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Karen Lauritzdatter (1826-1866): Biography

This biography was compiled in October and November 2009 by W. Bart. Christenson, Jr., Provo, Utah, a great-great grandson, with the intention of making the life of Karen Lauritzdatter more meaningful for himself and her descendants. Ancillary historical information was utilized in order to broaden the perspective.

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It seems clear after due observation and contemplation that each of us has a unique role to play in the family to which we belong.

Our roles may vary—they may be single or manifold, positive or negative—but certainly everyone plays a definite part which affects and touches those closest to us.

Karen Lauritzdatter of Denmark was no exception. Her special role was that of catalyst. As a conscientious wife and mother, it was she who eventually brought her husband and children into the Gospel Light. Her great-granddaughter Virginia C. Keeler explains:

The gentle Karen herself was a woman of high intelligence and refinement, with a deep spiritual nature. She had been born in Gettrup, [Thy], 8 Sept. 1826 1, the youngest of three children, all daughters, born to Lauritz Jeppesen (anglicized to Laurs Jepsen) and Marianne Elizabeth Kristensen Eskov (anglicized to Marianne Christensen). (Eskov was the name of the place from whence her great-great paternal grandfather, Peder Sorensen, had originated, having been born there around 1678.) [She was confirmed in Gettrup Parish into the Lutheran Church in 1841. 2] Her father’s progenitors had lived right there in the area of Gettrup for more than two centuries at least, for there was a record of them…. But Karen’s mother’s forerunners had not come from Thy, as far back as they knew, but from across the Limfjord east and south…on the shores of Skive Fjord….

On 8 Dec. 1843, when Karen was just two months past her seventeenth birthday, her father died at age sixty-five years nine months, leaving her mother, herself and her two older sisters, Maren, just a week past twenty-one and Ane, nineteen and a half. In less than a year-and-a-half after his death all three of the girls had married: Maren, 20 Oct. 1844 to Niels Thomsen; Ane, 2 Mar. 1845 to Poul Jensen; and Karen, two and-a-half weeks after Ane, 25 Mar. 1845 to Christen Christensen of Flarup. All three couples were married in the Parish Church in Gettrup... 3

Following their marriage in Gettrup in 1845 4, Christen turned over the family farm which he had inherited to his younger and only living brother, Jens. The couple then moved to Kobberod, some five miles away, where he bought another farm. Here, with continued hard work and resourcefulness, over the next two decades, they prospered greatly.

He … built that farm until it [became] one of the richest and best in the whole area and he was considered one of the most successful farmers around. He employed a number of laborers, both on the farm and in the house. Aside from this he manufactured farm implements on his place, for which he had good market. 5

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Regarding the subsequent favorable social standing attained by Christen and Karen in Kobberod, it is interesting to look at the history of Denmark from the sixteenth century through the first half of the nineteenth century. As outlined in a constructive article on the subject 6, a number of beneficial factors served to shape the Danish economy:

Denmark’s geographical location in close proximity of the most dynamic nations of sixteenth century Europe, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, no doubt exerted a positive influence on the Danish economy and Danish institutions. The North German area influenced Denmark both through long-term economic links and through the Lutheran Protestant Reformation which the Danes embraced in 1536.

The Danish economy traditionally specialized in agriculture like most other small and medium sized European countries. [Additionally,] Denmark enjoyed a rather high agricultural land-to-labor ratio compared to other European countries, with the exception of the UK. [However, a major difference was that in Denmark a wealthy land-owning peasantry eventually evolved, whereas in England, before the late 1870’s, the land was solely under control of the hereditary nobility and a few wealthy farmers. 7]

Moreover, although 80-85 percent of the Danish population during this time-frame lived from subsistence agriculture in small rural communities, it is estimated, for example, that between 1800 and 1870, 10-30 percent of GDP, mainly oxen and grain was exported abroad. What's more, advantageous to these farmers up and down the Danish coast line of 7,314 km was the fact that at no point were any of them more than 50 km from the sea… in an age in which transport by sea was more economical than land transport.

A driving force of Danish economic growth, which took off during the late eighteenth century was population growth at home and abroad—which triggered technological and institutional innovation. This began to happen following the Black Plague as well as the numerous wars that had devastated Europe during the 1500’s. [The] accelerating growth can be ascribed to a decline in mortality, mainly child mortality… fewer spells of epidemic diseases due to fewer wars and to a greater inherited immunity against contagious diseases. Vaccination against smallpox and formal education of midwives from the early nineteenth century might have played a role.

