A Tradition of Changing Surnames Carried to the New World: A Descending Narrative Lineage

By Aaron Spohr


The story of the Jensen-Isaksen-Spohr family is closely tied to the evolution of land-ownership in Denmark in general, and on the island of Møn in particular. Møn lies just southeast of the main island of Sjælland [Zealand] in the southeast corner of the Kingdom of Denmark. The parishes on the island in the 19th century fell within the jurisdiction of Mønbo Herred (District or Hundred), which in turn was part of Præstø Amt (County). The Danish records sourced for this study primarily fall within Fanefjord and Damsholte parishes, which are on the west end of Møn and are shown on Figure 1.

Mønbo District Map

Figure 1: Mønbo District

Source: Svend-Erik Christiansen, Mønbo Herred Præstø Amt, Denmark, digital map (https://upload.wikimedia.org/ wikipedia/commons/d/d3/M%C3%B8nbo_Herred.png : accessed 13 June 2021), undated. No restrictions on use.

Multiple members of the Isaksen and Pedersen families intermarried in the early 20th century, and many of these family members and siblings immigrated to California and Utah in the first decade of the 1900s.  Late in her life Nikoline (Johanne Pedersen) Isaksen chronicled many of her family’s stories in a book called Whither Thou Goest, posthumously published by her son Henry Isaksen in 1977.[1] The family members all maintained close ties with each other, both in Denmark and the United States, over the years and passed down stories of their family and heritage to their descendants. As a result of these oral histories and this book, parts of the origin of the family have remained in the collective memory of many of the descendants, particularly the fact that the family came from Møn and had lived there for many generations.

Generation One: Jens Isaksen and Bodil Catrine Hansdatter

  1. JENS ISAKSEN was born on 27 June 1811 to Isak Hemmingsen and his wife Anna Kirstine Hansdatter in the small town of Askeby, Fanefjord Parish, Præstø County, Denmark.[2] He was baptized in the Fanefjord parish church a month later on 28 July.[3] He died in the village of Dame, Fanefjord, Præstø, Denmark on 30 July 1898.[4] Jens married BODIL CATRINE HANSDATTER on 30 November 1838 in the church in neighboring Damsholte Parish.[5]

Bodil Catrine Hansdatter was born on 14 March 1815 to Farmer Hans Peitersen and his wife Kirstin Hansdatter in the village of Liseby, Damsholte, Præstø, Denmark.[6] She was baptized at home on 18 March and then again in church on 16 April of that year.[7] Bodil was listed as daughter of Farmer Hans Peitersen of Liseby, and she was age 23 at the time of her marriage to Jens Isaksen.[8] Bodil died on 14 February 1906 in Dame.[9] The death record stated that she was a 90 year-old widow of Jens Isaksen, and that her parents were Farmer Hans Peitersen and Kirstine Hansdatter of Liseby.[10]

Their known children:

i. CHRISTIANE JENSEN was born in Dame on 3 September 1839 and she died within a couple of days.[11]
ii. NIELS JØRGEN JENSEN was born in Dame on 27 December 1840 and he died two days later on 29 December.[12]
2. iii. NIELS PETER JENSEN was born in Dame on 23 April 1842.[13] He died on 17 March 1911 in Askeby, Fanefjord Parish.[14] He married BODIL STINE ANDERSEN in Damsholte Parish on 18 March 1870.[15]
iv. CHRISTIANE JENSEN (twin) was born in Dame on 21 September 1846 and she died on 19 November of that year.[16]
v. ISAK SIDENIUS JENSEN (twin) was born in Dame on 21 September 1846.[17] He died age 11, on 3 June 1858.[18]
vi. Hans Christian Jensen was born in Dame on 13 February 1850.[19] He died 19 October 1904 in Hjelm, Damsholte Parish.[20] He married ANE KATRINE JØRGENSEN, widow of LARS PEDER NIELSEN, in Damsholte Parish on 3 March 1882.[21]
vii. CHRISTIANE MARIA JENSEN was born in Dame, probably on 6 November 1851.[22] She died in Keldby-Magle, Keldby Parish, Præstø, Denmark on 29 December 1933.[23] There is a conflict in her birth date; her birth record states 6 November, but some of her census records after marriage and her death record state 4 December of 1851.[24] She probably married JENS PEDER LARSEN around 1875.[25] The birth records were actually a chronological record of baptisms and so it is possible that the person entering the data could have entered the wrong information. It is unknown who the informants were for her census record and death record, but it is quite possible the family celebrated December 4th for her birthday.
viii. ISAK SIDENIUS JENSEN was born on 10 May 1863 in Dame.[26] He worked as a master clock smith and he died sometime after 1930.[27] He married LYDIA KRISTINE DJØRUP on 15 July 1892 in Stege, Præstø, Denmark.[28]
1816 Cadaster Map of Fanefjord Parish

Figure 2: 1816 Cadaster Map of Fanefjord Parish

Source: “Historic Maps Online,” Geodatastyrlsen, Styrelsen for Dataforsyning og Effektivisering, online database and images (https://hkpn.gst.dk/ : accessed 13 June 2021,) Sogne- og herredskort > Fanefjord sogn > Fanefjord 1816.

