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A History of Else Nielsen Jacobsen

by Alfreda Jacobsen Nielson, May 4, 1975, Salt Lake City

[Alfreda is the daughter of Else's daughter Anne. Alfreda was born in Else's household and lived there until Else died when Alfreda was 11 years old.

Other details of Else's life are found in the Biography of Emma Vissing Lauper, who was also raised in her grandmother's household, from birth to age 18.

Initially transcribed, with some commentary, by great-granddaughter, Viola Lauper Johnson; transcribed for the web site by David Peterson]

Else and Niels
Else Nielsen, with grandson Niels,1886

Else Nielsen was born 16 April 1833, at Gram, Vejle County, Denmark. Her father was Niels Pedersen; her mother, Marie Johanna Nielsen; her brothers and sisters: Peter, Christiane Marie, Martha, Margeta, Maren [died as an infant], Niels, Maren and Hans Jorgen.

Her father was a well-to-do farmer. Grandmother told how her father loved a practical joke. He liked doing things to make the children happy. One day he took them for a sleigh ride. The snow was deep, new snow, so he drove in such a way that he tipped them all out into this soft snow. She said he got a kick out of seeing them scramble around to get out of the snow.

In Grandmother's home they all had to help with the work, along with hired hands. In the summer time, the family were up at daylight, which was about 3:00 a.m. Those that were old enough to work had their warm drink and snack and went to work in the field. The girls did the milking of the cows. At about 7:00 a.m. they were served breakfast, and about 10 a.m. they had a coffee break; at noon, a cooked meal. The girls didn't sit at the table with the men; I think they ate afterward. Inasmuch as the cows were milked three times a day in those days, the girls also took care of the noon milking. I have heard women from Native Denmark say that many older men who came to Utah as converts never really learned how to milk; the women were the ones to do that as well as many other jobs that men of Utah, and America, thought of as a "man's job." At 3 o'clock in the afternoon, those working had another coffee break and a dessert was served at this time. Their evening meal consisted of sandwiches – always spread by the women. Men coming to this country had never spread a piece of bread for themselves. The women made good sandwiches, usually using meat and cheese. They were open-faced sandwiches, not double slices of bread as we are used to, and these were eaten with hands, saving dish-washing. They had things to do which (to them) were more important than washing dishes. Milk, coffee and tea was served with this evening meal.

Grandmother commented about how the food was served, saying that they cooked many dishes that were eaten with a spoon. A large bowl of food was put in the middle of the table. Each person had their own spoon, and they all ate out of the large dish. When they were through, they wiped their spoons and put them in a slot on the wall in back of where they sat; thereby, the one cooking had fewer dishes to wash.

As the women grew older, their duties included washing, carding, and spinning the wool, eventually making yarn and knitting stockings for all. They saved the feathers from chickens and geese and made feather coverings. These were made like a pillow but as large as our quilts These people never saw a quilt until they came into Utah. I slept under a feather bed (that is what these covers were called) for many years. When I was married my mother took an old feather bed apart and renovated the feathers – they were not washed. Mother put the feathers in a tub, covered it with a screen and put it out in the sun. Often she would stir up the feathers and this cleaned them and gave them new life I still have a pillow which was made of some of those old feathers – now 68 years old. These people made what they had last and last.

When girls were ready to be married, they made sheets, pillow cases, and feather beds (dyne) [the Danish name for feather bed; pronounced "doo-nuh", or more correctly, like German "dόne"] for their trousseau, at least a dozen sets of sheets. I must tell how they washed in 1843 when my grandmother was a child. In those days, they had nothing to help with the washing but their hands and, of course, water and soap. They [had to have] several changes of underwear, etc. The lighter things were washed by mothers and daughters about once a week. When they had that which Grandmother referred to as the "big wash, a woman, who went from place to place as a "Wash Woman," came in the morning, about 6:00 a.m., and started to wash all this by hand. She first soaked the clothes in tubs of warm suds and then boiled them to get as much dirt out as possible before rubbing it all by hand. They didn't even have a washboard, which I had here in Utah when I was first married. This Wash Woman stayed all day and washed clothes. There could have been a month or six weeks between these big wash days, so they couldn't change their clothes as often as we do nowadays.

