II. Our Bornholm Ancestors

Map of Denmark showing the island of Bornholm

Map of Denmark showing the island of Bornholm

The name Holm is common on Bornholm and in other parts of Scandinavia. The first Holm on Bornholm, of our ancestors, is said to have been a Norwegian sailor who jumped ship in 1705 and stayed on the Island.

There follows a half century of silence, as far as my knowledge is concerned.

My great-great-great-great grandfather was Ole Hansen. In 1769 his son was baptized and given the name Jens Olsen, with Holm in parentheses. He was apparently known as Jens Olsen Holm. Jens’ son was baptised Peder Jensen Holm in 1798, so by that time the family name, Holm, was official. Peder Jensen Holm was a shoemaker. His wife’s name was Kirstine Malene Jørgensdatter (1804-49) and she was the daughter of Jørgen Jørgensen. They lived first in Pedersker and later in Neksø and had thirteen children.

Surnames were in a fluid state until the early nineteenth century. Most people in ordinary circumstances were identified by their given name plus their father’s name, with the addition of “sen” or “datter”. It may well be that the name Holm was used in the family for several generations before it was included in baptismal records. In fact, it was probably carried to Bornholm from Norway; there were many small islands off the coasts of Norway, but few near Bornholm. Churchmen have often been notoriously conservative, and the authorities may have felt that it was unseemly for ordinary rural people to aspire to surnames.


One of the sons of Peder and Kirstine, Hans Pedersen Holm (1829-1914), was my great- grandfather. His wife was Maren Kirstine Madsen (1823-89), and her parents were Hans Madsen and Anne Elisabeth Larsdatter. I have heard that when H. P. Holm was 19 he had an opportunity to purchase a farm from a relative for 200 rigsdaler, but his drinking habits were such that no one would lend him the money. (I am not sure the story is true, but he did like his brandy.) So he homesteaded a piece of heath at Povlsker Højlyng, also known as Povlsker Plantage (plantation), an area of forest and heath belonging to the Povlsker Parish and situated on the edge of Almindingen, the large forest at the center of the Island. Some public land was being divided and made available for settlement, so H.P. purchased a part. It was an unproductive spot. There he married and raised his family of seven sons. Three other children died in childhood.

H.P’s wife Maren had inherited from her father a weakness in the legs; both walked with crutches during the last decades of their lives. It seems to have been a form of muscular dystrophy called Charco Marie Tooth syndrome, which affects more men than women, is transmitted through the mother by way of a recessive gene, atrophies a peripheral nerve in the leg and generally strikes when the victim is about forty years of age. Maren passed the problem on to her son, my grandfather.

Maren died in 1889, and H.P. contracted a second marriage, one that did not meet with the approval of the family. His second wife had a sharp tongue, and superstitious folk credited her with witchcraft.  In 1911 H.P.’s six surviving sons and a grandson whose father was dead signed a document giving up all claims to any inheritance they might otherwise have received on H.P.’s death, in favour of their stepmother. The inheritance was estimated at 200 Kroner or about $50. When H.P. died in 1914 the same seven survivors each paid 28.365 Kr. (total 198.555 Kr,) to cover the expenses of his funeral.

H.P.’s oldest son, Hans Madsen Holm, became the grandfather of Terje Holm, a Methodist local preacher whom I visited in Fåborg in 1980. Terje was the father-in-law of Mogens Bjerno, son of Carl Bjerno – both Methodist ministers. (See chapter 4.)

(2) Larsen

My father’s mother was Anne Dorthea Larsen (1860-1952). One of her great- grandfathers was Mads Abrahamsen (1767-1819), a blacksmith in Snogebæk in Povlsker Parish. In 1818 Lars Peter Marcher (son of Peter Christensen and Margrethe Isarsdatter of Østermarie) was apprenticed to Mads and later in the same year married his boss’ only daughter, Gjertrud Dorthea Madsdatter. Their first two sons were baptised in Povlsker, the other two at Østermarie. The youngest was my great-grandfather. The name Marcher (an anomaly in any case) was dropped and Lars’ children were baptised Larsen and were known either as Larsen or as Smed (blacksmith).