Narrative of Jens Isaksen

King Christian the 7th owned most of the land on Møn in 1769, but on 19 September of that year he put his estates, churches, and tithes up for sale by auction in order to pay debt the monarchy could not maintain.[29] This was the beginning of a steady change for the majority of the local population as they transitioned from being tied to large estates, to becoming independent farmers of varying degrees, ranging from renters to small-holders to large farm owners.

One of the benefits of landownership was potential exemption from military conscription.[30] This was probably the case for Jens Isaksen because he should be found in the next Lægdsruller (Military Levy Roll) after his birth, but both he and his father, Isak Hemmingsen, were missing.[31] Up until the 1848 First Slesvig War with Prussia, national military service was primarily for the underprivileged peasantry, and when the law changed in 1849 Jens would have been too old to have been added.[32]

In 1834, Jens was 23 years old, unmarried, and living on his father’s farm in Askeby.[33] His father had signed a mortgage on 29 December 1825 to purchase parcel #5 for 300 rigsdaler.[34] See Figure 2 boundary in maroon. Jens married Bodil Catrine Hansdatter, of nearby Liseby, on 30 November 1838.[35] Two months later he purchased parcel #9b just to the south in neighboring Store Dame, presumably to start his own family.[36] A few years later he purchased parcel #9f on the other side of the road, probably to enlarge his small farm to help support his growing family.[37] See Figure 2 boundary in green. Further supporting this proof of landownership was that Jens was listed as a Parcellist (small-holder) in the birth records for all of his children. Small-holders were typically landowners with only a few acres of land, barely enough farmland to support their families and so they commonly supplemented their income with other work.[38] See Table 1 for a list of census records that list Jens Isaksen’s occupations.


Table 1

Jens Isaksen Occupations in Census Records 1840-80

Year Name Age Location Occupation
1840a Jens Isaaksen 29 Dame House-owner with a parcel, Cooper
1845b Jens Isaaksen 34 Dame Small-holder with land, Cooper
1850c Jens Isaaksen 39 Dame Small-holder, Cooper
1855d Jens Isaksen 39 [sic] Dame Small-holder with land, Road maintenance worker, Cooper
1860e Jens Isaksen 49 Dame Road maintenance worker, Small-holder
1870f Jens Isaksen 58 Dame Farmworker
1880g Jens Isaksen 68 Dame Small-holder

a. 1840 Denmark Census, Præstø, Mønbo, Fanefjord, p. 410, household 72, Jens Isaaksen, online images, Rigsarkivet (https://www.sa.dk/ao-soegesider/da/billedviser?bsid=5006#5006,118680 : accessed 13 June 2021), Folketælling 1840, Landdistrikter (1840 – 1840) > Præstø Mønbo Fanefjord > image 40 of 57.

b. 1845 Denmark Census, Præstø, Mønbo, Fanefjord, p. 174, household 69, Jens Isaaksen, online images, Rigsarkivet (https://www.sa.dk/ao-soegesider/da/billedviser?bsid=6797#6797,161575 : accessed 13 June 2021), Folketælling 1845, Landdistrikter (1845 – 1845) > Præstø Mønbo Fanefjord > image 29 of 57.

c. 1850 Denmark Census, Præstø, Mønbo, Fanefjord, p. 147, household 42, Jens Isaaksen, online images, Rigsarkivet (https://www.sa.dk/ao-soegesider/da/billedviser?bsid=113768#113768,17261069 : accessed 13 June 2021), Folketælling 1850, Landdistrikter (1850 – 1850) > Præstø Mønbo Fanefjord > image 20 of 63.

d. 1855 Denmark Census, Præstø, Mønbo, Fanefjord, n.p., household 44, Jens Isaksen, online images, Rigsarkivet (https://www.sa.dk/ao-soegesider/da/billedviser?bsid=119063#119063,17413544 : accessed 13 June 2021), Folketælling 1855, Landdistrikter (1855 – 1855) > Præstø Mønbo Fanefjord > image 66 of 80.

e. 1860 Denmark Census, Præstø, Mønbo, Fanefjord, p. 342a, household 51, Jens Isaksen, online images, Rigsarkivet (https://www.sa.dk/ao-soegesider/da/billedviser?bsid=8636#8636,211956 : accessed 13 June 2021), Folketælling 1860, Landdistrikter (1860 – 1860) > Præstø Mønbo Fanefjord > image 31 of 35.

f. 1870 Denmark Census, Præstø, Mønbo, Fanefjord, p. 401, no household listed, Jens Isaksen, online images, Rigsarkivet (https://www.sa.dk/ao-soegesider/da/billedviser?bsid=53407#53407,11833672 : accessed 13 June 2021), Folketælling 1870, Landdistrikter (1870 – 1870) > Præstø Mønbo Fanefjord > image 95 of 137.

f. 1880 Denmark Census, Præstø, Mønbo, Fanefjord, p. 401, run 39, household 6, Jens Isaksen, online images, Rigsarkivet (https://www.sa.dk/ao-soegesider/da/billedviser?bsid=55695#55695,11997079 : accessed 13 June 2021), Folketælling 1880, Landdistrikter (1880 – 1880) > Præstø Mønbo Fanefjord > image 155 of 179.

