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Researching Family History: The great escape of Maren Johanne Rasmussen — my great-great-grandmother

Published: Tuesday, April 17 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

In 1866, Maren Johanne Rasmussen was 28 and faced a tearful day as her widowed mother and six brothers refused to bid her goodbye. Rasmussen, who was known as "Hannah," had joined The LDS Church and was determined to leave Denmark and travel to Zion in America. Her angry mother and brothers were just as determined that she wasn't going anywhere. So they locked her in her upstairs bedroom.

Her mother and brothers feared the warnings of the local minister that terrible things would come to his congregation and their families should anyone have anything to do with this “evil church from America.”

Despite the contention, Rasmussen was calm and felt peace. Her mother and brothers could not understand why. When Rasmussen repeatedly tried to console them, they refused to hear any of it. She prayed they would see what they were doing and that someday they could become an eternal family.

Tying her bedsheets together and then to the bedpost, and possibly with the help of a ladder outside near the window, she made her escape that night for a train to Hamburg, Germany. It was in Hamburg that she and other Saints were scheduled to board a ship called the "Kenilworth" for New York .

Going back in time, we see the events that led to this day in Rasmussen's life.

She was born in Torrig, Brisket Parish, Maribo, Denmark, on Oct. 28, 1838. She was the only daughter of Rasmus Christensen and Maren Jorgensdatter in a family of six brothers.

Just a few weeks before fleeing to Germany, she had broken off an engagement with her fiance, who refused to listen to her feelings about the LDS Church. When she asked him to attend Mormon meetings with her and find out the truth for himself, he refused.

Rasmussen earnestly prayed and followed the answer as to what she should do about the engagement. The Lord had greater things in store for her, and she knew it. She was determined at all costs to obtain the plan the Lord had for her. (Her story is documented "Verda Christensen Murphy and Steve Mecham; Erastus Snow Christensen, 1874-1942" (Family History Library Film No. 142703, Item 2).)

Months before, on Feb. 1, 1865, her father passed away, and she grieved his death. It was her fondest dream to become part of an eternal family.

The year before, on June 22, 1864, Rasmussen was baptized by Elder Ole H. Berg and confirmed a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Just before this time, her minister had warned his congregation about the Mormons. Rasmussen's first reaction was to defend her minister, but this did not last long as she began to think things through about what this new church was teaching.

Eternal families was perhaps her biggest question. She also had questions about a "Golden Bible" and other aspects of the church. The missionaries encouraged her to find out for herself by asking God and studying it out through the scriptures. Ever since she was young, Rasmussen learned how to think things through. She was exceptionally bright and quick to catch on to things such as the new and unusual.

Rasmussen had learned how to couple thinking things through with fervent prayer to know the truth. It was at this point in time that fear about her minister's warnings melted and was replaced by the warmth and love of God. The gospel was making its way into her heart and mind and making sense.

When Rasmussen arrived in Hamburg, she and the other Saints found the ship named "Kenilworth" had left a week earlier. Another ship that was older, wider and slower named the "Cavour" was having cargo loaded on it.

Captain A. Foyen was the master and part owner of the ship. He accepted the passage of Rasmussen and the other 200 Scandinavian Saints on the ship, which also was scheduled to go to New York. The Saints were organized under the presidency of Niels Nielsen, with Jens Gregorsen and Carl Fred Rundquist. Rasmussen and the others considered themselves blessed to have this cargo ship available to take them to America.

Anchor was lifted on June, 1, 1866, and after an eight week voyage it docked at New York on July 31, 1866.

Genealogy graduate Russell Bangerter is president of Ancestral Connections Inc. at www.ancestralconnect.com. He is a professional genealogist, author and speaker; and he is adviser to Treasured Souls To Keep, at www.treasuredsoulstokeep.com.

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