Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Little Genealogical Serendipity

One of the fun things about genealogy research is the tendency of the stars lining up where you least expect.  I had one of those events this week.  It was so unlikely that I thought I’d share.  A 100 year old letter in Denmark helped me identify who was in a 100 year old picture I got from my grandmother’s house in St Croix, of a family in New Jersey, featuring a guest from St Croix.  Confused?  We’ll sort it out.

One of the best things that this blog has done for me is to put me in contact with distant relatives.  About two months ago I got an email from Thomas Hvit, in Denmark, asking about my posting, I Found My Great-Great Grandfather.  Apparently he  is researching his grandfather’s uncle Harald who, it turns out, married my grandfather’s aunt Mary Conrad.  From our communications I was able to piece together the life of Mary Conrad Simonsen. This was a huge break for me as I had never heard of the Simonsen family, who lived in New Jersey.  Mary emigrated to New York in 1893 and married 2 weeks later, taking up residence in New Jersey.  I found her on a passenger list but then she just disappeared.  I needed a name to pick up the trail.  I have since made contact with Donna Powers who is a descendent of that line (score two cousins).

1911-Simonsens-Father 2 boysAs I mentioned in Treasures from Mom’s House, I have been going through a large number of photographs that we shipped up from the islands.  Along with photos taken in St Croix (my grandfather was into photography since around 1916) there are also a number of photos of family and friends from other places, sent to St Croix.  Some of these pictures have names on the back, but many don’t.  These can be difficult to identify.  Sometimes even with the name it is difficult since I may have never heard of the people.  Going through the pictures with my mother, I found pictures labeled “Mr. and Mrs. Simonsen & Family”.  Wow!  I knew who these people were.  I had to explain to my mother (who had had the pictures for 25 years) all about them.  Pretty cool.

While scanning in my photos (I scanned all 1400 of them), I found this picture of the Simonsens. A nice picture of an older man and two young men. On the back it simply read “Mamma & Papa”. Since the picture is 3 men, I could see a Papa, but no Mamma.  Strange.Scan10006-zoom

Then there was the issue of who these men were. In the picture, Harald is seated in the middle with his son Lauritz on the left (your left, not Harald’s left). I recognized Lauritz from other pictures I have of him. He also looks just like his father. The problem was the man on the right. He appears to be close to Lauritz’s age. That’s a problem because after Lauritz, Harald and Mary had two girls and then three more sons. The second boy was 5 years younger than Lauritz. In this photo, Lauritz would have been around 18 or so and the third man clearly isn’t 13. So who was he and why was he posing in a studio picture with the Simonsens? Looking closely, he didn’t look like any of the other Simonsen children in my other pictures.  Who was this strange man?  Why did it say “Mamma & Papa”?  Since the picture is 100 years old, I was sure I’d never know…

Lauritz Simonsen (Large)Last week I sent Thomas a picture I found that had the name “Lauritz Simonsen” on the back.  The only Lauritz I knew of was Mary’s son, in the earlier picture, born in 1894. This gentleman clearly wasn’t him so I asked if Harald (Mary’s husband) had a brother named Lauritz.  He wrote back saying that yes, Harald’s brother, Lauritz Simonsen, was in the Danish Navy.  He pulled images of Danish Navy uniforms from the 1880s and it’s a good fit. Another one identified. 

But wait, there’s more…

Thomas has a collection of letters written from Harald (in St Croix and New Jersey) to his family back home.  Although he sent me scans of them (yay!), they are in Danish, so I have no idea what they say.  In his email about the Lauritz picture he added this little aside:

I read an other funny thing in the letter from Harald to Harald (Carl’s son in Denmark) 20. December 1912 - there Harald tell’s that on the picture of the family they sent to Denmark earlier that year 1912 Mary’s brothers son Ludvig Conrad was sitting next to Harald on the left side (maybe you can find that picture – I haven’t found it). In December he was returned back to St. Croix – He did not like to stay in New Jersey and it was the coldest winter in 18 years Harald told.

I looked again at the picture.  Could it be?  Then I looked at a group of postcards I had. I found a postcard from my great grandmother Hester to Ludvig.  It was addressed to Master Ludvig Conrad, 15 West 8th St., Bayonne New Jersey.  It was dated December 1911.  In the letter she wrote:

Dear Ludvig - I was ever so pleased to receive your letter & card, picture I am delighted with, you have developed much in so short a time. we shall soon be having you as big as Pappa! … Hope you will have a fine time.  Love, Mama [emphasis mine]

SCAN0779 (Large)There it is! My grandfather called his parents “Mamma & Papa”. The writing on the back wasn’t who the picture was of, it was who the picture was for. He sent it to his parents.

So, my grandfather was apparently in Bayonne NJ.  A quick search of passenger lists showed his arrival in New York on 20 Oct 1911.  (Didn’t find it earlier because it was listed under Ludwig R. Cowrad). The Ellis Island listing showed that he was staying with his aunt, Mary Simonsen, at 15 West 8th St., in Bayonne NJ.

So, lots of pieces have fallen into place.  Still, to make sure I located a picture of my grandfather, taken in St. Thomas, at around the same age.  Not sure exactly when this dates from, but he’s a young man.


Compare the faces of these two men. I think we have a match.


1911-Simonsens-Father 2 boys-Ludvig

So, the picture was taken shortly after Ludvig’s arrival in Bayonne NJ, between October 20 and December 21, 1911.  Ludvig wrote “Mama & Papa” on the back and sent it to his parents in St Croix.  Ludvig’s mother sent a card on Dec 21 thanking him and kept the pictures.  Ludvig kept the picture until his death, his wife Olga kept it, her daughter, my mother, brought it up from St Croix, and eventually I got it.  The picture is exactly 100 years old (give or take a couple weeks).

The only part that seems to be trouble now is Harald’s statement that “Ludvig Conrad was sitting next to Harald on the left side”. In the picture I have he is clearly on the right.  Of course, from Harald’s perspective it was the left and probably that’s what he remembered.  As he sit for the photo, his son Lauritz was on the right and his nephew Ludvig was on the left.

So, Thomas, yes!  I have the picture.

(And now you do too.)


  1. I wondered who was in the picture with my grandfather also (Lauritz is my grandfather)
    What a wonderful find!