Researching Family History: Great-great grandpa's shiny boots he wore across the plains and mountains to Utah

Published: Tuesday, May 15 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

Wearing his red military uniform jacket, black trousers and the large black fur hat that the Danish queen's guards were proud to display, Capt. Jens Martin Christensen showed his skills with the queen's horses. He was an expert at this sort of thing. With a military stride, he guided Her Majesty's horses as they pulled the royal coach in the parade down the streets of Copenhagen. Each soldier's boots were as shiny as the sun, especially Christensen's. One known factor about Christensen was that he always wore polished boots in a parade or on the trek West.

Christensen, my great-great grandfather, was born to Christen Oveson and Kirsten Marie Andersen on April 29, 1843, in Hammerholt, Hormested, Hjorring, Denmark. He was the seventh of eight children in his family. (His story is recounted in the book "Erastus Snow Christensen, 1874-1943, A Family History" by Steve Mecham and Verda Christensen Murphy, Family History Library Film No. 142703, Item 2.)

Christensen first heard about the gospel of Jesus Christ in Copenhagen by missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and learned for himself that the church is true. He was baptized a member on Feb. 4, 1866, by Elder S. Petersen and confirmed by Elder Lars Larsson.

After he joined the church, Christensen boarded a three-mast ship called the Kenilworth. From New York up through the Great Lakes and down the Missouri River was the railroad trail he had taken. Why the huge detour? Immigrants from various countries were taken advantage of by agents who deliberately upped the price of a direct-route train ticket. Sale agents charged more than the normal fee for immigrants' tickets, so more out-of-the-way connections were taken to work around the problem.

Once arriving at the Port of New York, it was almost immediate when the Saints were moved by rail to Wyoming in Nebraska's Otoe County. Railroad tracks had been laid to North Platte, Neb., which was the end of line for the tracks. The city became the meeting place for the Mormon immigrants to prepare for the trek to Utah.

Maren Johanne Rasmussen, Christensen's wife-to-be, was sick from cholera and he was a volunteer who went among the sick. She was so sick that he had to carry her from place to place in his big, strong arms. He would sometimes place an umbrella over her to provide shade from the heat and sun.

Once the people in the wagon train began the trek to the valley of the Great Salt Lake, Christensen helped Rasmussen by occasionally getting her to walk a little. Day by day, she grew stronger and walked a little longer. They were finding their friendship was growing into a romance. Finally, she no longer needed to be carried and was able to walk the distance. Hand-in-hand, they discussed things of their past in their beloved Denmark as they walked. Finally over time, conversations changed as the courtship matured to things that lay ahead of them for the future of an eternal marriage and happy family. He kept his boots shiny throughout the trek across the plains.

The wagon train arrived in the valley on Oct. 22, 1866, and within one week, they were heading to Fairview, Utah, where they would build their first home. They were married by Bishop William Seeley on Oct. 28, 1866, at Mount Pleasant, Utah. On May 8, 1867, were sealed in the Endowment House in Salt Lake City. Later, they moved to Fountain Green, Utah. In 1878, church authorities asked them to relocate to the Manasseh-Ephraim area of Colorado, some 500 miles distant to the southeast.

After making the trek to Colorado, and establishing their home in the town of Manasseh, Colo., Christensen was called to serve a mission for the LDS Church in Denmark. He took with him a photograph of his bride and himself with the intent that he would call on his mother-in-law with hope for a reconciliation. His wife had been locked in an upstairs bedroom by her mother, but Rasmussen tied bedsheets together and escaped out a window for a train to Hamburg, Germany, to leave by ship to America.

While serving in Denmark, Christensen went to his mother-in-law's home. At first, she graciously accepted him, but he did not tell her he was her son-in-law. She even took a liking to him, mainly due to his knowledge of the Danish language. The conversation eventually moved to home and family. He brought out the picture. She immediately recognized her daughter and to his surprise and dismay, she proclaimed to him, “I have no daughter!” Christensen tried to affect forgiveness between them, but she refused. Politely he left the premises sorrowing, his hope for healing had vanished.

Returning home from his mission in April 1887 on the steamer called the Panther, Christensen found himself back at his farm in Colorado doing the typical chores he was used to. In two years' time, his health began to fail. Hoping to improve his lot, the couple moved to Murray, and on July 8, 1908, he succumbed at age 65.

We do not know what happened to his shiny boots, but they have left a great posterity of descendants.

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 advisor to Treasured Souls to Keep, at www.treasuredsoulstokeep.com.

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