The Petersen and Christiansen ancestors on this page are all from Denmark or more accurately from the region on the present day German/Danish border region that (at the time of Sönke and Anna's emigration) were culturally and linguistically Danish. Although we know who our ancestors were going back a number of generations, earlier than the mid-1800s we don't have much information beyond the basic facts of their existence.

See all links in Petersen Family Tree

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The Petersen family

Schleswig-Holstein connection

Take a look at the Petersen family tree. Virtually everyone shown there lived out their lives along the 35 mile line that today separates Denmark and Germany. (Go here to see a longer history of this region). The Petersens considered themselves Danes, but the land they lived in had become part of Germany by the mid-1860s. Their home town of Uphusum is less than 10 miles south of the current Danish border, in the Schleswig region. Through My Heritage, I connected with Petersen relatives who still live in the region that Sönke Petersen and Anna Christiansen left behind. They now speak German and, in spite of their surname, I’m sure they think of themselves as Germans, not Danes.

How We're Related

Doris Petersen married Robert Stevens on March 20, 1942 in Hattiesburg, Mississippi when Bob was going through Army training at Camp Shelby. On May 1 Bob was promoted to staff sergeant and he went on to officer training in Fort Benning, Georgia, Doris returned to East Chicago. Bob would be sent to other US bases in Tennessee and Maryland before being shipped to the Pacific.

She grew up with three first generation immigrant grandparents living nearby: James Roberts, an Irish Protestant, and Sönke and Anna Petersen, who had emigrated from Germany but were linguistic and cultural Danes.

Doris was born in East Chicago and remained there until she went to college at Indiana University where she met Bob. In 1940 she was living at home with her parents and maternal grandmother and working as a stenographer.

After the war the family moved to South Bend, Indiana where they stayed until moving to Bergen County, New Jersey in 1965. Doris' mother, Teresa, lived with Bob and Doris for the last years of her life.


Petersen family-1932
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Henry Petersen married Teresa Roberts on June 13, 1918 in East Chicago, Indiana.

A childhood accident that left Henry's foot deformed may have changed his prospects later in life. Because he was unable to do a great deal of physical labor, he directed his energy and was encouraged towards academics. He, like all his siblings and his own two children, went to high school in East Chicago. But he continued his education and graduated with a law degree from the University of Michigan in 1917 and worked as a lawyer in the East Chicago area for the rest of his life. His daughter, Doris, remembers him taking chickens, eggs and garden produce from his clients who were cash strapped during the depression.

Judge Petersen

Henry was active in local Republican politics. He was the East Chicago City Attorney and Deputy Prosecutor. His politics were conservative; he was not a fan of Roosevelt's New Deal and believed in low taxes. In 1937, as a member of the Lake County Board of Tax Adjustment, he pushed for cutting the property tax in half.

The Petersen family was always close both in terms of getting together and in physical distance. Most of the family lived within a few block radius on Northcote and Baring Avenues and Henry and Teresa lived a half mile away. Henry and all his brothers were active in the local Masonic Lodge. He was a generous man that put family above all else. He loved Christmases especially having the whole family around the tree overloaded with presents.


Danish connection

Sönke Petersen married Anna Christiansen on June 7, 1882 in Chicago. He came to the US aboard the ship Australia in 1881. The Edward Carr line to which the ship belonged was one of the cheap fare carriers of their day. He had come over earlier from the part Germany that was dominated by Danish speakers to get a job and earn enough money to send for Anna.

Petersen family

Sönke Petersen and Anna Christiansen had 11 children, with two dying in infancy and one in her twenties. Apparently Sönke, as a young man was conscripted into the Prussian army and decided that he didn't want the same for his sons. This was a prime consideration in deciding to sail to America.

Sönke was a pioneer in the Calumet area of NW Indiana. He settled in Hessville in 1890 where he had a small farm where his sons supplied the labor. He was later employed at the Grasselli, Graver and Inland Steel company.[1]

Braderup (Uphusum)

Sönke and Anna were baptized eight months apart in this church in the Lutheran parish of Braderup and it was the center of the lives of many of their family and ancestors. Church records going back to 1638 show baptisms, marriages, and funerals for many in the family. The village church of Braderup is mentioned for the first time in the church register in 1240. The Gothic brick building was probably built around this time with restoration taking place in 1937. The oak altar dates from 1676; the pulpit is at least 100 years older. The baptismal font has been in the Braderup church for over 700 years. All this is to say that the church that the Petersens and the Christiansens knew is much the same as the church that exists today.

Braderup Church

The parish was Braderup had a number of smaller villages or settlements in it. It was in Braderup where the church and the civil administration was. Uphusum became only important after it became a stop on the new railway from Niebüll to Süderlügum. Holm, which means a piece of slightly raised land lying in a fen or partly surrounded by streams, was slight elevation in the coastal marshland, which was reasonably secure against flooding until the dikes were built. The water between Uphusum and Holm was a ford and later a bridge. Where the various settlements belonged was determined by the most reasonable and practical foot paths to church.