Lars and Gjertrud’s youngest son, my great-grandfather, was Laurits Peter Larsen (1830-95). He was a farm labourer, industrious and always able to find work. Judging by his descendants, he must have been tall and strong. The daily wage in his day was one mark (33 øre), but Larsen worked for a farmer who owned one of the first reapers on the Island, and he was able to double his income when the reaper was in use. He lived at Ibsker, and toward the end of his life owned his own home. He drank and gambled and was brutal. He lost his temper easily, and was hard on his wife and children. His wife was Ane Marie Hansdatter, daughter of Hans Jacobsen, labourer, and Elisabeth Marie Pedersdatter; they were both from Østermarie. Grandmother said Ane Marie was a good wife and mother. She must have been exemplary to compensate for her husband’s shortcomings and to raise such a fine family.

The island of Bornholm

“Denmark’s Pearl” – The island of Bornholm (Google Earth)

In 1948 a book was published entitled “Hundrede Aar Paa En Klippeø” – “A Hundred Years On A Rocky Island”. It consisted of newspaper clippings dating from 1828 to 1945. A whole page was devoted to the solution (in 1894) of a murder that had been committed in 1867. The murderer was my great-grandfather, Laurits Peter Larsen. Other information on the incident has been sent me by relatives.

In January 1867 an eccentric by the name of Peter Christian Jensen, known as Ellestokken (the Alderstaff) disappeared. About a week later he was reported missing and Laurits Larsen, apparently the last person to have seen him alive, was apprehended and questioned. They had been together in a tavern in Svaneke and had imbibed a good deal before heading for home. Larsen admitted that they had started out together, but insisted that he and Ellestokken had parted just outside the town, Larsen going inland toward his home at Ibsker, and Ellestokken taking the shore road along the cliff to Listed. The authorities assumed that Ellestokken, in a drunken state, had gone astray in the darkness and had fallen off the cliff and lost his life in the water below.

After a few days however the body was found, partially naked. A piece of copper wire was twisted into the neck and it was clear that Ellestokken had been strangled.

Laurits Larsen was again called in for questioning. He absolutely denied knowing anything about the matter, and was set free.

Twenty-seven years passed. In September 1894 Larsen was an old man (64), and had begun to fail. The magistrate, who was also Mayor of Svaneke at the time went to Larsen and persuaded him to relieve his conscience and admit that he was the Listed Murderer. At first Larsen admitted his guilt, but the next day tried to implicate two other persons: the owner of the farm where Ellestokken had lived, and a woman who was a resident of the same place. These two persons had apparently been under suspicion. The owner of the property was obligated by law to support the victim with the necessities of life, so had an obvious motive; he was rumoured to have said he wished Ellestokken dead. Larsen revived the rumours and claimed that the owner had paid him money to do away with Jensen. The owner and the woman vigorously denied having had any part in the murder.

After further questioning, and a strong suggestion by the magistrate that he should not go to meet his Maker with such a burden on his conscience, Larsen confessed and told the whole story. He and Ellestokken had left the tavern and had started for their homes with a bottle of brandy to comfort them. They quarrelled, and Ellestokken struck Larsen on the head with the bottle. Larsen in anger resolved to kill Ellestokken and tried to seize the wire which the old man was carrying around his neck. Ellestokken escaped and ran off, with Larsen in pursuit. Larsen caught Jensen and strangled him.

Larsen removed the victim’s jacket, trousers and one boot, and took a small amount of money he found in the pockets; he was pulling off the victim’s shirt and undershirt when he realized the danger he was in and threw the body off the cliff and into the water. He took the clothes home to his wife, telling her that he had purchased them; she then made them over for the children’s use.

Larsen was sentenced to nine years hard labour for the murder. At the same time three unrelated charges of theft were brought against him, but the charges were dropped when he surrendered the stolen goods.