This makes me think of Grandmother telling the story of a happening during her growing years. One summer, during the middle of night, there came an electric storm, a severe one. People in the neighborhood rose from their beds to see if lightning had struck any place. Grandmother said they could see in the distance that a large fire had broken out so they knew lightning had struck. The home and all the out buildings were built in a row, the first one being the living quarters, then the storage rooms, then the buildings where the animals were kept. So they could see that this fire was destroying everything, and they worried over who it might be. As soon as it was daylight, a runner or messenger, came to tell them about the fire. It was the home of Grandmother's uncle (her father's brother) and the place had burned to the ground. This was summertime, and the habit was for the men and grown boys to sleep without underwear (it was too hot, having only the feather beds for covering). [Consequently,] these men all got out of the fire naked, and their clothes burned in the fire. My grandmother never forgot that experience. I can remember that as a child, if an electric storm came, Grandmother always got us all up if it came in the night. She insisted that we all get fully dressed in case something disasterous happened.

Telling about these buildings all being close together reminds me of something else that Grandmother told me that happened when she was a child. A child about her age had passed away, and the children of the neighborhood went to see the body. The body was kept in a room close to where the animals were kept. When the children were viewing the body, a calf bawled out. They all turned and ran home as fast and as frightened as could be!

In those days there was no way to keep the body, so that is why it was put in the coolest place that could be found; and they did believe in keeping their dead several days after death. They feared the person might not be truly dead and would be buried too soon.

For fuel in those days, they burned peat (tψrv). This was decayed vegetable matter obtained from bogs and swamps. They had to have access to this peat and had to cut it in the swamps and then bring it home to dry before they could burn it. Grandmother told of getting the peat and the work to make it useable.

Grandmother told of the kinds of parties they had. No party was very often, nor entertainments as we do, but when they did celebrate for weddings or holidays, they did make merry with good food, music and dancing. The party often lasted until morning. As hard as they had to work, it would not have been possible to have a party very often, for it would have been too hard to cary on their work.

Grandmother was raised a Lutheran. I can remember how she could say all the books of the Old Testament -- right off just as I might say my ABCs. She believed in the Bible and its teachings and that Jesus Christ was our savior. She was of a very religious turn of mind. Otherwise, she would not have been able to accept the Gospel of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Grandmother went to school until she was fourteen years old. That was the end of her schooling, but she surely knew how to figure in fractions. The Danish word for fractions is "brψk". She taught me a great deal about fractions. Grandmother could remember these things she had learned, even when she was getting old --- at the time I can remember her best.

Grandmother was married to Jens Jorgen Sorensen when she was about 24 years old. Her children were Marie Johanne, Niels (who died when he was about 18 months old), Anne Kjerstine (who was my mother), Julius Winter, and Christiane Knudgine Wilhemina, all of whom were born in Denmark.

My grandfather was a carpenter by trade. Grandmother had received a nice sum of money as a dowry when she married, so they were able to buy a nice house, rent part of it, and [keep] the best rooms for living quarters. In 1867, grandfather (Jens Jorgen Sorensen) enlisted to serve his country in the war between Denmark and Germany, a war which Denmark lost. Grandfather had previously served in 1848, when he was young, when Denmark and Germany were at war over a parcel of land [Schleswig-Holstein] – a war which Denmark won. When Grandfather returned in l867 – this war did not last too long – there was no work. All that happened, I do not know, but one day he came home and said he was leaving, and that he was selling their home. It was sold. He gave Grandmother only the money that she had put into it, [the amount] received when she was married. And then he left.

[There is possibly some confusion as to the timeline and the cause-effect nature of this situation. The second war over Schleswig-Holstein occurred in 1864, not 1867. Judging by the ages given below, Jens left the family in 1869. Emma's biography does not offer any explanation for Jens' behavior, only offering details on the nature of his behavior, not the reasons behind it.]