In fact, the two parcels of land that Jens farmed were nearly equal in size and totaled 6 skæpper and 2.75 albums.[39] This is the modern equivalent of only 1.06 acres.[40] This property would have held the house and maybe a few out-buildings and thus would not have been enough land to provide for the entire family and that is why Jens also worked as a cooper and a Vejmand (road maintenance worker).

Jens Isaksen retired in May of 1882, at age 71, and became an Aftægtsmand [41] An aftægt is a signed agreement where a person eventually turns the deed to their real property over to someone, usually a family member, in return for being provided room, board, and support for the remainder of their lives.[42] His meticulously detailed agreement was for the sale of parcels 9b and 9f in Store Dame township to his eldest son, Niels Peter, for a purchase price of 4,500 Kroner.[43] Additionally, it was required that Niels Peter and his family care for Jens and Bodil Catrine for the rest of their lives, provide an annual allowance for five years valued at 2,400 Kroner, and “attend and pay for [their] decent funerals according to custom.”[44] Jens Isaksen died at age 87, on 30 July 1898, probably at his home in Store Dame.[45] His probate record was brief and stated that his wife, Bodil Catrine, would continue to live in the home with their “children”, and that there were no items to transfer.[46]

However, for unknown reasons, Niels Peter was forced to sell the majority of parcel 9b, along with the home and many possessions, to Valdemar Olafsen on 1 April 1903, but he subdivided and retained a new parcel which was labeled 9ø[47] The transaction stated that Bodil Catrine had waived her aftægt (retirement) agreement on the whole, but that she would still be provided a home in the main house. Niels Peter was able to keep a building site on the north east corner of the property and presumably built a new house, because in 1906 Niels Peter and Bodil Stine were living on Parcel 9ø, while his mother Bodil Catrine was living with Valdemar Olafsen and his family in the house on parcel 9b.[48] Bodil Catrine lived another six years after the death of her husband, and died at age 90, on 14 February 1906.[49] Her estate record stated that all their possessions were to be given to their three surviving children: Niels Peter of Dame, Isak Sidenius of Stege, and Christine Marie, wife of Bailiff Jens Peter Larsen.[50]

Generation Two: Niels Peter Jensen Isaksen and Bodil Stine Andersen

  1. NIELS PETER JENSEN ISAKSEN was born in Dame on 23 April 1842.[51] He died on 17 March 1911 in Askeby, Fanefjord Parish.[52] He married BODIL STINE ANDERSEN in Damsholte Parish on 18 March 1870.[53] Bodil Stine Andersen was born in Sprove, Damsholte Parish on 19 June 1846 to Farmer ANDERS JØRGENSEN and METTE OLSDATTER.[54] She died at a hospital in Copenhagen on 13 March 1917.[55]

Their known children:

i. ANNE PETREA JENSEN ISAKSEN was born in Sprove on 6 October 1870.[56] She remained unmarried and died on 29 December 1951 at St. Maria Hospital in Roskilde, Denmark.[57]
ii. ISAK JENSEN ISAKSEN was born in Sprove on 20 February 1873.958] He died at Frederiksberg Hospital, in Copenhagen, on 7 May 1946.959] He married JØRGINE SOFIE MARIE PEDERSEN about 1900.[60]
3. iii. HERMAN ANDREAS JENSEN ISAKSEN was born in Sprove on 17 August 1875.[61] He died in Napa, California on 18 May 1959.[62] Herman married EMMY LOUISE PEDERSEN on 11 August 1905 in San Francisco, California.[63] Emma was daughter of LARS ALBRECHT PEDERSEN and ANNETTE KIRSTINE HEMMINGSEN of nearby Røddinge, Damsholte Parish.[64] Two of her sisters married two of Herman’s brothers.
iv. KARL JENSEN ISAKSEN was born in Sprove on 21 January 1877.[65] He died on 23 October 1953 in San Mateo county.[66] He married MARIE KATHRINE RASMUSSEN on or about 6 January 1914 in San Francisco, California.[67]
v. MARTIN JENSEN ISAKSEN was born in Sprove on 8 March 1879.[68] Martin died in Copenhagen on 7 April 1947 while on a mission for the LDS church.[69] He married NIKOLINE JOHANNE PEDERSEN on 24 January 1905 in Damsholte Church.[70] Nikoline was the author of Whither Thou Goest.  She was also a daughter of LARS ALBRECHT PEDERSEN and ANNETTE KIRSTINE HEMMINGSEN.[71]
vi. JENS PETER JOHANNES JENSEN ISAKSEN was born in Sprove on 11 April 1880.[72] He died on 27 September 1957 in Santa Clara county.[73] He married JENNY LOUISE SIVERTSEN on 21 July 1912 in Salt Lake City, Utah.[74]
vii. ANDERS SPOR JENSEN ISAKSEN (twin) was born in Sprove on 13 May 1881.[75] He died on 16 September 1967 in Santa Clara county having never married.[76]
viii. JENS ISAK JENSEN ISAKSEN (twin) was born in Sprove on 13 May 1881.[77] He died on 29 August 1972 in Denmark.[78] Jens married LAURA PEDERSEN in Damsholte Church, on 24 May 1912.[79] Laura was also a daughter of LARS ALBRECHT PEDERSEN and ANNETTE KIRSTINE HEMMINGSEN.[80] She was the last of the three Pedersen women to marry the three Isaksen brothers.
ix. METTE FREDERIKKE JENSEN ISAKSEN was born in Dame on 31 July 1882.[81] She died of meningitis on 19 July 1886 in Dame.[82]
x. FREDE JENSEN ISAKSEN was born in Dame on 11 October 1883.[83] He died of pneumonia in Dame on 26 August 1886.[84]
xi. HANSIGNE MARIE KATRINE JENSEN ISAKSEN was born in Dame on 6 December 1884.[85] She died there less than a year later on 23 October 1885.[86]

