Denmark. Lilvia Soto

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by Lilvia Soto



Elmer’s mother, [Elmer is my mother’s father] Mary Elizabeth Larsen, was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, on 6 July 1863. She died in American Fork, Utah, on 21 April 1950. When she was 80 years old, she told the following to Pearl Cunningham, her neighbor across the street:

My father came in 1859 and crossed the plains with an ox team. My grandfather came three or four years later. Two hundred Saints sailed from Denmark and met in England. They crossed the ocean. They were nine weeks on the ocean. They landed in New York and got on a steam boat and sailed to Nebraska. Then they walked most of the way across the plains.




Mary Elizabeth’s father, Hans Larsen, was born in Jersore, Klinte, Odense, Denmark, 29 April 1837. He died in Hanna Duchesne, Utah, 8 December 1914. He went from Odense, where his father lived, to Copenhagen, on 7 May 1861. From there, as one of a group of Scandinavian Saints emigrating to Utah, he went in a steamer to Altona, “a seaport in Germany,” he says, but in reality the westernmost urban borough of Hamburg, on the right bank of the Elbe river, and then to Hamburg by rail. It is interesting to note that from 1640 to 1864, Altona was under the administration of the Danish monarchy and was Denmark’s only harbor on the North Sea. From Hamburg, the group took a steamer that crossed the North Sea to take them to England. He says in his journal that the steamer was very dirty and the emigrants were treated like cargo and put underneath the first deck. The voyage lasted three days, the sea was rough, and many got seasick. They landed at Hull, a big seaport town on the English coast. Hull or Kingston upon Hull, is a port city in East Yorkshire. Another steamer took them to another seaport called Grimsby, a large coastal English seaport in North East Lincolnshire on the South Bank of the Humber Estuary, close to where it reaches the North Sea. From there they went by rail to Liverpool. They passed Manchester, a great manufacturing town with large stack chimneys all over, which made the town “as black as the ace of spades.” In Liverpool, they got on board another ship called “The Great Monarch of the Sea.” It was a sail ship. Hans says that there were no steamers going across the Atlantic in those days. On board, there were 900 Saints from different parts of Europe, who spoke many different languages. The voyage lasted 33 days, and they landed in New York Harbor. The Civil War had just started. From Brooklyn they took a train, he doesn’t say where, and then a steamer up the Missouri River to Florence, which later became Omaha. They got there after three days. The migrants stayed in Florence six or seven days to get ready to cross the Great Plains west. They left in a 47-wagon train, and it took them ten weeks to cross the plains to Utah.

            Thirty years later, on 15 August 1892, Hans Larsen went to Colonia Díaz, Chihuahua. He wrote to his brother Lars that he loved Mexico and would soon go back to Utah for his wife, Jensina Dorthea Michael Jensen, whom he had married 3 February 1862, and his son. He asked his brother to help him get 300 or 400 dollars to buy land in Mexico. He also said he wanted to sell his home and farm in Woodland for $1,000.00. His last letter to his brother was from 1901, and he said he was doing very well in Mexico.

            Hans and Jensina lived in Colonia Díaz, Chihuahua, where they celebrated their golden wedding anniversary. I know this because I found the poem he wrote to celebrate this event. Hans Larsen also wrote the story of his life. The copy I have seen is a 15-page, single-spaced, typewritten manuscript and has the title Personal history of Hans Larson written by himself. Day Book and Journal. I don’t know whether he typed it himself or someone else did it later. It is full of typos, letters, syllables, and whole words scratched out, lack of spaces between words, corrections in ink, etc. The spelling is often wrong and not consistent. The sentence structures are awkward, and there are many grammatical errors. Hans, my great-great grandfather, was not a highly educated man, and English was not his native tongue.

            He starts his story with his baptism into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in 1857, in Denmark, when he was 20 years old, and he spent most of his life as a missionary. His “Personal history” is written in English, not his mother tongue, which  was Danish. He admits that his education was very limited. His father was a wagon maker and he himself had also learned that trade. His father and his only brother were not happy that he had joined the Church of Latter Day Saints. Apparently, they both joined later, for they both went to Utah.

