Thursday, February 3, 2011

Christian Petersen

Christian Petersen (1849-1908), my 2nd great grandfather was born in the city of Ålborg (Denmark's fourth largest) to carriage maker Peter Christian Petersen and his wife Pertria Thalia Thomsen.

Christian crossed the border from Canada into Berlin, New Hampshire on Aug 12, 1882.  I'm not quite sure when he had arrived in Canada though.  Several of Christian's siblings and other family also migrated to the New World (more on them below).

In 1882, Christian married Lena Mortensen (aka Carolina) from Skrobelev, Svendborg Denmark, in either Berlin, New Hampshire or while in Canada.  In 1886, they moved officially to Berlin, NH (according to Lena's death record).  By 1891, Christian and Lena had moved to Westbrook, Maine, where he had secured a job in the S.D. Warren paper mill alongside (I believe) his cousin Neils.  In November 1891, he purchased a house on 15 Day Street (which coincidentally was just one street over from the street I grew up on).  They had a farm in the back with a chicken coop, and Christian would walk to work every day at the mill, and Lena would care for the children and make doughnuts.

Christian had purchased and mortgaged the Day Street property from Edward J. Kimball (a farmer from Highland Lake in North Windham) who would later have several connections to this family.  Ed's son Joseph would marry Christian's daughter Jennie, and Ed himself would marry Lena immediately after Christian died.

Neils (the possible cousin-more on him below) lived next door to him on 9 Day Street, and had emigrated through Portland on July 1, 1873.  Christian's sister, Maren Thalia Petersen (1858-1944), arrived in Westbrook in late 1884, married Jens "John" P. Anderson (also from Denmark), and lived around the corner at 262 Forest Street, and later 282 Forest Street.

15 Day Street
Westbrook, Maine

Christian Petersen & Lena Mortensen-Petersen,
with baby Julia, and young Charles in the back.

Lena Mortensen-Petersen in the center,
with her seven surviving children.
Starting with the child in her lap,
and going clockwise:
Emma, Norman, Lillian, Jennie, Julia, Charles, and Agnes.
(just after the passing of Christian Petersen)

The Petersens were living at Day Street for the entire duration of the life of the new Westbrook Opera House across Main Street from them (1897-1904).  They likely had to hear the noise of it being constructed, and must have been alarmed when it caught fire and burned to the ground seven years later.

Westbrook Opera House
(corner of Main & Speirs Streets)
Opera house was actually located upstairs from the
Surehold Trust Company and a mail order business.
A newspaper and a bean pot factory were also in the building.

Christian lived in Westbrook for about 25 years, and was an active member of the Saccarappa Masonic Lodge in Westbrook.  He and Lena were devout Lutherans, and lived very clean lives, never indulging in alcohol (unlike most of their children).  They worshipped Trinity, at the Danish Lutheran Church (which was on the same block as their home), which started up in 1892 by other Danish immigrants.  From 1876 to 1892, prior to the Church's incorporation, the pastors would conduct services in the homes of all the Danish immigrants in Cumberland Mills, until the Church was eventually constructed.  It is quite likely that Christian and his family had the benefit of Sunday service in their own homes on Day Street upon their arrival in Westbrook in 1891.

Christian died of cerebral meningitis at 58, after suffering from a heat stroke in the summer of 1908.

(error in birth date - should be "Oct 26, 1849")

While he died in 1908, he was still counted on the 1910 Census!  I suspect that may have been because they hadn't resolved his probate yet.  Christian's estate was valued at $1700.00, inclusive of real estate (about $40K in 2013 dollars).

Lena remarried 2 years later to Ed Kimball from North Windham, the former owner of the house.  Two months later, Lena's daughter Jennie married Ed's son Joseph.  Lena was already married to Ed when the time came to deal with Christian's estate.


In the summer of 1910, Ed and Lena moved in to Ed's farm house on 176 Albion Road, Windham with Lena's youngest children, up on Highland Lake.  I believe that some of the elder kids stayed behind on Day Street, since the property was still in the Petersen/Kimball family as of 1925.