My mother told about the last time she saw her father. He came to say good-bye. My mother was about 8 years old, Marie Johanne was about 12 years, Uncle Julius W. Was a little child of between 3 and 4 years, and the youngest, Aunt Minnie, was a baby in arms. Mother said that her father picked up Uncle Julius, embraced him, gave him a piece of candy, and went. Mother nor anyone else of the family ever saw him again.

Grandmother moved to the top floor of her home, or the attic. The money that Grandfather had left her could not last very long with that many to care for. Grandmother never told me of the hardships she endured when she was left alone. [Note from VLJ: since Alfreda's cousin Emma, daughter of Marie Johanne, was 12 years older, she shared more of the experiences and life history of her grandmother Else.] [Some of these stories are alluded to in the history of Emma Vissing Lauper.] My mother, Anne, said during her growing years she was both hungry and cold, but the worst was being cold.

When Mother and Aunt Marie were old enough to work, Grandmother went to the country, to her people, and the two older girls stayed in Horsens to work. Aunt Marie lived with the people she worked for, but Mother lived at night with an old woman who had to be to her work early in the morning, so Mother had to go early when she left, and then sit outside the home of [her employer] until they came to let her in, which was sometimes an hour or more. When it was cold, that was a long time to wait. As Mother and Aunt Marie grew older, they did get better jobs and it wasn t so bad for thern. [However, both] they, and Grandmother Else would walk miles out of their town to look for work, for they were too proud, hating to work among those who knew them personally.

While they were so poor, Grandmother cooked mush for them to eat. Uncle Julius didn't like it and tried to avoid eating. Each time as he would com in hungry, Grandmother offered him mush until he became hungry enough to eat it. When he was old enough to work out in the country, he told his mother, "It is good that you 'learned' me to eat mush because now I have it 21 times a week; mush of some kind at every meal!"

Also during these very poor times, the only underwear they had was what they had on, so Grandmother had the children go to bed and stay while she washed and dried their underwear. Yes, Grandmother was a very clean woman and liked things to be nice even in all her poverty.

In 1877, Grandmother joined the Church, and soon after, the other members of her family also joined. They began to make plans to come to Utah. Meantime, Aunt Marie gave birth to two children. There was Niels: when he was about three or four years old, some friends offered to take him with them to Utah. This was a hard decision to make, but it was decided that he should go, as [it was] probably best for the child. It was about 1884-1885 that Grandmother, Aunt Marie, Aunt Minnie and Emma (Marie's second child) left for Utah – my mother, Anne, had emigrated some time before, as well as Uncle Julius. My cousin Emma was about three to four years old at the time. They all went directly to Moroni, Utah, a Danish community.

In 1887, Grandmother married Jens Jacobsen of Moroni, Utah. He was a widower with a married son and two married daughters, all of whom lived there in Moroni. Grandpa Jacobsen was born in Denmark in 1824, so he was nine years older than Grandmother. He had served in the Germany/Denmark War of 1846. He was there wounded and had to have his leg amputated just below the hip. All he ever had for an artificial leg was a wooden stick, made to fit the best they could, over the stump he had. He was handicapped early in his life, when but 24 years old, and had to learn to live with this disability.

Emma continued living with Grandmother and this new Grandpa Jacobsen, who was a truly wonderful man. My mother Anne, was also part of the household. Little Niels was not there very much of the time, but lived here and there with other good people. Aunt Marie Johanne worked hard wherever she could -- mostly in Salt LakeCity -- sending support for her children, Niels and Emma. Uncle Julius was working at whatever he could; starting as a sheepherder, and progressing toward other occupations.

My mother married in polygamy, and went to live in Fountain Green. She, being a second wife, lived in one room across from the first wife and family. Grandfather Jacobsen visited her there one day and could see that my mother, Anne, was very unhappy. She felt unwanted by the other family had little or nothing, so Grandfather said to Mother, "Come, go home with me and visit your mother for a few days and maybe you will feel better." [VLJ: Emma reported that Anne was actually very sick and ill-treated, that Grandpa Jacobsen literally saved her life by taking her back to Moroni with him.] [See Biography of Emma Vissing Lauper.]