            Hans seems to have had a social conscience, for he says that Denmark at that time was ruled by King Frederick the Seventh, who was one of the best kings that Denmark had ever had regarding the freedom and liberties of his subjects, the military, the common people, and the public in general. King Frederick the Seventh loosened many of the bonds that had held the Danes in thralldom to the landlords and priests. Hans is very impressed because even before knowing that the Saints would come to Denmark, King Frederick had declared “religious liberty all over his domain.” Religious freedom was written into the constitution of the Kingdom of Denmark in 1849. In 1850, missionaries from the LDS Church, including Erastus Snow and Peter O. Hansen, were sent to Denmark. Hansen made the first translation of the Book of Mormon from English into Danish. This opened the door to making converts, who started making plans to migrate to Utah. Between 1850 and 1910, thousands of Danish Mormons migrated to Utah.

In 1858, Hans Larsen left his father’s house in Odense, and the Church sent him as a missionary to the southwest of the Island Fyen.

            In spite of his lack of formal education, my great-great-grandfather did have a sense of literary structure. He divides his history into two books and the poem he wrote for my great-great-grandmother into eight strophes of four verses each. The first book covers the years 1857 to 1859 and is dedicated to the many vicissitudes he experiences as a Mormon minister in several towns in the Island Fyen, as well as his total and absolute belief in the gospel he is preaching and his determination to devote the rest of his life to that mission. He ends this first book by saying:

And at the close of this little imperfect journal of my missionary labor I feel to give my heavenly the honor and the glory both now and forever as his humble servant in my youth. Holding the holy priesthood as an elder in Israel in this last dispensation and the fulness of time hopping therefore with sincerety of all my heart that my testimony and the labor in the cause of truth may go down in this little journal.

(. . . .)

The only desire now is that means may be provided for me that I may gather with the saints in zion in far western land. And that I may be faithful to the end of my race upon the earth in the cause of truth and through the grace of my heavenly father for my sacrifice and labor that I may be received in exaltation in his kingdom. May it be so. Amen. This journal closed in the year of 1859.


Second Book of My History

            Hans says that this part of his history will be written by the test of his memory and asks God to guide him. He wishes to be delivered out of Babylon and to gather with the saints (the Mormons) in Zion, “in the far distant west where the sun always sets.” In 1860 a new railroad was to be built on an island in Denmark called Jutland. He, his brother, and twelve other young men head there hoping to get work. He hopes to save enough money for his emigration to Utah. They arrive in Arthus, one of the largest cities of Denmark. He works building the railroad for one day, and the other laborers threaten him. He then gets a job as a waiter in a bar. He was hired for one year. He spent his Sundays with other Mormons and preaching. When the year was up and he had saved enough money, he said goodbye to his customers and went home to say good-bye to his father, brother, friends, and neighbors. He then relates his trip to Utah via Germany, England, New York, and Florence, Nebraska.

            Mary Elizabeth’s mother, Jensina Dorthea Michael Jensen, was born in Skanderborg, Denmark, on 1 November, 1839. She migrated to Utah, and later to Chihuahua. She died in Hanna Duchesne, Utah, on 19 March 1916.

            Hans Larsen’s father, Lars Hansen, was born in Ebleoe, Klinte, Odense, Denmark, on 15 December 1808 and died in Marion, Summit, Utah Territory, 16 September 1886. He was baptized into the Mormon Church April 3, 1863. He arrived in Marion after 1865. On 6 June 1876 he received his U.S. citizenship, and on 13 March 1879 the deed to a “homestead” of 160 acres from President Rutherford B. Hayes. Hans Larsen’s mother, Karen Jensen Hansen, was born in Jersoer, Klinte, Odense, Denmark, on 12 August 1805 and died 24 July 1865. She was baptized into the Mormon Church April 3, 1863. There is no record of her traveling to Utah with her husband.





Lilvia Soto nació en Nuevo Casas Grandes, emigró a Estados Unidos a los 15 años, reside en Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Tiene un doctorado en lengua y literatura hispánica de Stonybrook University en Long Island, Nueva York. Ha enseñado literatura y creación literaria en Harvard y en otras universidades norteamericanas. Fue cofundadora y directora de La Casa Latina: The University of Pennsylvania Center for Hispanic Excellence. Fue directora residente de un programa de estudios en el extranjero de las universidades Cornell, Michigan y Pennsylvania en Sevilla, España.

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