Narrative of Niels Peter Jensen

Niels Peter Jensen was the first child of Jens Isaksen and Bodil Catrine Hansdatter to survive infancy. The first two children had died within days of birth. Low infant mortality is a relatively new phenomenon in the modern world. It was not uncommon for a later child to be given the same first name as an earlier sibling who had died. Note that Niels Peter had three sisters with the name Christiane, though only the last one survived childhood.

The patronymic system of surnames in Denmark where the child’s surname is derived from the father’s first name created a lot of problems in being able to identify people and so in 1856 the Danish Parliament created a new law to further incentivize families retaining the same surname and for the adoption of surnames based on trade, location, or other descriptors.[87] The population was growing and this would allow for easier identification of individuals. In his 1842 birth record Niels Peter’s surname was listed as Jensen, son of Jens Isaksen.[88] Later he occasionally used his father’s surname, Isaksen, or the hybrid Jensen Isaksen.[89]

Niels Peter most likely had at least a rudimentary education. Denmark’s first law for universal education was enacted in 1814, and it required children to attend school six hours per day, three days per week, from the age of seven until Confirmation in the Lutheran Church, 14-15 years old.[90] It is probable that not all parents complied. In 1855 a new law was enacted which allowed for a child’s education to take place at home if the child was tested for progress by a teacher twice a year.[91]

Niels Peter Jensen Isaksen Family Portrait

Figure 3: Niels Peter Jensen Isaksen Family Portrait

Standing, back row (l. to r.): Karl, Isak, Anne Petrea, Herman Andreas, and Martin

Seated, middle row (l. to r.): Niels Peter Jensen Isaksen and Bodil Stine Andersen

Seated or kneeling, front row (l. to r.): Jens Isak (twin), Jens Peter Johannes, and Anders Spor (twin)

Source: Niels Peter Jensen Isaksen Family Portrait, taken early- to mid-1890s, digital image of undated photo reproduction, privately held by David Spohr, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Sunnyvale, CA, 2021.

Beginning in 1849, all boys of confirmation age, were required to be entered in the Lægdsruller (Military Levy Rolls) where they would later be subject to national service.[92] Niels Peter performed unspecified forms of work, possibly at sea, for the Kingdom at various times between 1860 and 1862.[93] There is a family story that he went to the United States for four years in the latter 1860s, but no evidence has been found of his time there.[94] Regardless, he and Bodil Stine Andersen married on 18 March 1870 in Damsholte Parish.[95]

Another family story held that Martin had lived in his Uncle Ole Andersen’s house until age 12 (1891-92), when he went home to live with his family in Dame.[96] The records indicate that in 1880 Niels Peter’s family was living in the Sprove, Damsholte Parish household of Bodil Stine’s brother, Ole Andersen, along with her widowed father, Anders Jørgensen.[97] Missing from the household was Niels Peter’s seven year old son, Isak.[98] Two years later, in 1882, Niels Peter and at least some of his family moved into his father’s home in Dame to care for his parents.[99] In 1890, three of Niels Peter sons were missing from the household in Dame.[100] Isak, age 17, was living in his Uncle Isak Sidenius Jensen’s home in Stege.[101] Karl, age thirteen, was living in the same Sprove household as in 1880, with his Uncle Ole Hansen and his family.[102] Jens Peter, age nine, was living in the household of one of the family’s Sprove neighbors, Ole Hansen.[103] The fact that Martin was not found outside of his father’s residence in either enumeration does not make his claim untrue. It is very probable that the family may have “rotated” the children’s residence as a means of saving space in a small household or saving money, and that Martin lived with his uncle at other times.

Niels Peter made his living primarily as a musician, which can be seen in Table 2. He was remembered posthumously as a musician who had loaned wooden booths for a wedding party around 1890.[104]

Table 2

Niels Peter Jensen Isaksen Occupations in Census Records 1870-1911

Year Name Age Location Occupation
1870a Niels Peder Jensen 27 Dame Musician
1880b Niels Peder Jensen 37 Sprove Musician
1890c Niels Peter Jensen (Isaksen) 47 Dame Musician
1901d Niels P.J. Isaksen b. 22/4/1842 Dame Farmer, Musician, Road maintenance worker
1911e Niels Peter Jensen b. 22/4/1842 Dame Retired Musician
a. 1870 Denmark Census, Præstø, Mønbo, Fanefjord, p. 401, no household listed, Niels Peder Jensen, online images, Rigsarkivet (https://www.sa.dk/ao-soegesider/da/billedviser?bsid=53407#53407,11833672 : accessed 13 June 2021), Folketælling 1870, Landdistrikter (1870 – 1870) > Præstø Mønbo Fanefjord > image 95 of 137.