My mother never went back to Fountain Green again, but lived the rest of her days at Grandpa Jacobsen's home there in Moroni. [My] father visited her about once in two weeks, usually coming in the evening and leaving next morning. So I, Alfreda, was born right there in Grandpa J.'s home. He was very good to me, and to all of us. I felt very special to be with them. Grandpa didn't just marry Grandmother, but he had Mother, Emma and me as well. [Emma stayed on there even after her mother was married to Hans Madsen. See Biography of Emma Vissing Lauper.]

Anne at Moroni home
Anne, in front of Jacobsen home, Moroni

Much should be said about what a good man was Grandpa Jens Jacobsen. He was a real Latter-day Saint. He received a small cash pension from Denmark because of loss of limb in the war, and he had a small piece of land in Moroni. This family got by, but it took some managing to care for so many. When but a small child, Grandmother had measles, which had affected her eyes. Her sight was poor and she was unable to sew as she would have liked and needed to because her eyes were not good enongh. I can remember her taking a short handled -broom and getting down on hands and knees to sweep the bare floor – no floor covering. This was because she was particular and could not see to do it as she wanted it in any other way.

Grandmother and Grandpa got along very well. They went together to the Temple in Manti, Utah, to do work for both their families. In those days, it took a week to get three endowments done. Monday was spent driving to Manti in Grandpa's light wagon, drawn by one horse. This wasn't much faster than walking – it took time to make the twenty miles from Moroni to Manti. They had good friends in Manti who would give them a bed and food for themselves and the horse. Tuesday, they would get the baptizing taken care of. On Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, there was one endowment session each. Each morning at 10:00 a.m., there was a meeting in the Temple for about thirty minutes. Also, in those days, everyone went through the initiatory work; it wasn't done by others. All of this took time, and they didn't get through until about 2:30 or 3:00 p.m. As the years passed, it became harder for Grandmother to make the trip, so Mother or Emma went with Grandpa Jacobsen. This was before I was born.

Grandmother would always enjoy going to Sacrament Meeting, but after Grandpa had died, there wasn't any transportation for her. Also, she never really learned enough English to enjoy the meeting in English. So she would say to my mother "You go to Sacrament meeting. Alfreda can play around here with her friends, and if I need anything she will be here." So she watched over me too. I know she was good to me and my friends. She didn't scold us or say "don't do this or that", and if we were noisy, she didn't complain.

Grandmother loved company. She was very interesting to talk with and she kept up on current events. She could not see to read, but they subscribed to a Danish newspaper, and when it came each week, Mother or Emma would read aloud to her in the evening. Grandmother was a good storyteller and entertained us with many interesting happenings in her life. When she could not do work, or was unable to do hand work because of her eyes, she enjoyed to sit and visit and think, and was glad for me to talk with. I could understand every word of Danish (as did Emma) in that [it was] all that was used in the home. We learned English at school. When coming from school and one of us would tell adventures in English, Grandmother would always say "You tell that in Danish".

Whenever we had visitors, Grandmother liked to treat them to the best we had in food. At Stake Conference time in Moroni, people came from all of the towns of Sanpete County. There was just one stake, so her friends from Denmark often came, from Mount Pleasant, Ephraim, and Manti. These, of course, were Latter-day Saints, all having been converts. Each did all they could for the other, feeding them and their horses, visiting having a happy time together. I can remember the missionaries who had visited Grandmother in Denmark now lived at Fountain Green, and they would call at our home. They would not stay long, just to ask how she was and to have light refreshments.

Grandmother didn't go much to the neighbors, but there was an elderly couple living across the street. This old man used to come and visit with Grandmother, and they talked about the happenings of the world. Grandmother said laughingly one day, "Some day they will put us in the end of a cannon, shoot, and we will land in Denmark." He said "No, no, Sister Else, that can never be." But when I think of how fast we can now go to Denmark, it is something to remember and think about.

I can remember one day we were to go this elderly couple's home for a birthday party; I guess [it was] the woman's birthday. Mother had made a cake to take. The last few minutes, I watched Mother hurrying to iron Grandmother's best white cap. She always wore a white cap on her head. To the party we went, and she wanted to wear the best she had, and had to have it fresh and clean.

