Wednesday, January 22, 2014

There are Benefits to Cleaning Out Your Basement

closetUnder my living room I have a little storage space, about 3 feet high, running the full length and width of the room (13' x 24').  Nearly 1,000 cubic feet of dry inside storage space. Packed full. There are all sorts of things we have put in there - never to be seen again.   Along with an admirable collection of dust and debris, there are lamps, suitcases, old pillows and bedspreads, knickknacks, my old comic collection, one new car tire, an inflatable boat [anybody want an inflatable boat?],  and dozens of boxes of books and papers.  Somewhere in there, I knew, I had some old papers I had shipped up from my grandmother’s house in Christiansted, but where?  It seemed like less trouble going to all the way to St Croix to look through the collection at Whim than to tackle that beast of a storage area.

Well, Monday was a holiday for me but not for my wife, so I figured I’d surprise her and spend my day off cleaning out and organizing the years of junk, rather than “chillaxing” in front of the TV like most sensible people.  Since the ceiling is 3' high and I'm 6' 1", it was pretty cramped, and I'm still quite sore, but it was worth it. Not only did I complete a task we’ve been putting off for years, but I found that box of old papers. That night, I started going through them and made quite a find: the Royal Appointment of my great grandfather, Christian Andreas Conrad, to the office of Toldskontrølor (Comptroller of Customs) of St Croix in 1907.

Royal Appointment of Christian Andreas Conrad

1907-Appointment CA Conrad-full (Medium)
Front and Back Images of Royal Appointment of CA Conrad with Royal Seal

Since many people may not have run across a document like this, I thought I‘d take some time to analyze it.  Below is a transcription of the Danish and my meager attempt to translate (with help from Google and my dear friend Kaj in Denmark).  Forgive any errors.

The document is a “Bestalling”, or an “Admission” document, typical in the Royal court of Denmark.  This is a type of Royal Appointment that was common in Denmark.  A Bestalling was an “open letter”, that is, a letter to no one in particular, that states the appointment, sets a wage, and confers rights to the named party.  Uncharacteristically for the Danish documents I’ve run into, it is highly legible in a very neat hand.  Characteristically, the language is old.  Since Danish was reformed in 1948, this should not be surprising.

Note: For those interested in old Danish orthography, note that the Danish letter ø is denoted as an “o” with an apostrophe (e.g., in many records the word for “born”, Født, is written Fod’t). The Danish letter æ is often rendered “ae” making it hard to tell which is meant.  The modern letter å was not commonly used prior to 1948 and appears in most old documents as a double “a” (the Danish word for "on" is på rendered as paa). Also a double comma is used to indicate a hyphen for splitting words (you can see this in the first line in the word “aller,,højeste”. 


The document begins with a preprinted historic full title of the King of Denmark.  Interestingly, most of the territories named (e.g., those in Schleswig and Holstein) were German, and no longer part of the Danish empire by 1907, but the title was retained.  This style of title was abandoned in 1972 by Queen Margarethe II.
Danish Text
English Translation
Vi Frederik den Ottende,
af Guds Naade Konge til Danmark, de Venders
og Gothers Hertug til Slesvig, Holten, Stormarn,
Ditmarsken, Lauenborg og Oldenborg,
We Frederik VIII,
By the Grace of God, King of Denmark, of the Wends
and of the Goths; Duke of Schleswig, Holstein, Stormarn, the
Ditmarsh, Lauenburg and Oldenburg ,

