Peder Pedersen & Cecilie Jensen, 1850
My family name "Pedersen" is extremely common in Denmark, meaning "son of Peder". Up until the early 1800's, the family name changed each generation. For example, if Jens Svensen had a son named Peder, his name would be Peder Jensen (son of Jens). He would not have the last name Svensen. This caused a lot of confusion, and the law was changed so that a family had to pick a name.
The man pictured on the left is Peder Pedersen, my great-great grandfather and his wife Cecilie Marie Jensen. Peder was the gardener and caretaker for a large estate on the island of Lolland called "Berritzgaard" click here for more information about the estate). Peder Pedersen and his wife had 5 children, youngest of which was my great-grandfather, Peder Henrik Pedersen. Peder grew up on the estate, and later worked as a grocer. At a dance, he met Elisabeth Dyrlund, the daughter of a prominent Danish family. They were married and soon had a son, Holger. They emigrated to America in 1884.
In the 1880's many Danes emigrated to America in search of a better life. Denmark is a small country with few opportunities for a common person to own land; most land was held in large estates or by the crown. America offered land at very low prices in states like Wisconsin and Illinois; land on the Great Plains in Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska was free through the Homestead Act of 1862. More Danes settled in Wisconsin than in any other state and Racine county in southeastern Wisconsin soon became the largest settlement of Danes in America. Racine was the home to many factories such as the J. I. Case thresing machine company and the Mitchell & Lewis Wagonworks that attracted Danish immigrants as workers.
Peder, Elisabeth and Holger set out on their grand adventure in June, 1884. They sailed on the ship Thingvalla, arriving in New York on June 24, 1884. .
Most likely they travelled by train from New York to Racine. Soon the Pedersen family was growing, with Ole Ferdinand arriving in 1885 and Ida Cecilie in 1886. Peder worked at the American Seating Company, a school furniture factory, carefuly saving money and purchasing land in Racine.
In 1888 Elisabeth was pregnant with their fourth child when tragedy struck. Elisabeth died from childbirth complications, leaving Peder with three children under the age of 5. Elisabeth's brother Christen Dyrlund had also emigrated to America, working in Forest City, Florida managing a plantation. He moved to Racine with his wife and children and helped Peder care for the family. Christen longed to return to Denmark, which meant Peder had to find help to care for the children. He placed an ad in a Danish newspaper for a nanny. Karen Christine Jensen from the island of Møn answered the ad and sailed to America. Soon Karen and Peder were married in 1889. Their family grew quickly with Martha Agnes in 1890, Erna in 1891, Olga in 1892, John in 1897, Stella in 1900 and Henry in 1901. The ever-burgeoning family meant the Pedersens needed a larger home. In 1895, Peder Pedersen designed and built his own house at 1823 Taylor Avenue, which stands to this day.
The Berritzgaard Manor House, Denmark
Soon the Pedersen children were growing up. Holger, known as "Huck", worked as a mailman, Ole as a policeman, Ida as a housewife, Martha as a nurse, and Olga as a nanny. Erna was the student of the family and in 1928 earned a Ph.D. in ancient languages from the University of Michigan, a rare feat for a woman in that time period. She taught at several universities around the country including the University of Wisconsin.
John built housing developments and founded Africa U.S.A., Stella was an elementary school teacher and Henry was the president of the Milwaukee division of Chr. Hansen, a leading manufacturer of food ingredients.
Peder Pedersen could certainly be proud of the accomplishments of his family in America. He died in 1944 at the age of 87. Today, many Pedersen descendants still live in the Racine area and in many other parts of the United States.
The Pedersen Family in Racine, 1910
Peder Pedersen and Karen Christine
House built by Peder Pedersen in Racine, Wisconsin