Grandmother believed in the blessings of the Priesthood. As she was older, she had many ailments to contend with. She had asthma all the time, and sometimes there was erysipelas [painful, red skin lesions] and other troublesome ailments. When she felt she could stand it no longer, she would send for the Elders of the Church and ask for administration. She had great faith in this and received comfort and help. There were, of course, no medicines to speak of in those days, not even aspirin. Consecrated oil and home remedies were all to be had. I remember that when the erysipelas would get bad, she would take an old piece of linen (and it had to be linen), put it outdoors to get it as cold as possible, then put this cloth on her head, shoulders and neck to cool and ease the hot misery.

In the fall of l905, Grandmother started failing in health. Emma, now married with three small boys – Serge, Ivan and John, came home to visit the grandmother who had raised her. Grandmother continued to be more and more poorly. On November 30th (my mother Anne's birthday), an elderly couple came to see Grandmother and all. This good sister had a nice voice, so Grandmother asked her to sing some hymns. This she did and it was enjoyed very much. That was on Thursday, and on Saturday, Mother and Emma decided that a room, one which wasn't attached to the rest of the house, should be cleaned because Mother had promised Grandmother that when she died, they should put her body in this room so that the rest of the house could be used until time for burial. I can remember this plainly because I was to entertain little John, who was about 15 months old, so that Emma was free to clean this room.

Young Alfreda
Alfreda, 1898?

Sunday morning, December 3rd, I did not go to Sunday School. When I was cleaned up, Mother told me to go to the Post Office, which was open for an hour only. We knew there was a parcel there for us. I went and returned with the parcel; it was a NEW coat for me from Aunt Marie (Emma's mother, now living in Lehi, Utah). This was my first brand new coat (I was now 11 years old, and what a thrill. I had always had hand-me-down or made-over coats before...) So went the morning, and in the afternoon, Grandmother became gradually worse. A little before 4:00pm, Mother told me to go into see my grandmother and say good-bye to her. This I did – she knew me and was herself. She said to me, "Always be a good girl." Soon after this, she passed away: December 3, 1905. Grandmother had asked that the Elders bring her the Sacrament. They did come, but it was after she was gone. They couldn't come until after Sacrament Meeting, which not through until nearly 4:00pm.

After the Relief Society sisters had prepared the body, it was put into the room which Emma had cleaned the day before. Without the fire in there, this was as cold as out-of-doors. In those days, all the deceased were kept at home – no mortuaries. Loved ones would sit up with the dead, as they called it, and this was to change the cloths which they kept dipping into saltpeter water and applying to the face, trying to keep it as natural in look as possible. In the summer time, it was [also] necessary to change the ice packs around the body, in an effort to keep it cold. Usually the bodies were kept at least three days. Problems were encountered in keeping the eyelids closed and the mouth [shut] as well. Money was put on the eyelids, and every effort possible to try to keep the mouth closed. Nowadays, I think glue is used. All of this I remember because as a growing child, I saw many corpses, and many of them looked awful.

Aunt Marie J. and Uncle Julius W. came for the funeral. Uncle Julius brought a beautiful floral piece – I can see it yet. It was red roses, and made in the form of a pillow. Uncle Julius now worked in the Fire Department of Salt Lake City, and this was given by his co-workers.

The funeral was very nice. I think it was held on Thursday, December 6th [Thursday would have been December 7]. Grandmother was buried in the Moroni Cemetery at the side of Grandpa Jacobsen. Grandmother had previously bought a headstone, at the time of Grandpa Jacobsen's death, that still stand in the Moroni Cemetery, with all the names, dates, and such of Grandpa, his first wife Maren, and Grandmother.

Emma and her little boys stayed with Mother and I until after Christmas, and then they went back to her home. Then Mother and I were alone, with an awful, empty feeling, now that there were the two of us only.

I write these things as I remember them, many told to me by my grandmother. [Since] I was eleven years old when she passed, I had lived all my life, until then, in her home. I am now eighty hears old, but will never forget my grandmother. I have such wonderful memories of her. She loved me with all her heart and did all she could to help teach me what was right.

Alfreda Jacobsen Nielson, May 4, 1975, Salt Lake City

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