Keep in mind that the distances are small. A journey from Braderup to Uphusum to Holm by road is less than two miles.


Christian Petersen married Margaretha Petersen on February 2, 1850 in Braderup, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany.


Hans Peter Petersen married Cicilia Christiansen in June 1821 in Lügum.


Peter Hansen Petersen Geschwind married Anna Hahn

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The Matriarchy

(l to r) Elizabeth Mills, mother of Mary Daniels, mother of May Francis, mother of Teresa Roberts, mother of Doris Petersen

Ellen Elizabeth Mills  Mary Elizabeth Daniels  May Gertrude Francis  Teresa May Roberts  Doris Petersen 


Christiansen Family

The Christiansen family like the Petersens came from the same Danish-German border region and similarly came from the same small farmer tradition.

How We're Related

Petersen family grocery today

Anna Christiansen married Sönke Petersen in 1882 soon after arriving in the United States. She ran a small grocery store at 150th and Olcott Streets in East Chicago. The family lived in the back of the store. Anna was very religious and was a German Lutheran member before coming to East Chicago. When there was only a Swedish Lutheran church there, she started going to the Congregational church and the rest of the family followed (except for Sönke).

Although the parents spoke Danish, none of their children did but they remember certain Danish words used growing up, especially around cooking. The stewed prunes (svedsker) were a regular at family gatherings. Every Saturday night the whole family would meet at Anna and Sönke's house to play Hearts. The men were very competitive (the loser bought the ice cream) and the games often lasted until 2:00 am.

Anna apparently had a child before she married Sönke. A document shows Marie Sophie Christiansen born to Anna on December 7, 1878 in Uphusum with the notation "Vater nicht angegeben" (father not specified). I do not know what happened to Marie.


Hans Christiansen married Maria Hansen on Aug 7, 1838. He was the youngest of nine children. Hans is called in a document an 'Inste' which means he was a resident.


Lorenz Christiansen married Ingeburg Nielsen in 1796. Lorenz is referred to as a Käthner which means either he would be leasing or owning a "Kate" (or cottage) and could have no land or up to 10 acres of land for farm use, which meant that the cottage had a small barn and some animals; also called a 'Husmann' or smallholder.


Christian Lorenzen married Marina Andredatter on May 5, 1764. Marina's father Andreas is recorded as being a 'Kuhlengraber' or grave digger.


Lorenz Brodersen married Hanna Christiansdatter

Sönke and Anna

My cousin Dick Williams has written a touching remembrance of the Petersens. See Dick Williams' story here.

Anna (Christiansen) Petersen

"When it came time to emigrate, Grandpa (Sönke) and Grandma (Anna) Petersen had agreed to marry but were too poor to afford two of even the cheapest fares to America, so they scraped together just enough for Grandpa to come first, in steerage. Steerage food was mainly half-rotten potatoes, and not many of those. Thus, he recounted, the first English phrase he learned was “No more!”, and the second “Son of a bitch!” Making his way to South Chicago, where a covey of fellow-Danes had preceded him, he worked for several years as a common laborer in the steel mill there, until he'd saved enough money to send for Grandma.

The day she arrived (the Ems from Bremen landed Anna Christiansen in New York on May 16, 1885), they were married, after which they dined with the pastor and his wife, who then washed the dishes while Grandma wiped. Born in 1856, they were now 29 years old -- Grandpa was fond of remarking in later years that if only they had married young, they could have had a big family. This was a drollery: in the event, they had eleven kids. The first two died in their first summer of what was then a common cause of infant death known as “summer complaint”, presumably transmitted in bad drinking water. Then came nine who grew up.

Where Anna and Sönke were baptized

The streets of South Chicago turned out not to be paved with gold, and the promise of an easier and better life in the promised land pretty much had to wait for the next generation. In the US Steel mill, Grandpa worked twelve hours a day, seven days a week. But only for two or three years once Grandma got there. Even after all that work, on payday he and his buddies still summoned up energy enough to stop in at the neighborhood saloon for beer en route home. You know how guys are. The quantities imbibed reached a level sufficient that Grandma insisted on moving out to Indiana, safely distant from the malign influence of Danish cronies.

Those decades may have seen the zenith of the Protestant work ethic. Grandpa’s unending workdays were broken from time to time by economic turndowns -- when something like the Panic of 1893 came along and the demand for steel dropped, the mill just laid off the laborers until things picked up again. Though there was no public welfare system at the time, private charity of some kind was out there. Not, however, for the Petersens -- Grandma said they “would rather die” than accept “relief”. Her life was no more a bed of roses than Grandpa's. Besides raising all those kids, she kept a cow and chickens when they first moved to semi-rural Hessville (now part of Hammond); and when they later moved three or four miles into the mill town of East Chicago, where livestock wasn't allowed, she ran a store on the ground floor while the tribe lived upstairs.