Following this is the archaic and hard to translate Gjore vitterligt: which essentially means “Hear ye, hear ye!” followed by the actual appointment language.
Gjore vitterligt: : At Vi ved Vor aller-
højeste Resolution af 14de d M have beskikket
og forordnet, ligesom Vi og hermed beskikke
og forordne Assistent ved Christiansted Told-
sted Christian Andreas Conrad, som har
de i Indfødsretten fastsatte Egenskaber,
til at vare Toldkontrolør paa St Croix
fra den 1ste April 1907 at regne.
Do Indeed: Be it known according to our highest
Resolution of 14th d M[arch] be appointed
and decreed, as we and hereby appoint
and ordain Assistant at Christiansted Customs
Office Christian Andreas Conrad, who has
citizenship in the prescribed properties,
to act as Customs Controller on St Croix
from the 1st of April 1907.
Then comes a section that is almost word-for-word included in all similar appointments.  When Hans C. Andersen was appointed Royal Councilor in 1874 by Christian IX, the words were identical.  The lines are split across the front and back, but I’ve kept them together in the transcription below.
Thi skal han va[e]re Os som sin
rette Konge og Herre tro og lydig, holde
Rigets Grundlov og med Troskab og Nidkær-
hed opfylde de Pligter, som det ham aller-
naadigst betroede Embede paalægger ham.
alt i Overensstemmelse med den Ed, han
derpaa allerunderdanigst gjort og aflagt haver.
For he must to Us as his rightful King and Lord, with faith and obedience, keep
the Empire’s Constitution and with faithfulness and zeal
fulfill the duties which his graciously
entrusted office imposes upon him,
all in conformity with the oath he
has most humbly made and presented..
At the bottom of the first page is the salary to be paid. 
Gebyr 512 fr 50 Bit Salary 512 fr 50 Bit
Currency in the DWI is somewhat complex, but the base unit was the daler, introduced in 1849.  By 1859 they had decimal coinate and a daler was 100 cents.  In 1904 they added some complexity by creating the bit and the franc.  5 bit = 1 cent and 20 cents = 1 franc.  By 1917 the daler was worth $0.964 US, so my great grandfather’s salary amounted to  about $98.72 US.  It isn’t clear what the frequency of that payment was.
Finally, the document ends with the customary closing.  Amalienborg was the name of the palace in Copenhagen occupied by Frederik VIII.
Givet paa Amalienborg den 23 Marts 1907
Under Vor Kongelige Haand og Segl
[Signature] Frederik R
[Signature] Oillr. Lassen
Given at Amalienborg, March 23, 1907
Under Our Royal hand and Seal
[Signature] Frederik R
[Signature] Oillr. Lassen
At the bottom of the second page it states what the document is:
Assistent ved Christiansted Toldsted
Christian Andreas Conrad
til at vare
Toldkontrolør paa St. Croix fra den
1ste April 1907 at regne
Assistant at Christiansted Customs office
Christian Andreas Conrad
to perform as
Toldkontrolør on St. Croix from the
1st April 1907 reckoning

The Royal Signature

Signature-Frederik Viii
Detail showing Signature of Frederik R
I had initially assumed the document was issued in St Croix and so the signature was that a local official, perhaps the Governor. Once I translated the document and looked closer at it, it was clear that it was issued in Copenhagen and it seemed that the signature could have been that of King Frederik VIII of Denmark (reigned 1906-1912) - note that it is only a first name. It's quite hard to verify a signature of a king who's been dead for over 100 years, but the internet is a wonderful place.

Frederik VIII-Image and Signature
Signed Photo of Frederik VIII from Getty
I searched around and found this signed photo of King Frederik VIII in Getty Images. Looking at the two I see enough similarities that I’m fairly confident that they're the same hand. Have to admit, its probably the only document I have that bears the original signature of a king. That's probably why it was kept long after my great grandfather died. I've had it for 20 years without realizing what it was. All I knew was that I had some Danish papers.

Now I have a wonderful find, a great deal more understanding, and a clean basement to boot.  All in all, a good day.

So, I wonder what's the correct genealogical source citation for this. Evidence Explained doesn't have a category for "King of Denmark, Royal Appointment, original document"


  1. Arnold van Beverhoudt, Jr.January 24, 2014 at 8:55 PM

    Great find, David. Thanks for sharing this great piece of your family history.

    I had visited your blog earlier in the afternoon and it was "unavailable." Maybe you were working on your post at the time. I was going to email to see if you had taken it down, but I'm glad to see you're still in business.

    Hope you have a great weekend.


  2. I think Blogger was down. I couldn't log into my account today for a few hours. Not getting rid of me that easily!!

  3. There is no doubt the document was signed by the King. What an amazing find! You might want to take the document to a conservationist to be mounted and preserved.

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  5. Interesting article and very well written. Thanks for sharing :)

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