Peter Tetens Mald, who also baptised their first four children.  The remaining four were baptised by Carl Menrix With and Mans Egede Glahn.


Three of their children moved to New England, although the rest of the family remained in Aalborg:

-Peter Theodor (1847-??) - Peter's last record is the 1855 Census.

-Christian (1849-1908), who was my 2nd great grandfather, and emigrated to Westbrook Maine in 1888.

-Marie (1852-1852), who died at 11 days old.

-Mariane Christine (1853-??) doesn't appear to have emigrated out of Denmark.

-Maren Thalia (1858-1944) emigrated to Canada in 1884, with her brother Christian.  She lived near him in Westbrook, and married a Jens Peter Andersen from Denmark, and had four children:  Thalia, Olga, Arthur and Alice.

-Else Marie (1860-after 1944) married in Denmark, and had children Dagny & Arnold.  Upon her husband's death, she migrated with her son Arnold to US to live with her daughter Dagny in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.  Dagny had earlier moved to the US to live with her father's brother Carl in Roxbury, Massachusetts.

-Carl Andreas (1861-bef 1944) married his Danish wife Jennie and had four children (Carla, born in Aalborg, followed by Louis, Helga & Mary, born in Boston).  Carl lived on Hitchborn Street in Brighton Mass, but settled on Batavia Street in Boston and worked as a cabinet maker.  This family arrived in America in 1886.

-Thomasine Laurine (1863-??) married a butcher named Eduard Valentine Nielsen, and had at least two children (Fannie & Emilie).  She doesn't appear to have moved to America like her siblings.

Below is a local photograph from the late 1800s in Aalborg of a carriage, one probably much like what Peter Petersen built:

By the 1880 Census, Peter had changed careers to that of an "arrestforvarer" (jailor).  He and Petrea were then living at the Nørresundby Courthouse on Norregade (street was renamed to Sankt Peders Gade in 1970 when Nørresundby was merged into the greater Aalborg area).  They had five prisoners at that time who were counted on this census, a few of them listed as "working girls".  They had their youngest, 16 year old Thomasine, living with them during this time.  That must have been interesting for her, growing up in the courthouse.  Petrea was charged with making the meals for the prisoners.  Working as a live-in jailor was a way to get free rent back in the 19th century.  Below is a picture of the courthouse building where they lived and worked:

Thanks to the help of the very sweet Lise working at the Nørresundby central cemetery archives, I learned that Peter died on 1 Aug 1895 in Aalborg, at age 73:

I was unable to locate a death record for his wife Petrea (I looked through the death registers from 1890 through 30 Nov 1911), but with the numbers showing on his death record, Lise was able to help me locate the burial site of Peter & Petrea at the Aalborg Cemetery, which had been recycled twice, most recently in 1970.  Therefore, while my 3rd great grandparents were buried here, it's unclear whether their bones are still here, or if they were removed during the grave recycling (they always keep the bones there if they can):


Below is an excerpt written by Mr. Christian Jensen (son to Seren Jensen) at some point in the 1890s, a man who used to work as an apprentice for a Mr. Petersen in his carriage making shop in Aalborg, and also stayed in this Petersen's brother's house.  Jensen admired his boss greatly, and he used the skills he learned in the shop to go on to contribute to building the first roller coaster.  From what I understand, given age calculations, this Petersen could potentially be Peter's son, Peter Jr.  But it might be a different Petersen (an unrelated Soren Petersen who was a carriage maker during the 1890s, according to the Danish Census).  Thanks very much to Meredith Wilcox for the excerpt from her ancestor's memoirs:

When I left Vested, I went directly to Aalborg which I knew so well, and found a job in a small shop specializing in the kind of carriages the farmers used. I had only been there a few days when Uncle Andreas appeared and arranged for me to work in the big luxury carriage factory. That was what I had been hoping for but did not have the nerve enough to apply there. Uncle Andreas was a political writer for a large daily paper and seemed to have a lot of influence. I had my meals at my boss’s home and had never eaten so well before. I roomed with the boss’s brother who was also an apprentice, about a year older than I. He was a cheerful cuss and my gloom disappeared very fast. I loved the work I was doing for I was given work in Victorias and Phaetons. We had machinery here that I had not seen anywhere else. Mr. Peterson took care of the mechanical work himself and had a foreman for each department.

An upholsterer once told me that he had overheard a conversation between Mr. Peterson and my foreman. Mr. Nielson complained about me, saying that when he gave me a wheel to repair, I hung around and didn’t want to do it. Mr. Peterson said, “Don’t give him wheel work. He is doing good on his regular job. You are here to get production, remember”. It is possible that I unconsciously shied away from wheelwork since it almost killed me in Vested.