Prices rose from the late eighteenth century in response to the increase in populations in Northern Europe, but also following a number of international conflicts. This again caused a boom in Danish transit shipping and in grain exports. [For these and other reasons, there were] massive land sales both from the remaining crown lands and from private landlords to their tenants. As a result two-thirds of all Danish farmers became owner-occupiers compared to only ten percent in the mid-eighteenth century. [Towards] the end of the nineteenth century…75 percent of all agricultural land was farmed by owners of middle-sized farms of about 50 acres.

As a consequence, living in Denmark when they did, Christen and Karen were beneficiaries of these multiple economic and social factors.

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In order to better understand our progenitors, it now seems appropriate to examine and review some of the customs and fashions of the Danish people during the nineteenth century. Knowing, for example, that Christen was a well-to-do farmer, a good dancer and athlete, and that his wife, Karen, would therefore be expected to “keep up appearances”, makes this little review all the more intriguing. An interesting article covering the subject entitled National Dress and Folk Dancing in Denmark points up a number of interesting facts:

One of the main features of peasant costumes of the 18th and 19th century was actually their individual character. For about 150 years the peasant costume had the form with which we are familiar from painting and general scenes of everyday life. The period was from about 1750 to 1900, and much of the clothing was home-made in one way of another. ‘Home-woven’ did not necessarily mean the fabric was woven at home, merely that the yarn had been spun at home from wool or flax which the peasant and his wife and helpers had harvested.

Before enclosure of common land about 1800, most Danes lived in village communities, with farm holdings built close together. The people lived physically and socially dependent on reciprocal aid. When a new cottage needed building or plastering with mud or when wool had to be carded and spun, the young folk from the village would assemble and help in the work—and the woman of the house would supply food and drink for her ‘guests’. This mutual aid system also worked well in times of illness and accident.

…Men and women had a sharp division of labor; his domain was the field and livestock, hers was to handle indoor work, milking and poultry. ‘Indoor-work’ was more than merely cooking and cleaning (although the latter was not exactly overdone, and indeed may have been omitted altogether). More important was the manufacture of various fabrics and garments—not only for the family-members but also the servants, whose payment might well consist in part of an agreed length of woolen or linen cloth. And the domestic servants probably had a corner of the flax field as their own, having a week off to return to their parent’s home to prepare flax for weaving. Even servant lasses needed a trousseau!

…The far-sighted mother began work on her daughter’s trousseau while the child was still quite young. This increased the girl’s assets—and thereby her marital chances…. Roughly speaking, a girl aimed to have three types of woven fabric in her hope chest. The receptacle stood in the main room of the cottage, and it was usual for female visitors to be invited to admire the contents of the chest. Each daughter preferably had her own chest….

The three woven fabrics a girl simply ‘must’ have were fustian and ticking for bed linen, frieze and linsey-woolsey for garment-making, and linen (for shirts and shifts and, in certain parts of the country, decorative pieces hung on the walls on festive occasions.) For the most part, garments were of woolen fabric, made by the woman herself or by the professional weaver. The peasantry had only a limited range of colors to draw from but they mastered the art of combining the various possibilities with immense inventiveness. Many patterns appear virtually all over the country, and of course there were innumerable variations of the stripe.

Every smallholding had at least a few sheep because clothing was something you produced yourself—and the woolen variety could be made at home from start to finish. Wool was carded, spun and perhaps dyed at home (with boiled vegetable coloring). The latter process might, however, be delegated to the professional dyer in town—who could also be relied upon to dye finished knitwear or handprint linen items with patterned blocks.

It is in women’s Sunday best we see more readily the distinction between various regions, and the most obvious differences were in the arrangement and composition of the headdresses. Women always wore some form of head-gear either a bonnet or a scarf. The black bonnet was a sign of the woman’s dignity, showing that she honored society’s expectations, having married and set up a family. Great ingenuity was exhibited in ornamentation of the headpiece…

Women’s costumes were made up of a variety of parts that could be combined in many ways. Petticoats were worn by the layer, and long. Only the foot was free. Underneath, the woman wore a shift but no knickers or bloomers. In rural communities these were not used until the end of the 19th century. She wore an apron whatever the occasion—kitchen chores or family festivities. It might be fine silk or embroidered mull. The upper part of the body was covered by a fabric jacket or blouse (occasionally this was knitted).

In some localities it was also the custom to wear a close-fitting bodice-piece fastened by hooks or laced at the front. The bodice, jacket and petticoats were almost invariably edged and decorated with silk tape, flat or patterned. It was widely considered indecent to reveal the shoulders and throat; consequently women wore one or more light scarves about their necks, usually held in place with pins.

The male dress was fairly straightforward and, like that of the women, was made entirely of flax and wool—materials the country people could produce themselves. Men of the period wore knee-breeches, usually of leather, which was a highly practical material and also available on the farm. The breeches were windproof, and stretched slightly as the men went about their field work.