Ed's probate stated there was one cow and 75 hens left to the family on Highland Lake.  When Ed died in 1926, Lena moved back to Berlin, NH to care for her aging parents on Hutchins Street.  Lena granted the Highland Lake property to Ed's son Joseph, whose surviving spouse sold it off in 1960 to the Nelsons.

Christian and Lena had 10 kids in Westbrook...three of whom died as infants (Carl, Walter and Petrea-who died of food poisoning).  Carl is buried next to his father in Saccarappa Cemetery up on the hill in Westbrook:


As for the 7 children that lived to adulthood:

-Charles Christian Peterson (1887-1958), who never married, was a teamster.  He was first named as Administrator on his father's probate estate in 1908, but resigned in September 1910 because he believed that he would be leaving the state for work and would be unable to perform duties.  But from all available records, Charlie stayed in Maine, and his mother took over as Administratrix.  Charlie was drafted into WWI at age 30.  His draft card describes him as short and bald.  He later moved to 13 Church Street in Westbrook (1930 Census), and lived with the Sampson family.  By the 1940 Census, he was living in Berlin, New Hampshire, and lived in the Mortenson family house on 1803 Hutchins Street with his cousin Carl, and did sewer construction under the new Public Works, as part of the New Deal program.  While living there, he was drafted in 1942 into WWII, as part of the 'Old Man's Draft' at age 55, but never served.  He  died in Westbrook in 1958, at age 70, from an accident involving "Illuminating Gas Poisoning".

(ABOUT 1930)

-Julia P. Peterson (1891-1934) married thrice.  At 17, she had moved to Berlin to stay with Mortensens there, and met and married millworker Dana Lewis Ladd in 1910.  In 1912 they divorced, and Dana moved to Westbrook.  In 1914, in Freedom, New Hampshire, she married Perly Leslie Smith from York Maine (they had one child, Evelyn, whose whereabouts are a mystery still).  In 1927, Julia married a German blacksmith from Kansas by the name of Frank Fuessel (who had married previously with five children).  At this point, according to family oral history, Julia began a quick descent into severe alcoholism.  She died of carcinoma, with alcohol poisoning a contributing factor, in her home in South Portland in April of 1934, surrounded by the entire family in her bedroom at 247 Preble Street.  The family was still suffering the shock of Julia's sister Agnes dying three months prior.

ABT 1908

ABT 1914




-Jennie Caroline Peterson (1893-1967) married a very burly and domineering railroad fireman from Windham by the name of Joseph Greenlaw Kimball, in 1910.  Joseph's father Ed had married Jennie's mother two months prior.  Joseph and Jennie had one child, Florence Cordine Kimball, in 1911.

3/7/1914 (3RD BIRTHDAY)

Jennie didn't get along with her new husband Joseph (in fact, she was badly abused by him, according to family legend) and so Jennie completely disappeared in 1916.  According to the family, they knew she was a heavy drinker and was quite the "free spirit," so it was assumed at the time that she was being irresponsible and flaky by disappearing like that.  A couple of family stories had emerged about her whereabouts.  One involved her moving down south, another involved Joseph murdering her and burying her under the barn on their farm.  Her mother's obituary in 1939 did not list her as a survivor, since the entire family believed she must have been dead by then (she had never kept in touch with anyone else in the family and her husband Joe had hired a private investigator who was unable to find her - and it took years for him to be granted a divorce via desertion).  The truth was, she had moved far north to Aroostook County and had remarried to a man named Alton Bragg.  They had six children, and almost never spoke again of her prior family.  She had left her child Florence behind to be cared for by Lena.  Florence was only 15 when her grandmother Lena's husband Ed died, and when Lena moved back to Berlin NH to care for her aging parents.  Florence stayed in the house on Highland Lake after Lena left, and was living there with her father Joseph Kimball.  She eventually married (about 1935) to a machine operator named Michael J. Pulit (born in New Haven, CT to Polish immigrants) and settled in West Haven on 61 Thomas Street.  Florence kept in touch with her Aunt Lillian Nadeau's kids from Maine, and was living close to her Aunt Emma in New Haven as well, and apparently stayed close with this family.  Florence died in New Haven in 1999, and had three daughters, one son and several grandchildren.  She had never met her mother, all her life.  As for the mysterious Jennie, she lived the remainder of her life in Washburn Maine, raising her six other children, until her death in 1967.  Her death certificate had inaccurate parental names on it, which leads me to believe that her survivors really didn't know much about Jennie's past at all.  According to her grandchildren, when she got drinking, she would speak of her long lost daughter and how much she missed her.  It's one of the saddest stories I've encountered in my family research, but in 2010 thankfully I've been able to connect certain members of both sides of Jennie's two families, thanks to this blog, and some interested researcher cousins.


