A son in Denmark

Even as a toddler, Oluf showed great promise as an artist. Obviously inheriting the creative gene from his father, Oluf’s talent grew and grew.  So much so, that by the time he was seven, the Carlsen family already saw a glittering future ahead of him as a master painter, a successful man.

His father, Peter, had recently fallen on hard times as a result of the war, and wanted better for his eldest son.  Choosing to build a new future in Australia where the lure of land (and financial recovery) awaited, Peter made a heartbreaking decision; the Carlsen family would emigrate – leaving Denmark, and Oluf, behind.

In the capable hands of his wife’s parents, Peter felt safe in the knowledge that his son would continue his education. That his son would one day become the artist they all knew he was destined for.

And they all lived happily ever after.


Creative license?  Who me?

In reality, the story of how seven-year-old Oluf Carlsen came to be left behind in Denmark when his family emigrated may never be known. In fantasy, it involves a caring father, a tough decision, and the promise of a brighter future for a much-loved son.

Perhaps the reality was much different, even harsher…but what’s a little bit of rose-coloured fiction between friends, right?

What we do know is that Oluf was definitely ‘a son in Denmark’ – the son Peter Oluff Carlsen wrote about four years after he arrived in Australia. Translated, this section of Peter’s letter reads:



Born on 17 June 1864, Niels ‘Oluf’ Martin Carlsen was only three when his mother and younger brother died. No doubt a terrible blow and tragic loss for the little family. By the time he was six, not only did Oluf have a new stepmother, but also a little sister, Frederikke and brother, Wilhelm.  They were two brand new siblings who Oluf would only know for a short time.

When the Carlsen’s emigrated in 1871, young Oluf stayed behind in Ålsø, Randers, with his stepmother’s parents, Jens Mikkelsen and Marie Cathrine Jensdatter.  Perhaps they were related to little Oluf?  Peter’s second wife, Ane Jensen, certainly had the same last name as his first, therefore there may have been a family connection.

Or maybe the Mikkelsens simply loved Oluf like their own child, and wanted the best for him.


[Let’s conveniently ignore at this point that 15-year-old Oluf’s role in the 1880 Mikkelsen household was ‘Domestics’ (that little snippet doesn’t fit nicely into our rose-coloured story). Ok?  Good. Moving on… 😉 ]


When we catch up again with Oluf in 1901, he is 37 and married with five children of his own.  Obviously doing well for himself, Oluf owned their house in Grenå, Randers and was working as a master painter fulfilling his father’s dream, and neatly rounding out our fantasy scenario.

It would be nice to think that father and son kept in regular touch, and imagine the many letters sent back and forth during the years they were apart; snippets of their lives, family news, and perhaps even photos.

Of course, we may never know for sure, but Peter was in contact with his sister in Copenhagen, so it’s not much of a stretch to include his eldest son among those family members he exchanged letters with – distance being no real barrier to keeping in touch.  In addition, a further hint that this was the case appears many years later at the birth of Oluf’s son, Peter Oluf Holger Carlsen, in 1892.

Like the letters, it would be nice to think that little Peter was named in acknowledgement and fond memory of Oluf’s father.

A son in Denmark, a father in Australia, and another generation to bear the family name.

In the absence of knowing their real story, the events of the past, or how ‘a son in Denmark’ came to be, all I can do is hope for the best and send them warm wishes from the future.


And they all lived happily ever after.



Special thanks to Niels at My Danish Roots for not only translating the Danish letter, but for also solving the mystery of Maren Jensen (Peter’s first wife) and finding Oluf Carlsen (born Niels Oluf Martin Carlsen). With this additional information, I was able to locate Oluf on the 1870 Census living with (*drumroll*) Ane Jensen and Frederikke Carlsen. This then led to finding Ane’s birth parish, her baptism, and parents – who also just happened to also be in the same household in 1870. Great stuff.

For a copy of Peter’s letter, click here.

6 thoughts on “A son in Denmark

  1. Nicely done! I too have Danish roots. My great great grandparents left behind a daughter when they immigrated. I been told she was too sickly to come and died a few years later. I guess that is true but she did live long enough to marry.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh I hadn’t thought about that as a possible reason! Thank you – definitely food for thought. 🙂

      That must have been so hard for your great grandparents leaving her behind. I guess it was either that, or risk her passing away on the long journey. Such a tough choice to make!


  2. What! No reference to the wicked stepmother scenario? It is quite typical for second wives not wanting to be saddled with children of first wives, and the boy may have resented her as well. Plus the old folk would be wanting someone to stay and look after them. Domestics would be exactly what they wanted – and not pay if he was related.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Not ruling that angle out – it’s possible, for sure! 🙂 I guess I just wanted to look for a ‘bright side’ in the story of a little boy who grew up without his parents (me and my darn rose-coloured glasses. Haha!).

      Thank goodness we’re a lot more enlightened now. I’d love to find Oluf’s descendants one day – now that would be a happy ending.


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