Week 6 – Surprise

February 7, 2019

There are always surprises when you do genealogy, and I have had my share. This week I have chosen to write about Niels Peter Hansen, my great-uncle, not because of surprises I had when researching him, although there were a couple, but more so because of the surprise HE had on his 80th birthday.

Name: Niels Peter Hansen
Birth: 26/4/1893 – Harrested, Sludstrup, Slagelse, Sorø
Marriage: None
Spouse: None
Death: 13/9/1975 – Sebring, Highlands, Florida, USA

Niels Peter was born and grew up on his father’s farm in Harrested, south-west Sealand. Being the youngest of seven siblings, he had no chance of inheriting the family farm. Instead, he took a liking to gardening and at 18 left home to see other places and spent a couple of years honing his trade in Copenhagen and northern Sealand.

1914-1918 1st WW

Denmark sought to remain neutral during the first world war and managed this by staying on the friendly side of both Germany and England. Germany pressurised Denmark into establishing a mine-field in the main strait between Sealand and Funen. Subsequently, England was advised of the mines and their ships never came near. However, with these warring parties being neighbours, the Government decided to strengthen Denmark’s military capabilities – just in case.

On the 26th of October 1914, Niels Peter was called upon to serve his country in the army’s 27th Battalion. To date, I have not found any evidence to suggest he spent the full four years in the army, and it is possible that his time as a soldier was much shorter.

What happened to Niels Peter?

It is fair to say that Niels Peter became a bit of an eccentric, never letting anyone know what he was doing or where he was going. I found him impossible to trace until one day, I found Niels Peter Hansen on a passenger list from the ship S.S. Oscar II arriving into New York harbour on the 14th of December 1923. I knew he went to the USA at some point, and now I had a date. His two sisters Laura and Kristine had already migrated there, so it is understandable that he too wanted to have a look outside Denmark and perhaps try a new life in the USA.

S.S. Oscar II

Niels Peter stayed with his sister Laura in New York – on and off. Laura owned an apartment block on Lexington Avenue, where she leased out rooms mostly to singles, and could usually find space for Niels Peter whenever he decided to turn up. He would stay with her for weeks or months at a time and then suddenly one day get up and say ‘Goodbye’ and be gone for several months or years not telling anyone where he was. Over time, the family learned he had taken gardening jobs with large wealthy families across the United States.

There is a family story where Niels Peter, being persuaded by his sisters, decided to sail to Denmark for a visit. Unfortunately, the summer he chose was one of the wettest on record. He hated the Danish weather to such a degree that he swore never again to set foot in Denmark – and he never did.

Through Laura’s descendants, I have inherited a couple of documents which I treasure. One is the original USA Certificate of Citizenship, Issued to Niels Peter when he at one time was living in Washington D.C. – In testimony whereof the seal of the court is hereunto affixed this 2nd day of October in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and twenty-nine and of our Independence the one hundred and fifty-fourth.

USA Certificate of Citizenship – Niels Peter Hansen

And then there is this cutting from the Pan AM magazine July, 1973. Niels Peter had never flown in an aeroplane, so as a present to himself on his 80th birthday he decides to fly to St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands for a four hour visit, after which he would return to New York. When the staff heard about this 80 year old neophyte, they decided to surprise him with a birthday cake. He was greeted with a chorus of ‘happy birthday’, and was afterwards taken for a tour of the island where a stop was made for him to shop. He wanted two items: One bottle of Cream de Cacao and one bottle of lavender water.

Pan Am magazine July 1973

To finish this story I must explain that St. Thomas was once a Danish colony. Denmark-Norway conquered the Island in 1666 along with the islands of St. John and St Croix. The islands’ economy was driven by sugarcane, and the plantation owners became dependant on slave labour. Records show the largest slave auctions in the world were being held on St. Thomas in the mid 1680s. Years later the sugar trade became very competitive and the prosperity of the free islanders began to wane. The colony was poorly managed by the Danes and in 1917 the islands were sold to the United States for the sum of $25 million in Gold. This was also a strategic military move by the US to achieve full control over the Caribbean during the 1WW.