Niels Johan Jensen was born in rather unfortunate circumstances. It has been related, artfully, that the only toy that he and his siblings could afford was broken glass.
His father, Jens Peter Eskildsen, was of illegitimate birth. Since Jens Peter’s father died in another district when Jens had just turned six, it’s unlikely that he had any memory of his father, if he’d met his father at all. Jens moved from job to job and town to town, and was classified a day laborer in the 1880 census. His wife, Ane Kirstine Pedersdatter, came from what appeared to be a large and moderately prosperous family, so she seems to have married down, and she may have lost family support in doing so; but she was nearly 29 at the time: not exactly a young bride.
It’s unlikely that Niels ever met any of his grandparents. Three of them were deceased by the time he was born, and the fourth would have been age 70 at the time.
The father of Rasmus, Niels Jensen, has not left us with a proud memory, though it was not so much that he was a bad man, but rather an irresponsible boy who never matured.
Niels was the youngest child of 4 (or more) in his family. When he was born, His mother Ane was 44, and his father Jens was 46.
Niels’ parents were living in Hornslet (a town near Århus, Denmark) when Niels was confirmed in nearby Mørke Parish in 1885. He worked in the same household as Jensine Rasmussen in Ommestrup. This was the home of Peder Mortensen Skriver, who was probably Niels’ cousin. Niels was living in Hornslet by January 1891.
He was a fairly tall man (6′ or 6’1″), and a hard worker, but he was not exactly a man of honor. He appears to have bolted off to America while his newborn son Rasmus (Grandpa) was only two or three months old.
Niels had most likely emigrated by 1893 (possibly February 1891), and was certainly in America by the time of Grandpa’s confirmation in 1905.
We have found no satisfactory emigration or immigration data on Niels or his son Rasmus (Grandpa). We have checked a number of ship passenger lists.
Niels was not the only one of his parents’ kids to leave for America. His brother Marius settled in Iowa, and raised a family there.
Niels lived close by, perhaps on Long Island. He was a big, strong man. Dad says Niels sought work at the same place Grandpa Jensen did, called something like “the Farmer’s Union”, where farmers would come to find laborers.
Though Niels was not wealthy, he dressed well and had a watch. He liked to gamble. His gambling habit created tensions between Grandma and Grandpa in their early years when he took Grandpa out gambling. Grandma put an end to the gambling. Helen says that Grandma threatened to leave Grandpa. Besides, Grandpa was not the gambling type like his father.
The early years of Grandma and Grandpa’s marriage were difficult for Grandma, not only because of the gambling, but because Grandpa and his father would speak Danish when they’d get together, and Grandma would be left out of the conversation.
After that early period, Niels still visited Grandpa and the family around Christmas, and maybe in the summer. Dad and Helen were introduced to Niels as an uncle. He’d give Dad and Helen a $5 gold piece each when he’d visit (maybe just a showy gesture). The kids would save the coins for years, yet they were not fond of Niels, perhaps because he would take their father away, or at least turn their father’s attention away from them. Niels was personable, but not caring or considerate. He wasn’t a family man, and he never married, but Dad does remember that Niels had a girlfriend.
Aunt Helen swears it was “Peter Jensen”. She says they called him “Uncle Peter.” Dad says they called him “Uncle” because his son (Grandpa Jensen) was illegitimate (this was discovered after Grandma Jensen died). ‘Peter’ might have been his American name. Dad says that there may have been a ‘Peter Jensen’, but he says their grandfather didn’t use the name.
Aunt Helen says that she and John had never heard of “Uncle Peter” until she was 5-6 years old. However, Dad says that he heard an account of how this uncle had made trouble, I think, by taking Grandpa Jensen out gambling before Dad was even born. Helen says that Grandpa stopped gambling after Grandma had threatened to leave him. Uncle kept gambling. Dad remembers Uncle visiting often, giving the kids silver dollars, and that Uncle was a sharp dresser, and of more civilized demeanor than his son (Grandpa).
Aunt Helen says that “Uncle Peter” died a pauper, and that Grandpa Jensen had to go pick up his body and bury him. Dad says this happened when he was 19-20 (around 1944), that Niels was about 75, and that he died of an abdominal illness. Dad doesn’t think Uncle was a pauper when he died.
Grandma Jensen told me it was “Niels Jensen” (spelling unspecified). Dad’s middle name is “Neal” (on his birth certificate), so this makes some sense. Grandma Jennie told Dawn that Dad’s actual middle name is “Niels” (spelling unspecified), so that was probably his grandfather’s name.
Grandpa’s death certificate says it was “Neil Jensen”.
Aunt Helen swears it was “Peter Jensen”. She says they called him “Uncle Peter.” Dad says they called him “Uncle” because Grandpa was illegitimate (this was discovered after Grandma Jensen died). Dad says that there may have been a ‘Peter Jensen’, but he says their grandfather didn’t use the name.
We have found records of Niels’ birth and confirmation in Mørke Parish, as well as census records from 1880 (Hornslet) and 1890 (Ommestrup).
Niels’ confirmation record states that he was born in Ugelbølle (confirmation records listed birthplaces, not current locations).
Military conscription records for Niels exist, but they tell us little about him. They do suggest that he had emigrated by 1893.