b. 1880 Denmark Census, Præstø, Mønbo, Damsholte, list 34, n.p., no household listed, Niels Peder Jensen, online images, Rigsarkivet (https://www.sa.dk/ao-soegesider/da/billedviser?bsid=55677#55677,11995351 : accessed 13 June 2021), Folketælling 1880, Landdistrikter (1880 – 1880) > Præstø Mønbo Damsholte > image 134 of 172.

c. 1890 Denmark Census, Præstø, Mønbo, Fanefjord, list 5, n.p., household 6, Niels Peter Jensen (Isaksen), online images, Rigsarkivet (https://www.sa.dk/ao-soegesider/da/billedviser?bsid=59552#59552,12199440 : accessed 13 June 2021), Folketælling 1890, Landdistrikter (1890 – 1890) > Præstø Mønbo Fanefjord > image 25 of 196.

d. 1901 Denmark Census, Præstø, Mønbo, Fanefjord, list 235, n.p., household 7, Niels P.J. Isaksen, online images, Rigsarkivet (https://www.sa.dk/ao-soegesider/da/billedviser?bsid=21340#21340,1924465 : accessed 13 June 2021), Folketælling 1901, Landdistrikter (1901 – 1901) > Præstø Mønbo Fanefjord > image 788 of 1670.

e. 1911 Denmark Census, Præstø, Mønbo, Fanefjord, list 25, n.p., household 40, Niels Peter Jensen, online images, Rigsarkivet (https://www.sa.dk/ao-soegesider/da/billedviser?bsid=63339#63339,12428345 : accessed 13 June 2021), Folketælling 1911, Landdistrikter (1911 – 1911) > Præstø Mønbo Fanefjord > image 104 of 216.

Sometime after 1890 he began also working as a Vejmand (road maintenance worker).[105] He was responsible for a 2.6 mile section on Road #29, somewhere between Stege and the Grønsund Ferry.[106] He worked at this about 1400 hours per year, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, for which he was paid 18.85 Kroner per month.[107] See Table 3 for the 1905 schedule, when he was 63 years old. Work that he was required to perform was all done with hand tools and a wheelbarrow.[108] Some of the hardest work included breaking up boulders for material to use on the road, and the work standard stated that crushing one cubic fathom (8.75 cubic yards) of boulders would be counted as 192 hours of work.[109]

Table 3

Annual Work Hours in 1905 (Hours/Day)

Month Total Rest Work Work Work
January 9 2 7 13 91
February 10 2 8 12 96
March 12 2.5 9.5 14 133
April 13 3 10 12 120
May 13 3 10 14 140
June 13 3 10 13 130
July 13 3 10 13 130
August 13 3 10 13 130
September 13 3 10 13 130
October 11.5 2.5 9 13 117
November 9.5 2 7.5 13 97.5
December 8.5 2 6.5 13 84.5
Annual Work Hours 1399
Præstø County, Denmark, “Instructions for the Road Maintenance Worker in Præstø County’s 58th [handwritten] Road District,” for Peter Isaksen of Askeby, signed 30 September 1905, section 5;

Niels Peter Jensen Isaksen died at the age of 68, on 17 March 1911.[110] His estate record simply stated that his wife, Bodil Stine Isaksen, was to remain in her home, cared for by her children and that there were no goods to distribute.[111] By 1916, their son Jens Isak and his family were living in the home but Bodil Stine was not present.[112] She was living on Aaboulevard 66 in Copenhagen and was later admitted to the nearby Kommunehospitalet on 6 December 1916.[113] She died there of arteriosclerosis a little over three months later on 13 March 1917 and her remains were turned over to her son, Isak, for burial in Fanefjord parish.[114] Isak and his family were living only a half mile from her in Copenhagen on Dronning Olgas Vej and so he would have been close enough to help take care of her in her old age.[115]

Proof Summary: Father of Niels Peter Jensen

Niels Peter Jensen, of Dame, was the son of Jens Isaksen as determined by the correlation of a number of documents:

  • Niels Peter Jensen was born on 23 April 1842, son of Parcellist Jens Isaksen in Dame.[116]
  • There was only one Jens Isaksen in Dame in both the 1840 and 1845 enumerations, and Niels was age three years old and his son in the latter.[117]
  • Niels Peter of Dame, born 1842, was listed as son of Jens Isaksen, in the 1858 Lægdsruller (Military Levy Rolls) when he was 15 years old.[118]
  • Jens Isaksen named Niels Peter Jensen (Isaksen) as his son and deeded Parcels No. 9b and 9f in Store Dame to him in an 1882 retirement agreement, known as an aftægt.[119]

The informant for the baptism would have been the parish pastor, and though he would not have first-hand knowledge of the actual birth, he would have performed the baptism and known the parents. The informants for the enumerations are unknown, but there is a good chance that it may have been Jens Isaksen’s wife, Bodil Catrine. If so she would have known better than anyone who the father of Niels Peter was. The recorder for the Military Levy Rolls between 1849-69 would have been a county or district official.[120] The aftægt agreement was written by an unknown person, possibly a lawyer because of the high level of detail and the sophistication of the legal language, but it was recorded in the herred (district) books by the same recorder who had been doing so for a lengthy period of time because the handwriting was consistent, and so he likely was very reliable. Finally, the informant for the aftægt agreement would have been Niels Peter, who would have had first knowledge of his relationship to his son, excluding the odd chance of extra-marital paternity which could not be proved without extensive DNA testing.

