I used Facebook to find my great-great-grandfather who immigrated to US in 1899 at 19 – Information Today Online

OFTEN in the United States, it can be difficult to trace European roots due to immigration record issues or simply just time.

So, imagine my surprise when I found myself standing inside the exact home where my great-great-grandfather lived on a tiny island in Denmark, before immigrating to America in the late 1800s. 

My great-great-grandfather died in 1976 in Glynn County, GeorgiaCredit: Callie Patteson
I traced my ancestry to the Danish island of Ærø through FacebookCredit: The U.S. Sun / Callie Patteson
Through a Facebook page dedicated to the genealogy of immigrants from Ærø, we tracked down where my great-great-grandfather once lived before moving to the USCredit: The U.S. Sun / Callie Patteson
I traveled to his childhood home in the spring of 2023 while living in DenmarkCredit: The U.S. Sun / Callie Patteson

As a child, I had never questioned my ancestry as I had been told there was a lot of English, a little bit of Scottish, some German, and other northern European blood in me. 

To my young knowledge, my family had been in the United States for centuries. 

It wasn’t until I moved to Aarhus, Denmark, in the fall of 2022 that my perspective changed. 

UNCOVERED ROOTS

At the time, I moved to Northern Europe to pursue a joint masters degree in journalism at Aarhus University and the University of Amsterdam through the Erasmus Mundus program. 

As I packed up my life for the next two years, my father stopped me to ask if I knew I had Danish ancestors. 

He explained that his great-grandfather, George Hanson, once lived on the Danish island of Ærø before he moved to the US, where he married a Danish woman named Dorothea, who he met in Chicago

Together they had six children, including my great-grandmother Vera whom I came to know and love up until she died in 2015 at 98 years old.

While fascinated by my Danish roots, I wasn’t sure if I could find exactly where this part of my family came from.

But that soon changed, all thanks to Facebook

My father discovered a Facebook group dedicated entirely to the genealogy of immigrants from Ærø and wrote a post looking for any more information we could find on George. 

Claire Foy cries as she reads about the death of an ancestor on Who Do You Think You Are

Just hours after making the original post, a man named Ib Christensen informed us that not only was he able to find my great-great-grandfather and the details surrounding his immigration, but Christensen was able to trace the exact address where he grew up. 

We discovered that George was born Jørgen Hansen in 1880 and immigrated to the US at just 19-years-old with his sights set on Chicago. 

Before he left, George had lived on a farm in Bregninge Parish overlooking the Baltic Sea

With his address in hand, I knew I had to go. 

DAY TRIP DISCOVERIES 

In the spring of 2023, I rented a car and recruited a group of friends to drive south from Aarhus to Ærø.

Three hours and one serene ferry ride later, we made it to the small island. 

The island itself could have been plucked out of a fairy tale with its pebble beaches, abundant fields with horses galloping through tall grass, and small colorful bathing houses lining the cold, peaceful harbor. 

Ærø is not a large island, in fact we were able to drive from end to end in roughly 30 minutes, exploring sailboat lined piers, cobblestone streets, brightly colored cottages, a decades old lighthouse and a picturesque golf course. 

As beautiful as the sights were, I was nervous to finally arrive at the home where my great-great-grandfather had lived. 

At 25-years-old, I was six years older than he was when he left his home. Would I feel some connection? Would I feel nothing at all? 

HYGGE HOME

The home wasn’t difficult to find, as it sits right along the road and is painted a bright yellow, standing out against the green fields on either side. 

A German family lives there now and graciously let us walk through the home and original barn on the property. 

The family confirmed the home is over 150 years old but has been renovated quite substantially on the inside. 

While the outside felt untouched. 

The backyard was a bright green field stretching hundreds of yards back where it seemed to met the sea along the horizon. 

With not a cloud in sight, it felt so peaceful and hygge, as the Danish would say. 

What is Hygge?

For centuries, the Danish have used the word “hygge

The difficult to pronounce word (“hyoo-guh”) has been used since around 1800.

While it can be used to describe a number of things, it typically is used to discuss the art and atmosphere of getting cozy with friends and family.

Often hygge is shared over a meal, drinks, or by a warm fire, taking time to focus on the quieter parts of life.

No matter if you are alone or with people, there is no schedule for hygge as it is meant to encapsulate the feeling of content and the joys of life.

Source: Denmark.dk

I found myself wondering how much this landscape has changed since George had last set eyes on it, if he too would sit and look at the water listening to chickens clucking and birds chirping around him. 

As we left that evening and drove north, I found myself wishing I could ask him. 

My great-great-grandfather died in 1976 in Glynn County, Georgia, long before I was born. 

More than a year after visiting his hometown, it still feels surreal to be one of a select few descendants to return to Ærø after he left at just 19-years-old. 

If it had not been for George’s courage and adventurous spirit, I nor my siblings would be here today.

Callie Patteson

I admire the amount of courage it must have taken to leave his family and start a new life across the Atlantic at such a young age. 

While I have no plans to pack my things and move to Ærø any time soon, I feel grateful for the opportunity to have seen one part of where my family comes from. 

If it had not been for George’s courage and adventurous spirit, I nor my siblings would be here today. 

Perhaps it is that same spirit that has led me to take my own solo international travels and moves, looking to grow in every aspect of my life. 

If so, I have so much to Denmark and my great-great-grandfather to thank. 

My great-great-grandfather immigrated to the US from Ærø when he was 19 years oldCredit: Callie Patteson
Ærø is a narrow island located in the Baltic SeaCredit: The U.S. Sun / Callie Patteson
The peaceful island is filled with rolling hills, serene piers, cobblestone streets, and abundant birdsCredit: The U.S. Sun / Callie Patteson

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I used Facebook to find my great-great-grandfather who immigrated to US in 1899 at 19 – Information Today Online

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