Men did not wear underpants either, resorting instead to stuffing their long shirts well into their trousers. They normally wore home-knitted, white woolen stockings reaching up above the knee and held (either above or below the knee) by a garter ribbon.

It was quite customary for men to wear several jerseys and jackets. They might well be made of the same fabric. In front they displayed a row of buttons—and if you were fairly well-off or had inherited from a richer relative, the buttons might be of silver. More ordinarily, they were of tin or some other metal. Horn buttons were common, too…

Men and women both wore clogs for everyday purposes. They were inexpensive and hard wearing, if bad for the user’s feet…. [Both] sexes wore a dress shoe of leather, with a buckle in front. Invited to a dance or other celebration at a neighboring farm, the custom was to wear your clogs as far as the courtyard and switch into your shoes just before entering the house. You had to look after them well—they were probably the only pair of shoes you would ever have.

Every celebration or festive occasion called for a dance. There were often many people packed into the farmhouse—but they all managed to dance at the same time because many dances were chain dances or done in strict rotation, one couple with the next. Everyone knew the direction in which they were supposed to move—so dancing did not need the same space as 20th century ‘rock’n’roll’! The traditional national costumes began dying out in mid-19th century and with them the old dances began to disappear. They were closely associated with the special form of country music played on the violin8

Accordingly, with the above facts in mind, when looking at pictures of Karen and Christen 9, for me at any rate, the two of them now seem closer and more familiar.

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To conclude, as already explained in Christen’s biography 10, the Christensen’s were a very religious family and fully supportive of the local Lutheran parish. Nevertheless, the church’s stand on infant baptism and the matter of non-burial of un-baptized infants within the parish graveyard wore heavily on them—especially Karen. This matter eventually became a trigger leading to their conversion into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1865 and their subsequent migration to Utah one year later. 11

Unfortunately, however, as already detailed elsewhere, Karen perished on board ship in route to the new land. 12

Notwithstanding, as her descendants, we owe much to this noble woman. For, it was through her spiritual sensitivity, acting as the catalyst of conversion, that the rest of the Christensen family in Denmark accepted baptism. She then literally gave her all for the Gospel’s sake, dying in transit to Utah and being buried at sea. Thereafter, the rest of the family continued their journey to the New Zion in the Mountains, after which, true to her example of deep conviction and positive action, they endured numerous hardships and laid the groundwork for the life we now enjoy.

Let us, therefore, never take our blessings for granted, but ever seek, also, like her, to fully perform our own unique roles.

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Sources of Information:

1. See 1826 (birth) Record of Karen's birth and christening dates: FHL film# 053056, book 7, p. 9, #3. The record indicates that she was named Karen and was born in Kobbero, Gettrup, Thisted, Denmark, on 8 September 1826 to Lauritz Jeppesen and Mariane Christine Elizabeth Christensdatter. She was initially home christened on the day of her birth, and then subsequently formally christened at the Gettrup Parish church on 12 November 1826.…, found in the Document section of this file.

2. See 1841 (age 14+) Karen's Lutheran confirmation in Gettrup, Thisted, Denmark: FHL, GS film #053056, Bk. 7, p. 121, #1, 1841.…, found in the Document section of this file.

3. Virginia C. Keeler (1901-1970), Some Christensen’s Who Came from Thy…, published by J. Grant Stevenson, Provo, Utah, 1969, pp. 137-139, based on documents in her possession at the time of writing the book; copy of book in possession of W. Bart. Christenson, Jr., Provo, Utah, or found at BYU-HBLL, Call # BX 8670.1 .C4623k.

4. See 1845 (age 18+) Karen's marriage to Christen Christensen in Gettrup, Thisted, Denmark, 25 March 1845 (her age is listed as 18 1/2; his as 27 3/4): Gettrup parish records, FHL film # 053056; Bk. 7; p. 14; entry # 3…, found in the Document section of this file.

5. Op. cit.: Virginia C. Keeler (1901-1970), Some Christensen’s Who Came…, pp. 136-137.

6. Ingrid Henriksen, University of Copenhagen, An Economic History of Denmark: eh.net/encyclopedia/article/henriksen.denmark.

7. See Henry Pearce (1813-1882): Biography…, found on this website.

8. Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Denmark, National Dress and Folk Dancing: http://www.ambnewdelhi.um.dk/en/menu/InfoDenmark/DanishNationalSymbols/National Dress.

9. See Photographs of Karen Lauritzdatter (1826-1866)…, found in this file.

10. See Christen Christensen (1817-1899): Biography…, found on this website.

11. Op. cit.: See Christen Christensen (1817-1899): Biography

12. See 1866 (age 39+) Recollections of Andrew Jenson (eventual Church Historian who was part of the emigrant group) for Saturday, 23 June 1866…, found in the Document section of this file.

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