Warren County woman retraces roots to Danish town
August 24, 2010
A mission by a television producer to track down nearly 1,000 former residents of a small Danish island in the Baltic Sea who immigrated to Warren County led to a pilgramage this summer by a local woman looking to return to her roots.
Mary Donaldson of Russell recently traveled to Bornholm, to find the home of her grandmother, Henricka Hansen, who emigrated from Denmark to Warren County in 1884.
Donaldson and her husband Jack were in Europe in July to attend the wedding of their grandson in England.
“We decided if we were going to go as far as England, we might as well go to Denmark,” Donaldson said.
Sixteen percent of Bornholm’s inhabitants emigrated to the United States between 1868 and 1904. Sixty-five percent of those Danish immigrants — including Donaldson’s grandmother and great-grandfather — settled in Warren and Chautauqua counties.
Danish television producer Palle Jensen traveled to northwestern Pennsylvania and southwestern New York in the spring of 2009 to document the Danish immigrants from Bornholm. He returned in July and held a gathering in Frewsburg, N.Y., to interview relatives of immigrants from Bornholm.
Donaldson attended that meeeting, fueling her desire to some day see her grandmother’s home. She finally made it there several weeks ago on the heels of her grandson’s wedding.
“It was beautiful. It was very lovely,” Donaldson said. “Parts of it kind of looked like here. The rest was obviously very different with small houses and cobblestone streets.”
A guide took Donaldson to the site of her grandmother’s home, which was destroyed during World War II. An office supply store stands on corner that once occupied the Hansen’s house.
They also made a stop at a church where her grandmother’s parents were married. There, they were joined by a Danish televlsion crew, who documented the visit.
“It was very exciting,” Donaldson said. “We had to give them our permission to tape us. It was our 15 minutes of fame, having our family be able to watch us on Danish television.”
The Donaldsons spent 11 days in Denmark, including two on the island of Bornholm.
“It felt very much like going full circle,” Donaldson said. “I always said I wanted to stand on Bornholm. I wanted to be where my grandmother came from. It was a once in a lifetime thing.”