Mikkelsen/Michelsen from Schleswig-Holstein and Chicago IL

Thomas Mikkelsen's origins were a mystery for some time. His descendants from his first marriage reported that he was born March 31, 1850 in Middlefart, Odense, Denmark. The date was correct, but our researcher in Schleswig-Holstein has discovered that Thomas' parents were Niels Michelsen, born in Visby, Tønder parish in Denmark, and Anna Sophia Sörensen. Until Thomas settled in the United States his surname was spelled Michelsen.

Thomas' paternal grandparents were Caspar Michelsen and Anna Sophia Laustdatter from Visby, who had ten children together, all of whom used the surname/patronym Michelsen. After his wife's death in 1816 Caspar married Anna Magretta Laustdatter (it's tempting to imagine that she and Anna Sophia were sisters, but we simply don't know at this point) and their four children used the patronym Casparsen or Casparsdatter.

And to confuse matters further, another son of Caspar and Anna Sophia, Laust Michelsen, had children who used the patronym Lausten or Laustsen. These naming patterns highlight the regional differences in adopting true surnames during the first half of the 1800s. Those who remained further north tended to use patronyms. Those who settled south of the Danish border (like Thomas' father Niels Michelsen) used Michelsen as a surname.

Thomas himself was actually born in Ladelund, near Leck in Schleswig-Holstein, the same town where his oldest child, Anna Sophie Mikkelsen, was also born. Ladelund was also the marriage location for Thomas and his first wife, Helene Cecilia Sievertsen of Leck, in January 1878. Their children included Anna Sofia, Catherina Bottilla (who probably died in childhood since no adult records can be found for her), Niels (who likely suffered the same fate), Anton Christian Broder, Catherine Bothilde, and Nicoline Jacobine.

Thomas first emigrated to the USA in March 1887, bound for Chicago, and Helene and their four surviving children followed two months later. Shortly thereafter, Helene returned to Flensburg with their children, and (for a reason lost to family history) she and Thomas divorced.

Thomas, however, wanted to make his way in the New World, and in 1887 Thomas filed his naturalization papers in Cook County. He became a U.S. citizen in October 1892. Anna, Anton and Catherine, (no further trace of Nicoline is found) were apparently determined to rejoin their father and returned separately to the USA during the period 1895-1903; according to family legend, daughter Catherine had to overcome a tuberculosis infection before she was readmitted to the USA.

Thomas was an auto mechanic and later worked as a streetcar repairman. His second marriage was to Mrs. Maria Hansen on January 24, 1889 in Chicago. We know very little about Maria except that she was born about 1840 in Germany and emigrated to the USA around 1872. She died in 1902 of peretonitis.

Thus Thomas was an eligible widower when Catharina Petersen returned to Chicago from Milwaukee in 1905 after her husband Hans' death. Thomas was quick to comfort a fellow Dane and they were married on November 13, 1906. In 1907 Thomas and Catherine had a daughter of their own, Florence. Catherine and baby Florence are pictured at left.

The Mikkelsen and Petersen clans stayed close. Thomas' older children gathered with their step- and half-siblings every holiday season and frequently throughout the year. One of Thomas' stepsons, Alfred Petersen (later Alva MacLaughlan), adopted Thomas' cigar habit and even named his elder son after Thomas.

In 1914 Catherine and Thomas decided to take a trip to the old country and spent their autumn in Denmark, possibly visiting relatives who had not come to America. They returned on the ship Oscar later that year.

By all accounts Thomas and Catherine had a happy marriage and enjoyed the attentions of their blended family. But at the age of 71 Thomas died on January 21, 1921 in Chicago and was buried in Oakwood Cemetery. His widow Catherine and their daughter Florence remained in Chicago in the neighborhood they had all shared.

Thanks to Klaus Struve for his excellent research in the archives of Ladelund and Flensburg, and to cousins Rosemary Douglass Alewine, Cathie Breetzke, and Karen Mikkelsen for photos and family stories.