The Letters Return to Denmark

Anne Stauning, Nielsen relative from Denmark and Annette Crawford, Sheffield visit H-N Historic Farm.

In 2004, we (FCHS) received a grant from the State Historical Society of Iowa to microfilm the complete Harriman –Nielsen letter collection. The microfilm images of the letters are also preserved in digital form. The Harriman-Nielsen Board of directors has decided to send a copy of the letter collection to the Danish Emigration Archive in Aalborg, Denmark.

During the process of restoring the house, the 2,300 letters—dating from 1897 to 1999—were found. The letters were written principally by Chris and Anna, their brothers, sisters, and other relatives who lived in Denmark. Since no one in Hampton could read or speak Danish, the letters remained an intriguing, but largely unknowable, treasure until 2004, when Dr. James Iversen, professor emeritus of aerospace engineering at Iowa State University and the past president of the Danish American Heritage Society, agreed to translate many of the letters.

Soon after Dr. Iversen began examining the letters, he realized he was working with something special. “This set of letters and other documentary materials are unique and quite valuable,” said Dr. Iversen. “I and three others have so far translated into English about 750 of the letters written in Danish, so that the people of Franklin County and other potential researchers can read them.

“These letters convey much information about the Nielsen family and their relatives and friends, in both Denmark and the United States. In addition, there are many interesting and important references to the history of Europe, particularly Denmark, the United States, and earth-shattering world events, such as World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II.”

During a trip to Denmark in September 2010, Dr. and Mrs. Iversen met with ten relatives of the Nielsen family. They were descendants (and their spouses) of Chris Nielsen’s sister Mette, who married farmer Mads Larsen in 1895. Between the two of them, Mette and Mads wrote letters to her brother Chris fairly often during the first half of the twentieth century, and there are 125 letters preserved in the collection written by one or both of these two.

The five grandchildren of Mads and Mette, who the Iversens met in September, are also represented in the letter collection, having themselves written, collectively, more than 90 letters, mostly in the second half of the twentieth century. After meeting with the family members, the Iversens met with Rasmus Falk, a computer specialist with the Danish Emigration Archive in Aalborg, Denmark.

As a result of this meeting, the Harriman-Nielsen Board of Directors approved the sending of a digitized copy of the letter collection to the archive in Aalborg, where, not only historical researchers, but also the descendants of Chris Nielsen’s brother Jens and three of Chris’s sisters will have access to them. There is much family history, on both sides of the Atlantic, contained in these letters.

Most of all perhaps, copies of the letters will be back where they belong: in Denmark where the remarkable story of an immigrant family named Nielsen first began. There, family members and relatives will have unlimited access to them.

submitted by Doreen Petersen

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