I attended technical school and in the second year, made a complete set of plans for a landaus. My teacher Mr. Ortved, who worked in our shop building landaus, took me to his full size working plan and showed me the practical part of the job. I now felt that I could build one by myself. When my time was up I had to make a journeyman’s test piece, which was a wheel. A guild member came to watch me making this drawing to be sure I did it myself. When I was putting the wheel together, there were two of them. Mr. Peterson was also there and said, “Don’t look at the wheel, look at his regular work”. Of course, they paid him no attention. I had a sports job in front of my bench made of chestnut frame work and mahogany panels. The wheel came out all right except for one joint which was slightly open on one side. It passed and I got my certificate. Another boy, Viggo Frandsen also made his test piece, a wheel. His father, who was a carriage builder in town about 50 miles away, was coming in to have a party for the guild members and the woodworkers and I waited for this celebration to come off. Viggo was a good working, who had also had some training in his father’s business. His wheel was the best I had ever seen but his drawing was poor and he got his certificate too. When had two rooms in the hotel; one for the guild and one for the men. Viggo and I soon got in with the guild members. Then the sliding doors between the two rooms were opened and the party really got going. I remember part of a speech by the guild foreman who said we had saved them a lot of money. If the drawing and wheel had been done by the same hand, they would have had to pay for a gold medal. I guess we both were proud.

My former roommate was now in the army and I had rented a room in the house where Ortved lived. I had answered an ad for a man to build landaus in Varde, a small city about 150 miles away, but since I had no answer, I went to Landers to work in a railroad car factory. Two months later, another woodworker from Aalborg came to work there and told me what had happened. Ortved had taken the letter addressed to me and wrote back that Jensen had broken a leg and would not be able to work for six months. He took the job in Varde himself and left for there shortly after I had gone to Landers. His wife then had him arrested for non-support of their eight children and for desertion. He was now back at Petersen’s where he made twice as much as any other man.

My two and a half years in Aalborg was a pleasant period of my life for I gained confidence in myself and others. Mr. Petersen gave me a chance to make some extra money by working evenings and Sundays on piece work. The whole shop was on piece work so I got the same price as the men for the same work. It gave me a chance to dress better and to have some spending money. Petersen seemed to have great confidence in me and I appreciated it. When a load of hardwood or mahogany came in, he often had me check on the measurements to be sure he got what he paid for. Once he sent me to a private park taken over by the city for a new street layout. There were many big trees, mostly chestnut and I was to find out how many cubic feet of lumber we could get out of the trees in this park. I worked there for two days before handing in my report with the number on each tree.

Since I had never measured trees on the root before, I wondered how near I was to being correct. After the trees had been felled and cut into planks, I asked Mr. Petersen how my measurements tallied with those of the sawmill. “Fine,” he said, “Yours were a little lower, which is all to the good”.

The last Christmas I was there, I worked until 11 p.m. Christmas Eve on a Hotel Omnibus to be delivered the next morning. When we were finished, Mr. Petersen asked me to go with him to his wife’s parents. “They are waiting for us”, he said “I did not think you would mind working because you could not get to Gjol”. All the roads were blocked with snow. Peterson’s parents had the Hotel Aalborg which was closed for the night. When we got to their upstairs apartment, the first people I saw there were two sisters I knew well. They had a dressmaking shop across the street from where I had been in Vedsted. One of them was my age, the other about ten years older and were cousins of Mrs. Petersen. I was told they had no parents and so spent every Christmas with their Aunt and Uncle. I had danced with the younger one before, so she grabbed me and we were dancing between the tables and chairs but soon had to stop for fear of stepping on a little Petersen girl who insisted on getting in on the fun. We had a perfect Christmas with excellent foods and wines, presents for everyone, a beautiful tree and decorations, and Christmas hymns with Mrs. Petersen on the piano. All shops were closed from Christmas to New Years so I managed to get to Gjol the next day.


  1. I'm working on my family history right now and I just happened to stumble upon your blog. My great-great grandfather mentioned a carriage maker whom he referred to as "Mr. Peterson" in Aalborg in about 1890. Christen thought very highly of him and was an apprentice in his shop as well as a boarder in his brother's house. Do you think this could have been one of your relatives? Did any of the children pick up carriage making in the shop after Peter Christian left it? (If you think this is your relative, I'd be happy to send you the section of the book that talks about him as I'm typing a copy of it now for my cousins)

  2. Mere, thanks very much. Yes I would love to see this additional info. Interesting coincidence, since I was just in Aalborg doing some research on this ancestor, and I was unable to get to all of the info I did find! Thanks...Scott Leonard (

  3. Hello,

    Stumbled across your blog today. I recently discovered that my great-grandfather, Christian Petersen was born in Aalborg in 1879. He may have had two brothers named Jens and Otto. They traveled to the United States and moved to Illinois and California. Did you happen to stumble across these names during your research? Thank you!

  4. My grandmother was born in Aalborg and baptized in Budolfi Kirke. Thank you for sharing your family with we danes who will never see it in person. Great job!