You’ve Been on “Ancestry” Too Long When . . .

Wait, is that even possible?

I guess it’s all a matter of what you consider “too long”. But I have discovered that spending too much time on Ancestry in one sitting can get just a bit frustrating.

I may be able to speak for most people of Scandinavian descent when I say this: “Everybody in my family has the same names!” You learned about this phenomenon in “What’s in a Name?”. Swedes and Danes, at least, have to deal with the (thankfully discontinued) practice of taking one’s father’s first name as one’s last name, with “son” added to the end (or “sen” if you were Danish). So that is why Anders Petersen was Peter Andersen’s dad, and Peter Johannesson was Johannes Peterson’s dad. I’ve noticed that it was a seemingly common to give a child the same name as a previous sibling who had passed away. So you have to be careful, because Peter Andersen’s brother was your great grandfather Ole Andersen, but not the Ole who was born in 1856 and died in 1857. Your great grandfather Ole Andersen was born in 1858 and died in 1946.

Here you see the Ole Andersen (now spelled “Anderson”) family. Left to right, they are Lydia, Ole, Jennie. Andrew, and George, with Marie seated in front. My grandfather, George, commonly referred to by himself and others as simply “Geo”, was the youngest, and Jennie was the oldest. Actually, there was an older sister named Lydia, born in 1888, who died in 1890 when Jennie was less than a year old, making my great aunt Lydia the second Lydia in that family.

I love that we have these two, amazingly similar photos of two families, one Swedish and one Danish. They were united when the youngest of each, Hilma and George, married in 1927. The Anderson photo was taken first, which we know because George was a few years older than Hilma. Comparing the youngest child in each photo might make you think otherwise, unless you take that into consideration.

So what happens when you fall down an Ancestry “rabbit hole”? I’m glad you asked, because you are reading the words of a person who spends considerable time in them. The other day I was reviewing this letter from my great aunt Jennie, written to me sometime in the 1980s, when something caught my eye. I knew who “Aunt Stina” was, but I didn’t remember being told about “Aunt Annie”. I was saddened to read that she had died in childbirth, but knowing she was married to Ole Hansen, I felt I had enough to go on and began searching for the details.

Annie was Ole Andersen’s sister, and their dad’s name was, you guessed it, Anders. Notice that Anders’s last name was Petersen, and Maren’s maiden name was Andersen. Don’t worry about the “sen” and “son” at the end of the names. At this point, they are interchangeable. The dates and other vital info are what’s pertinent here. (Are you confused yet? Yeah, me too.) Anyway, from Jennie’s letter, I knew Annie had left three young children, and I found them relatively quickly. Based on the years of Frida’s birth, along with info on Ole’s remarriage, I concluded that Annie and the baby must have passed away between 1899 and 1902. I also knew that Frida was not the baby that died, since she lived until 1958.

So now that I was halfway down the rabbit hole, I had to know who Ole Hanson married after Annie and the baby passed away. Meanwhile, I had been unable to find any death records for Annie. But a look at the census for 1900 and 1910 revealed quite a bit.

In 1900 you see Ole as the head of the household, married to Anna, with three small children. We know Annie must have died between 1900 and 1905, if Ole had a five year old by 1910 with his second wife. The 1910 census lists Lizzie J Hansen, a widow, as head of the household, with dependents Alma, Hans, and Frida, plus Caroline, the five-year-old, and John, aged three. Based on Caroline’s age, Ole had to have died between 1907 and 1909. I later found his death record, and I was right; he died on August 17, 1909.

In researching Lizzie (Elise), I discovered that she, too, had been married before. Her first husband, Hans Nelsen, whom she married in 1884, tragically took his own life in 1887, the year after their son Alfred was born. For that piece of information, I went to, after reading a comment about Hans on a public family tree on Ancestry. They didn’t have a source to quote, but I found it.

Knowing what happened to Hans Nelson was all well and good, but now I wanted to know what happened to Alfred Carl, who did not appear on the 1910 census with Lizzie and the Hansen children. By now I was well out of the realm of people who were even remotely related to me, but I was on a mission. Alfred was born in Nebraska, and the family was in Omaha when his father died. I’m not sure what transpired, but the next time Alfred turns up is in 1895 as a nine-year-old in Iowa, in a census record that doesn’t show the names of the people he was living with. After that he shows back up in Minnesota, where his mother was, but I haven’t found any evidence that they were ever reunited. Research for another day.

By now you’re probably wondering, as I am, what kind of a person spends hours searching out information about people to whom they aren’t even related?

Well, that would be the same kind of person who has numerous photos of people to whom they are related but about whom they know nothing. Names would be a big help.

10 thoughts on “You’ve Been on “Ancestry” Too Long When . . .

  1. I admire your determination, Debra. I was confused from the start – ‘husband of wife of husband of…’ phew! As always, the formal photos are fabulous. I wish we had more in our family, but I’ve realised our origins were mostly too humble for such mementos.

    1. Thanks, Chris! I’ve noticed that my dad’s side of the family had way more of those kind of photos than my mom’s side. The Petersons seemed to have the fewest, but as farmers, they probably had less time and money to be getting their pictures taken. My dad’s side lived in the city and had more opportunity for all that. 🤔

  2. Charlee: “Wow, that sure is confusing about the first names and the last names. I lost track of what was going on with who is who’s father and who is who’s son and where the names are going almost immediately!”
    Lulu: “Yet you can stare at a cabinet for two hours hoping a mouse might come out.”
    Charlee: “That’s different.”
    Chaplin: “Our Dada hasn’t seen nearly as many old photos from his family as you have there, but he says the ones he does have are remarkably similar in composition. Must be an old photo thing …”

    1. 🐱Foster: Yeah those old photos do tend to look alike after awhile. Sometimes Mom gets mixed up and forgets which ones are the Swedes and which are the Danes.
      🐼Panda: Well if you would stay out of the boxes maybe she could keep them more organized.
      🐱Foster: Hmmm

  3. This post has made me count my lucky stars. So far, in my own family research, most of my Swede ancestors had actual surnames (not ____son/____dotter). I’m already confused enough when there’s generation after generation where the name trades off (first generation is William, whose father is John, whose father is William, whose father is John).

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