It was clear however that Larsen was in no condition to engage in hard labour. Sentence was handed down in December 1894 and he died in February 1895 of tuberculosis. Grandmother told Dad that her father had found peace with God and with himself at the last.

Grandmother was six when the murder was committed. She had two brothers and two sisters, their ages ranging from nine months to fourteen years. Laurits was the breadwinner, and if he had confessed to the murder in 1867 he would have brought great hardship on the family.

These were not the only crimes of which Larsen had been guilty. By 1855 he had served four years in prison for robbery with violence, and on another occasion five days for robbery and fraud.

In fact Larsen’s exploits had become legendary in eastern Bornholm. It was said that on one occasion when he and a friend were being sought by the police they took refuge in Ibsker churchyard and lit a fire on one of the graves to roast a stolen hen. The members of the local constabulary were a superstitious lot and were afraid to enter the cemetery at night, so the scoundrels were safe. Larsen and his buddy had lit their fire on the grave of a natural healer by the name of Hans Jorgensen (also known as “Posijn”), who was believed to have supernatural knowledge and had been sought by the police on occasion, but fear of his powers had caused the gendarmes to have diarrhea and when they went behind the bushes to relieve themselves, Posijn escaped. This happened twice. On the third attempt to arrest him Posijn shot himself and was buried at Ibsker. Because it was generally believed that Posijn knew too much of occult matters for his own good (the Danish expression was that he knew more than the Lord’s Prayer), his grave was an object of superstition and a safe refuge for the sons of darkness.

Lorens, born in 1852, was the oldest of Larsen’s children. He spent his life near Svaneke where he owned a small plot of land and kept a cow and a pig. He was a jack of all trades. His sons, my father’s cousins, included two butchers, one baker and one harness maker.

Christian Larsen, born in 1855, migrated to the United States in 1880 and dropped from sight. He was heading for Corrie, Penn., but it is not known whether he reached his destination. Probably he met with an accident or with foul play. My uncle Julius told me that in her old age Grandmother used to talk about her brother Christian.

The third child was Anne Dorthea, my grandmother.

Bolette, born in 1863, married Hans Andreasen, a construction worker. Andreasen was for many years in the employ of Johannes Munk, a contractor, and through him Hans and Bolette were drawn into the Methodist Church. Methodism became particularly strong in the Neksø area just after the turn of the century.

Laurine (“Laura”) was born in 1866. She had red hair. She and her husband, Magnus Mogensen bought a piece of land at Ibsker, about 25 acres, part of a large farm that was being divided. They erected buildings on it and called it Jomfrugård (“Virgin-farm”) It became a valuable property and is still in the Mogensen family. Laura and Magnus were workaholics. At one time Grandmother and Tante Bolette paid a rare overnight “Visit to the Mogensens, and were wakened at 5 a.m. by Tante Laura wanting to know whether they were going to sleep all day; Laura had milked the cows, breakfast was over and the housework done, and she wanted to go out and hoe her turnips; but she couldn’t do it until her sisters were up and had finished breakfast. Grandmother loved to sleep in until 7 on the rare occasions when she could manage it.

Magnus Mogensen was a very quiet man, pathologically sensitive and easily hurt. Some of his children, including our good friend Karl, inherited their father’s sensitivity. Karl came to Canada in 1929 to look for a brother who had disappeared in the west. He found his trunk in Winnipeg but there was no sign of the brother. Karl stayed in Pictou County until his death of Alzheimer’s Disease in 1984. He would usually spend Christmas Eve with us, but we never knew until he arrived whether he would be there; at times he would be depressed for several days at a time and would simply disappear. In 1960 he married Mother’s sister Ester and she gave him the understanding and acceptance he needed for a happier life and cared for him during his old age and illness. However he continued to be very quiet and sometimes when he and Ester visited my parents he would not say a word throughout the duration of the visit. Ester talked for both of them.

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