Generation Three: Herman Andreas Jensen Isaksen and Emmy Louise Pedersen


  1. HERMAN ANDREAS JENSEN ISAKSEN was born in Sprove, Damsholte Parish on 17 August 1875.[121] He died in Napa, Napa County, California on 18 May 1959.[122] Herman married EMMY LOUISE PEDERSEN, in San Francisco, California on 11 August 1905.[123] Emmy was born on 23 February 1882 in Røddinge, Damsholte, Præstø, Denmark.[124] She died on 22 August 1963 in Pacific Grove, Monterey County, California on 22 August 1963.[125]

Their known children:


i. HAROLD ISAKSEN SPOHR (twin) was born 24 May 1906, probably in the vicinity of San Francisco, California.[126] He died at age 13 of pneumonia and influenza on 24 February 1920 in Sunnyvale, Santa Clara County, California.[127]
ii. HOLGER ISAKSEN SPOHR (twin) was born 24 May 1906, probably in the vicinity of San Francisco.[128] He died a few months later on 7 September 1906.[129]
iii. HOLGER ISAKSEN SPOHR was born on 27 July 1907 in San Mateo.[130] He died in Sacramento, California on 7 October 1994.[131] Holger married Victoria Margarita Reyen in San Bruno, San Mateo County on 14 February 1931.[132]
iv. ELSIE ISAKSEN SPOHR was born on 28 September 1908 in San Mateo.[133] She died in Atascadero, San Luis Obispo County, California on 26 May 1999.[134]
v. EDITH ISAKSEN SPOHR was born on 12 October 1909 in San Mateo.[135] She died 2 November 1971 in San Jose, Santa Clara County.[136]
vi. ANNETTE ISAKSEN SPOHR was born 9 March 1915 in San Mateo.[137] She died 14 July 1939 in San Mateo.[138]
vii. NILSON LLOYD WILSON SPOHR was born 25 March 1917 in San Mateo.[139] He died, a victim of homicide, on 2 October 1978 in San Jose, Santa Clara County.[140] He married a woman named Lee at an unknown date and they later divorced in 1959.[141]
viii. DOROTHY ISAKSEN SPOHR was born 6 January 1919 in Sunnyvale, Santa Clara County.[142] She died 29 May 2000 in Templeton, San Luis Obispo County.[143] She married Roger Stienstra on 10 July 1943 in Garland County, Arkansas.[144] At some point they probably divorced because she then married Gerald Long Folbre on 21 February 1947 in San Mateo.[145]
ix. ELLEN KATRINE ISAKSEN SPOHR was born 23 August 1923 in Cupertino.[146] She died, age 15, on 24 May 1939 in San Mateo, just two months before her older sister Annette.[147]
x. STANLEY ALBRECHT SPOHR was born 4 April 1926 in Menlo Park, San Mateo County.[148] He died on 16 June 1998 in Helena, Lewis and Clark County, Montana.[149] He married Kathleen Ann Craig on 14 December 1947 in San Mateo.[150]


Narrative of Herman Andreas Jensen Isaksen

Herman Andreas Jensen Isaksen was born in 1875, the third child of Niels Peter Jensen Isaksen and Bodil Stine Andersen. Little direct evidence of his childhood has been found except that he lived in Sprove until he was 16 or 17, when he and some of his family moved in with his father’s parents, Niels Peter and Bodil Stine, to take care of them in Dame. He almost certainly had at least a basic education, and probably spent other time doing chores and odd jobs to help support his family.

He travelled to an unknown location in Germany in June of 1897 and his stay lasted at least a year.[151] He began his national service on 6 June 1900, assigned to a Laboratorieafdelen in Sorø, about 50 miles southwest of Copenhagen, and he worked there until 5 July 1901.[152] Laboratorieafdelen was an organization, organic to the military, that manufactured weapons and ammunition which was one aspect that allowed Denmark to reduce dependance on foreign companies.[153] This work was clarified when he was found to be a patient at the Garrison Hospital (a military hospital) in Copenhagen, and he was listed as a maskinarbejder (a machine worker, but could be a machinist) in the Laboratorieafdelen in February 1901.[154] Perhaps he had travelled to Germany to learn the machinist trade.

