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Jens Thomsen Family


Posted By: Volunteer
Date: 10/13/2006 at 17:13:10

--From Graettinger [Palo Alto Co, IA] Centennial 1893-1993
p. 307-308


Jens Thomsen was born in Aslborg, Denmark on February 18, 1863. In 1882 he came to America like many of the other young men who did not want to serve in the armed forces. He did not speak or understand English. He arrived in this area all alone looking for work. His first job was with the Jeremiah Crowley family near Emmetsburg. He worked for several farmers before he went on his own.

A few years later, he met Kirsten Larson. She, too, was from Denmark. She was born on August 23, 1869 at Frederikshavn. She had come to Iowa with her parents, a sister and two brothers, when Kirsten was thirteen. After suffering from scarlet fever, Kirsten had lost her hearing so she attended school for only one year. Her mother had tuberculosis so Kirsten took care of her mother until she died. After that Kirsten worked for several families. At a fourth of July picnic at the Lars Olson home Kirsten was introduced to Jens Thomsen. Soon Jens was coming on horseback to visit Kirsten, in the evenings, at the home where she worked. In 1889, Kirsten, aged twenty-one, and Jens, age twenty-seven, were married at her father’s home.

Jens bought a farm five miles southwest of Graettinger, known as the old Andrew Henningson farm. There were no buildings so a 12 x 14 building was moved, by horses, to the farm to be their first home. Anna and Ida were born there. They went to church at South Walnut. The parents walked two miles carrying the little girls. Three years later, they moved to a farm near Fallow, known as the Jorgen Knutsen farm. Tommie and Minnie (a surviving twin) were born there. The family moved again to the Bill Moran farm where Lars, Mary and Mayme were born. In 1903, they settled on the “home place” one mile north and tree miles west of Graettinger where Bill, Clara (Toots) and Albert (Dutch) joined the family. The family had a big farming operation with cattle, hogs, sheep and horses besides eight hundred eight acres of land, forty-six of the cattle were milk cows, milked by hand. The cream separator was operated by a treadmill on which a pony walked, later a goat was used. The girls washed the separator and helped feed the calves and pigs. Water was later piped to the barn and later to the hoghouse. After chores and breakfast, the children walked to school carrying their lunch pails.

Jens passed away on January 2, 1910 at the age of forty-seven. Kirsten was left with ten children, the oldest sixteen and the youngest one year. For ten years, she stayed on the farm doing field work and chores, along with hired help and the children. In 1913, Kirsten married John Nelson (who had lost his wife). He had eight children, the three youngest came to live with the Thomsens. John was also from Denmark.

Although Kirsten had little education, she had great ingenuity. She made all the children’s clothes and without patterns. One night after all were in bed, she made dresses for Mary, Mayme and Martha (step-daughter) to wear to the school basket social the following evening. She baked bread daily, churned butter and made cheese (sometimes a single cheese weighed twelve pounds). She butchered a cow, hog or sheep as needed to keep the family supplied with meat She processed the meat herself. The large garden produced plenty of vegetables and fruit for daily use and for canning hundreds of quarts for the winter. One winter there were eighteen family members at meals.

There was a large house with eight rooms; a pantry, porch and a back shanty used as a wash house where the washing was done weekly on”hand” operated machine. It had a cistern, drain and sink. The hand towels were on rollers so as one end was soiled you rolled up a clean area. The house had four room upstairs. The boys had two beds and girls room had three. There was a spare bedroom for company. The smaller room was the “flour” room where fifty 100 pound sacks of flour along with 100 pound sack of sugar and a large bag of coffee beans were stored for the winter. They had a coffee grinder. The parlor was only used on special occasions, one of those was on the death of the father when the red rug had to be rolled up and hidden. The girls could not wear their new red dresses as only black was allowed. A coal stove, in the dining room, heated the house and was stored in a corner of the parlor in the summer.

The kitchen was a large room with a pantry and along one wall stood the homemade table, 3 ˝ feet X 8 feet. There were eight foot long benches on one side where the children sat. The cook stove had a reservoir and a warming oven in front sat the wood box which was filled with wood and cobs by the children. Often the cobs were gathered in the hog pen and had a foul odor. In one corner there was a cistern pump and a wash basin. The shelf near by held the water pail with a dipper that was used by everyone. The trap door in the floor led to the cellar. The girls’ jobs were to fill the lamps with kerosene, wash the lamp chimneys, empty the chamber pots, wash the dishes and help with the cooking and baking.

At one time, there were nine Thomsens going to school. Anna and Ida had to learn English at school because only Danish was spoken at home. The schools contained no useless equipment and the children were taught the basics- the three Rs.

The Thomsen family heled many others over the years. Most acts of kindness are not recorded. It is known that a ticket was sent to John Jorgensen, in Denmark, around 1900 so he could come to America. He was a brother to Walter, Anna’s husband. In 1907, Jens sent a ticket to Hans Lund who was his nephew. Many years later Hans paid Kirsten for the ticket. In 1909 the father went to visit his parents in Denmark as they had celebrated their seventy-fifth wedding anniversary the year before. He brought back three men, Paul, Soren and Peter, and we believe these men worked out their fares on the Thomsen farm.

In 1920, Kirsten and John moved to Graettinger. John Nelson passed away in 1924. In 1929, Kirsten moved to the home that most of the grandchildren remember. For those who could not speak Danish language, it was hard to visit with her but the children and grandchildren will never forget her self sufficiency, her love for her families and the candy dish that was never empty. Her knitted mittens were the warmest. She was able to care for herself until the age of ninety when her daughters helped out. She had a stroke and died four or five days later in November, at the age of ninety-two. She was survived by nine children, twenty-eight grandchildren and many great-grandchildren. She left many precious memories.

We pay tribute to a wonderful mother who gave her children a happy childhood and a great heritage. She was a loving grandmother – a remarkable woman.


Palo Alto Biographies maintained by Cathy Joynt Labath.
WebBBS 4.33 Genealogy Modification Package by WebJourneymen

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