-Agnes Thalia Peterson (1895-1934) and Thomas Mathew Leonard (my great grandparentsmet around 1914, while Agnes was working as a laundress out at Levinsky's Plaza in Portland. They married in 1916, two months AFTER giving birth to Thomas Edward Leonard (my grandfather).  I imagine that there must have been some scandal there.  Not only was the child conceived AND born out of wedlock into an Irish Catholic family, but Agnes was Danish, not Irish like the rest of the family's in-laws. I wonder how Agnes was treated by Mathew Sr. Well, the whole family ended up living together on 8 Briggs Street in Portland, so it must have worked out ok.  From what I understand, everyone loved Agnes, especially Old Matt.  In the winter of 1933-1934, Agnes caught a terrible cold, which led to an ear infection.  Very shortly thereafter she developed purulent meningitis, and died five days later, at the very young age of 38 just a few months before her sister Julia died.



-Lillian Marentine Peterson (1897-1973) (middle name comes from her mother's sister) married Emile Joseph Nadeau, a French Canadian of Westbrook in 1918.  Soon after they married, Emile enlisted for WWI, but was underweight (with a heart murmur) and had failed the physical.  They lived on 122 Mechanic Street in Westbrook with Emile's brother and his family.  Lillian worked at the mill most of her life.  She and Emile had two children, Tom & Evelyn.  Tom is a portrait painter and lives in Portland with his wife Bobbie.  Evelyn passed just a few years ago.  According to her son Tom, Lillian and her sister Agnes were the only 'teetotallers' among their siblings.

(ca. 1972)

-Norman William Peterson (1902-1984) was born in Westbrook at the house on Day Street, like the rest of the kids.  When Christian died, Norman lived in Windham with his mother and her second husband Ed, and graduated Windham High School in 1919.  Norman moved to Portland by 1925.  He loved to spend his leisure time fishing up on Moosehead Lake.  He met his future wife, Tuerena Banks (who had migrated from Scotland to Massachusetts in 1912), when she was working as a resort waitress.  They married around 1927 and moved immediately to Lynn, Massachusetts to be near to his uncle Carl's family, where he lived the remainder of his life.  In 1930 they lived in a rented home on Prospect Street in Lynn (Rent in 1930 - $20/month).  The building was later razed in the 70's in order to build the Lynn Vocational Tech High School.  For the 1940 Census, they were living at 60 Johnson Street in Lynn Commons area, and had been living there since at least 1935.  At some point after 1938, Norman suffered an accident at his job, J.B. Blood Food Market, where a large crane fell on him.

In 1948, Norman and Tuerena separated.  Norman died in 1984 in Roxbury.  Norman worked as a dry goods shipping salesman, but was an avid carpenter and fisherman, and his final job was with General Electric.  Norman & Turena had three children:  Norma Peterson-Hios-Laclair, who died in Las Vegas in 2003, and William and Joan. Norman was president of the St. Vincent De Paul Society of Lynn during the 30's.  Tuerena died in 1991 in Salem. I've had no luck getting obituaries from any of these towns.