Herman left Denmark and arrived in Boston, Massachusetts on 9 December 1904 aboard the SS Saxonia, which sailed from Liverpool, England on 29 November.[155] He was listed as a machinist and was travelling to stay with a friend in Newman, Stanislaus County, California.[156] Emmy Louise Pedersen registered with the Copenhagen police to depart the country on 21 January 1905, along with her sister and brother-in-law, Nikoline Johanne and Martin Jensen Isaksen.[157] They all arrived in Boston on 9 February 1905 aboard the SS Saxonia, sailing from Liverpool on 31 January and they listed Provo, Utah as their destination.[158]

After a very brief stay in Utah, near the end of February, Emmy, Martin and Nikoline took a train to meet their brother Alfred Pedersen in California. They stayed to work on a farm and after five and a half months they decided to return to Utah.[159]

He [Martin] bought tickets for us, and also Emmy, and we were on our way. We had to change trains in Sacramento and as we did so, Herman, Martin’s older brother, who had come to California, met the train and persuaded Emmy to go with him and be married.[160]

Herman and Emmy were married in San Francisco on 12 August 1905.[161]

At some point between 1905-07, for unknown reasons, Herman took the last name Spohr, and often styled his middle name with the initial “I” for Isaksen.[162] Herman’s son Holger speculated on why his father changed his surname but he stated no one really knew for certain, except for the fact that it had been an older family name from the past.[163] Indeed, Herman’s brother Ander’s middle name was Spor, though with slightly different spelling.[164] Herman wasn’t the only to take the name Spohr, as his brother Carl used it in his 1917 marriage license in San Mateo.[165] Indeed there is evidence that the name was in the family from the past because their great grandfather from their mother’s father’s side was called Jørgen Jensen Spur.[166] Additionally, Holger used to say that his family was related to the classical German composer, Ludwig Spohr, but no evidence of this has been found.[167] The author’s own theory is that Herman took an old family name for reasons unknown and change the spelling in admiration of the popular composer.[168] Finally, possibly he changed his name just because he could and wanted to fit in with a new society. He would probably not have had serious cultural or emotional ties to the surname Isaksen because it was a very recent phenomenon for Danes to retain family surnames.

Herman and Emmy were renting a home in San Mateo by 1910, with four of their five children still living.[169] Herman became a naturalized U.S. citizen the day after Christmas 1911, while living in San Mateo.[170] Under an 1855 federal law, Emmy automatically became a citizen when her husband did.[171] The timing of their gaining citizenship could not have been more perfect.

A special election was held in California on 10 October 1911 to vote on proposed amendments to the California Constitution.[172] Among the proposals was Senate Constitutional Amendment No.8, which would grant women the right to vote in state elections.[173] The amendment narrowly passed with 50.7% of the vote, but ironically, it was not popular in their home county of San Mateo.[174] California showed its progressive tendencies early on because it was the sixth state in the Union to grant women suffrage.[175] Note that the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which granted women suffrage at the federal level, was not ratified until 1919.[176]

Months after the 1911 vote, both Herman and Emma registered to vote in San Mateo County for the November 1912 election.[177] Emmy must have had an independent mind because they registered variously under different parties at different times including the Socialist, Democrat, Republican, and Progressive parties, and some years they registered in different parties from each other.[178]

An oral history told by Holger Spohr, was that his mother, Emmy, wanted to return to Denmark, which they did, but the economy was very bad there and so they returned to California after a few months.[179] Possibly influencing the decision to return to Denmark was that Herman’s father, Niels Peter, had died in November 1911. According to Emmy’s sister, Nikoline Isaksen, the Spohr family travelled by train to Galveston, Texas, in mid-1912 and departed from there to Denmark for a temporary stay.[180] She also stated that Herman returned early to earn enough money to bring his family back to California, but Emmy and her four children, Harold, Holger, Elsie, and Edith, remained there for 10 months, residing with her mother.[181]

The historical record backs up enough of the story for it to be generally true. Herman departed Liverpool, England aboard the SS Caronia on 2 November and arrived at Ellis Island, New York on 10 November 1912.[182] However he listed his American address as Audubon, Iowa, and not Menlo Park, California.[183] Five months later, in April 1913, Herman was residing at 1025 4th Avenue in San Mateo when he applied for a passport to take his family to Denmark for six months.[184] This suggests some possible truth to Holger’s story of his family not planning on returning to the United States because Herman stated in his passport application that he had resided in San Mateo County uninterruptedly since 1905 and that his family would be travelling with him; both of which were not true. Emmy and her children departed Copenhagen aboard the SS Hellig Olav on 26 June 1913 and arrived at Ellis Island, New York on 8 July.[185] Upon their return, Emmy supposedly stated that they would be staying in America from that point on and would only speak English in the home.[186]

In September 1918, Herman worked as a mechanic at a fruit cannery owned by Libby, McNeil & Libby in Sunnyvale, maker of Libby’s brand products.[187] At the time Santa Clara County was California’s largest fruit producer, with over 98,000 acres (153 square miles) planted in fruit orchards.[188] However, much of the cannery work was seasonal, so he would have had to have other sources of income as well. One such source was delivering newspapers on a route.[189] In 1920 the Spohr family was living on Mathilda Avenue in Sunnyvale, Santa Clara County.[190] That same year, their oldest son, Harold, age 13, died of complications from the flu.[191] Two of their children were also born there.