Religious beliefs and ethnic loyalties were intense when my grandparents were young. After Mary Petersen’s birth in 1894, her mother, carrying her baby, walked the six miles from Hessville to East Chicago, then took a streetcar to South Chicago to have the baby baptized. She was so strong in her Lutheran beliefs. Was there no Lutheran church closer than Chicago? Yes, the Swedish Lutheran church which still survives in East Chicago was already there -- 'but that was Swedish'.”

A DNA mystery

Tracing this side of the family farther back in Denmark was given a boost from my DNA testing. Our family shares a common ancestor with a living Danish relative, Liz Thomsen, in Anders Laursen Møller and Sara Hansdatter, who were married on January 8, 1803. They do not show up in my family tree. They lived on a Mølgaard (mill farm) in the village of Vindelev near Vejle, Denmark, around 1800-1815. Sara had a child out of wedlock in 1799 that died soon after. She started working for the miller, Anders Laursen Møller, whom she married in January 1803. We know that Sara’s paternal haplogroup is N1b1, which is associated with Ashkenazi Jews. Liz states that Sara was not a common name among Danish peasant girls. Unfortunately, we haven’t yet been able to trace the exact connection, but it is likely that is through Anna Christiansen, my great grandmother. So the speculation would be that one or more of Anna’s biological ancestors are different from her ancestors of record or we are related through Anna's daughter, Marie Sophie Christiansen.

Stevens/Petersen/Christiansen /Hansen

Hansen Family

The Hansen family goes back five generations in the Süderlügum Parish of Schleswig-Holstein.

How We're Related

Marie Sophie Hansen married Hans Christiansen on July 8, 1838 in Braderup, Nordfriesland, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany.


Hans Hansen married Helena Andresen in October 1813 in Süderlügum, Germany. Hans Peter was considered a Käthner i.e., he owned a small house and some land.


Andreas Hansen married Anna Sophia Hansdatter


Peter Hansen married Gunder Andreses in 1743


Hans Andersen married Sitzel Petersdatter


All of Scandinavia, that is Demark, Norway, Sweden and Iceland, had used the patronymic naming system for thousands of years. Since German merchants and tradesmen settled in the Danish cities over the last 800 years, they brought many of the German customs with them. German noblemen and officials in Copenhagen and also in Schleswig city were directed by the king and the dukes to manage the countries business. So they introduced with the Reformation many German educated and trained pastors into the Danish State Church system. Thus when parish registers in 1646 were mandated in all parishes in the country, it was natural that the pastors started writing their official records in German. Holstein was settled by German noblemen and it became managed by the border protecting dukes in Schleswig. Over the centuries the German language began to creep up from Germany into the Danish Schleswig. On the West Coast and on the island were the Frisian settlement speaking a Dutch akin type language.

Braderup, Holm, Uphusum, Humptrup, Greelsbüll and Wimmersbüll was the western border of the Danish speaking population.

In about 1782 the bishop under direction of the Duke in Schleswig past a law introducing the mandatory use of fixed family surname and the outlawing of the patronymic system. Anna's grandfather Lorenz Christiansen, born in 1769, used the patronymic of his father, Christian Lorenzen. But Anna's father Hans Christiansen, born in 1816, used the Christiansen surname.

Until about 1850 to 1870 most ordinary people in Denmark used patronymics instead of surnames. Patronymics are constructed from the Christian name of a person’s father, followed by “sen” (= son) or “datter” (= daughter). So, for example, Jens Nielsen’s daughter Maren’s full name would be “Maren Jensdatter”, and his son Søren would be “Søren Jensen”.

Families were given a twenty year grace period to determine which surname they wanted to use. Many just used the surname in use by the head of the family in 1780. Others had the choice of using the wife's surname, adding the name of their profession or occupation, the name of their farm or a totally different surname.

From about 1780 on all children were listed in the parish register at baptism with their new surname. Before that time all parish register would only list the first names and it was automatically assumed that boys got the father's first name +sen (for son or søn in Danish) and girls would get their father's first name +datter.

Many of our ancestors came from Holm and other villages along the old Danish-Frisian language border, they might be Frisian descendants. Frisian came from Holland between 1100 and 1300 had the Dutch style surname system with its patronymic name imbedded between their first and last (sur)name.

Some of our ancestors are German without the patronymic tradition.

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General History


Relations with Native Americans







The Pequot War

King Philip's War


Schleswig-Holstein immigration

Scots-Irish immigration

Dutch immigration

The Headright System

German Immigration

Great Migration

Massachusetts Bay Colony

Plymouth Colony


General Layout


[1] Working conditions were probably quite unhealthy at all three companies. Even today lawyers representing mesothelioma victims (contracted from exposure to asbestos) list Grasselli Chemical Division, Graver Tank & Manufacturing Company, and Inland Steel Company as job sites where asbestos exposure is possible.


Thanks to Hans Rerup, Heini Petersen, and Thomas Kleinert for their help in tracking down Danish/German ancestors and to Dick Williams for his remembrances.

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