(ABOUT 1940)

(abt 1990)

-Emeline Thomasena Peterson (1905-1993) (known as Emma, and later Emily) was a servant for the Durrell house on 23 Lamb Street as a teenager in 1920.  She moved to Portland in 1922 and married Charles Albert Smith (a turntable operator on the railroad born to Polish and Swedish immigrants).  They had two kids:  Charles, Jr., who retired in Texas after a long military career (WWII and Korea), & Helen, who was an avid bingo player, and ran "Helen's Restaurant" in New Haven.  Emma divorced Charles in 1929 and moved to South Portland, marrying William Kelley in 1931 (the kids were living with stepfather Charles and his new wife Ivy on Federal Street for the 1930 Census).  Emma later married Donald Keene from South Portland around 1940, and moved to Wallingford, Connecticut, where she died in August of 1993 at Skyview Convalescent Home.  The funeral was held at Yalesville Funeral Home, and she was cremated August 18th at Pine Grove Crematorium in Waterbury.  Yalesville picked up her ashes, and they are still there to this day, waiting to be picked up.  It appears that one of Emma's granddaughters will be retrieving them at some point.

This blog post has been particularly helpful in connecting with distant cousins and descendants of Christian and Lena.

Below is a picture of Lena, on the porch of her home in Berlin New Hampshire, just a few years before she passed:

Below are pedigree charts for Christian and Lena, both 100% Danish descent:

Other Petersens that lived in Westbrook during that era (not sure if there was a relation):

-Aldehied Dorothea Rickert-Petersen (1836-1922).  Adelheid was born a Rickert in Bov, Sonderjylland.  Her second marriage in Denmark was to a Peter Petersen.  She emigrated to Westbrook Maine with her two boys Frederick & Christian in 1891.  I feel she may have been a relative to my Petersens.

-Niels Petersen (1842-1916) Niels lived right next door to Christian's family on Day Street.  He had arrived in Westbrook in 1873 (several years prior to the rest of the Petersens mentioned above).  Their son Peter, a cabinet maker, shot himself at home one September day in 1911.  According to records, Niels had different parents altogether (Peter Nielsen & Annie Akelene), and his name didn't appear as a survivor on  the below obituary of Christian Petersen or in his probate records.  I feel there must be some kind of cousin connection, though, and that Niels may have been the first immigrant and the one who sent for the rest.

-Hans A. (1861-1913) had parents named Peter & Cecelia, was born in Denmark, but lived for a while in Germany, and had four children there (Peter, Johanna, John & Celia).  He brought the whole family (without the wife) to Westbrook.  He remarried there to a woman named Maria and had an additional seven children (Julianna, Carl, Agnes, Andrew, Lillian, Christian and Arthur).  Hans was an incorporating member of Trinity Lutheran Church on Main Street.  He lived on Main Street and Spring Street in Westbrook and worked in the paper mill.  In 1913, just a few months after his wife Maria had died from a mysterious pelvis disease, Hans had an accident at work where a lever connected to a machine smashed him in the testicles.  He had a failed surgery, developed lockjaw and died.

This obit mentions that Christian came from a large family of children.  Other than those listed above as confirmed siblings, I'm not sure who else is there.  It also says that he came to America as a boy.  But the earliest record I could find of him arriving in the USA is in 1882, when he was in his 30's.  I'm curious about what other life he was leading prior to that.  If he had arrived as a boy, then that would mean his parents were here too, and I don't see any record of that...

Below, taken from Christian Petersen's probate record, is the signature of his widow, Lena, then already known as Caroline Kimball.  Note how she spells this.  It makes me wonder if perhaps she never learned proper English, or if she perhaps never could write well.  Her signature clearly says "Caroline C. Chambel".

Finally, according to distant cousins, the Petersens were referred to as "square heads".  I don't quite see it, but these were different times, maybe their heads did appear square to others...


  1. Enjoyed reading about my grandmother's (Florence) ancestry - thank you it is truly appreciated especially the information concerning Jennie - just wanted to add that Florence married Michael Pulit (son of Polish immigrants) not Hungarian, Thank you again

  2. Hi. My great-great grandmother was a Nadeau who married a Carman in Maine. She was French-Canadian as well. Her parents were Joseph Nadeau and Phoebe Farmia.

  3. I have just started doing some research on my family and I knew my g'mother Lillian Petersen was from Maine. I am delighted to learn Hans A. Petersen 1861-1913 is my great grandfather and his daughter Lillian namned above was my father's mother. Do you have any more information on the Hans. A. Petersen family?

    1. Unfortunately, that's all I know, Cheryl. I tried to find out where Hans came from, in order to see if he is connected at all to my Petersens, but came up empty. Good luck!