Herman and Emmy purchased five lots of land (#6, 7, 22-24), between 1926-29, on a single block in the University Heights development of Menlo Park, which was nearly adjacent to Stanford University.[192] Their whole family was living there in 1930 and Herman worked as a laborer doing odd jobs.[193] In 1940, Herman and Emmy were still living in the same home in Menlo Park with their youngest sons, Lloyd and Stanley.[194]

Even though Herman and Emmy Spohr were naturalized American citizens, they were still very connected to their Danish heritage through friendships they made at Den Danske Forening Dania af California (The Danish Society Dania of California).[195] Records during the first half of the 20th Century were all written in literate Danish, which indicates at least that the Secretary of the group would have been a native speaker.[196] Evidence of the important reciprocal relationship between the Spohr family and the group was that the Lodge paid a $175 death benefit to Emmy for Herman’s 1959 funeral.[197]

Proof Summary: Father of Herman Andreas Jensen Isaksen Spohr of San Mateo, California

Herman Andreas Jensen Isaksen Spohr, was the son of Niels Peter Jensen Isaksen as determined by the correlation of a number of documents:

  • Herman Andreas Jensen Isaksen was born on 17 August 1875, son of musician Niels Peter Jensen in Sprove, Damsholte.[198]
  • Herman Andreas Jensen Isaksen was listed as son of musician Niels Peter Jensen (Isaksen) and grandson of Jens Isaksen in the same household in Dame in the 1890 enumeration.[199]
  • Herman Andreas Jakob [sic] Isaksen of Damsholte, born 17 August 1875, was listed as son of Parcellist Niels Peter Jensen (Isaksen), in the 1893 Lægdsruller (Military Levy Rolls).[200]
  • Herman Andreas Jensen Isaksen, age 29, travelled from Liverpool on the SS Saxonia and arrived at the port of Boston on 9 December 1904.[201] He stated that he was last residing in Copenhagen.
  • Herman Andreas Jensen Isaksen added the extra surname “Spohr” in his 1911 naturalization petition and affirmed that he was born on 17 August 1875, and that he arrived in Boston on 9 December 1904, aboard the SS Saxonia.[202] He stated incorrectly that he was born in Copenhagen.
  • No Herman Andreas Jensen Isaksen has been located in Danish records after his 1904 departure.

Danish church book records are generally reliable, especially in smaller communities where the population all know each other. Beginning with the 1890 enumeration the birthdates were included, which makes those records helpful, especially as people began moving around. Herman could have had no knowledge of his birth, but it would have been something that he would have been told from a young age and so became tradition, if not fact. It is not that important or surprising that he listed Copenhagen as his place of birth when he became a naturalized citizen, because it was a name people would recognize. In fact, Copenhagen is only 76 miles from his birthplace of Sprove.[203] Additionally, the consistency of his name, date of birth, and date and ship of arrival prove that he was the same person, even though he added the extra surname “Spohr” when he went to California.


Herman and Emmy Spohr brought many traditional values and ethics with them when they came to America from their ancestral home in Denmark in late 1904 and early 1905. Some of those values included working hard and caring for the family. The following transcript of a 1921 San Francisco newspaper article sums it up best.[204]

A Letter From Herman

Not all men are discontented. Not all of them look forward to a day when they will need to work no longer and can play golf or sit on the front porch smoking their pipes. They live their own lives, think their own thoughts and are not irritated by the unrest of the world.

Herman Spohr of Cupertino is one of these men. He has written a letter to the Call answering six questions asked in a recent editorial. Here are his answers:

“How pleasant is my job?”— I have never had an unpleasant job, although I have had over a hundred in the sixteen years of my life that I have been living in California. My fingers were bleeding from cleaning bricks and my shoulders were aching from carrying and wheeling them in 1906, when I was working like a galley slave to help rebuild San Francisco, but it was not unpleasant, any of it; for in my little two-by-four shanty were two tiny twin boys born to me by the woman I loved and still love. For all the other jobs I have had, the reasons for my happiness have been, in the main, the same. . . .

“Does it give you hope of future security?”— No. I am not a drone. I do not want to spoil the best in my life by “future security.” I want to grow, to live in the fullness and richness of life with nothing at all secured. I have seen so much of the lives of those who think that they have everything in the future secured and I do not want that kind of fractional life.

“Does it give self-respect and a little margin for recreation?” — Any job, done in the right spirit, gives both. The recreation we most need we get from forgetting ourselves and doing something. And the self-respect is developed from doing it the best way possible.

“Is your body tired to death at the end of the day?”— Yes. Most often my body was so tired that the only desire left at the end of the day was to send the animal to oblivion and in so doing it has always been my experience that the soul was given free rein to sustain and develop me —not the animal me —but the bigger and better me that is kin and brother to every living thing in the universe.

“Does your wife have just a few of those luxuries that you want her to have?” — Yes. Those little luxuries worth having are easy to get for those who are not too lazy or indulgent to take them.

“Can you give an education to your children?”— Yes. The only requisite being that I practice what I preach as near as the barbarian in me will let me.

“I have no job to lose but I am farther from misery and poverty than ever because my vision is not limited to my own selfish ends and attainment. . . . The spiritual and ethical development of the white race is far behind its development of material and mechanical resources and devices. That, in my opinion, is the chief trouble with us.”

Herman Spohr needs neither laws nor advice nor sermons. He is a civilized man. If all other men—rich and poor, complacent or discontented — had his sound attitude toward life, there would be no need of the present unrest in the world.