It was 100 years ago today that the supposedly unsinkable Titanic slipped beneath the waves of the North Atlantic.
Like many others, I’ve long been fascinated by the ship and her sinking. I’ve read books, watched TV shows and visited the traveling Titanic exhibit. I’ve even got a reproduction of a White Star Line coffee mug and postcards purchased at the Titanic exhibit. But I think at least some of my fascination with the ship goes back to one of those family stories. You know the kind. They’re passed down from generation to generation but you never know if they are really true. But you hope they are because it brings a little excitement to the family. The story in my family was that my maternal grandmother “missed the Titanic” when she came to the United States from Denmark.
The exact date of my grandmother’s arrival still eludes me but through letters she wrote to my grandfather before her marriage and information found on later U.S. census records, I have found that she did arrive in the United States in the spring of 1912 so it is possible the story is true. Hopefully I’ll find the answer some day.
But my point here is that Titanic did carry hundreds of people like my grandmother who were coming to the United States to start a new life. And although it was a British ship that set sail from a British port many of those immigrants were from other nations in Europe, including Denmark.
Research into the passenger lists has shown 10 Danes who were aboard Titanic on that fateful maiden voyage. Three of them were traveling in Second Class and seven were traveling in Steerage. Of the 10 only one survived. Most, if not all, were likely immigrants to the United States.
Most likely they had purchased their tickets in Denmark and departed from a Danish port sailing to Hull, England. From there they had traveled by train to Southampton where they boarded Titanic for New York. The decision to immigrant must have been a difficult one to make and the journey to their new home was also difficult. It’s good to remember that these decisions took a great deal of courage.
When you first start trying to trace your Danish family history it can be a daunting task. The best place to start, of course, is at home.
Start by talking to your relatives. If your ancestor immigrated to the United States after the turn of the 20th century some of your older relatives may have known the immigrant and perhaps talked with them about their experiences. Or they may have heard stories about the immigrant ancestor. A word of caution about stories. It’s always a good idea to take those family stories with a little bit of skepticism. There is often some truth in the stories but over the years they may have become exaggerated. Or perhaps they were interpreted in succeeding generations in a way the ancestor never intended.
Don’t forget to ask your relatives if they have any papers, documents, letters, diaries or other written materials that may shed some light on when they immigrated and where in Denmark they came.
Once you have gathered some basic information you are ready to expand your search.