Sunday, August 29, 2010

Dancing with my Danish relatives

A long time ago (1865) in a far-away place (Denmark), a young couple decided to leave home, family, and all that they knew in order to migrate to America. The world was much bigger then. Without jet travel and modern communications, this decision meant that they would never see their beloved parents and siblings again.

But, they had recently joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and felt a strong desire to gather with other church members, so Seier and Annie Jensen boarded the ship BS Kimball and sailed to America. Along the voyage, their toddler son contracted measles, and they sorrowfully buried him at sea. Within a year of arriving in America, Annie had another baby, but both she and the baby died within two weeks of childbirth.

Seier was heartbroken, and all alone. He wrote a letter to his family back in Denmark, expressing his longing for them.

Recently, that letter was found in an attic in Denmark. With the help of a few miracles, the Danish and American sides of the family found each other. The letter was translated from Danish to English for the benefit of Seier's descendants, of which I am one. (Seier remarried after losing Annie, and my great grandfather was the oldest surviving child of that union).

Last Saturday, I had the privilege of meeting some of my long-lost Danish relatives.

Here I am with Lene and Karsten Christensen, who live near Aarhus Denmark.

This photo was taken in a small farming town in central Utah, where a family reunion was held for the sole purpose of allowing Lene (a descendent of Seier's youngest sister Ane) and her husband to meet as many of their American relatives as possible.

After we had all gotten acquainted, Lene and Karsten performed several Danish folk dances for us. I loved them, and was grateful that Lene and Karsten came so well prepared to share our heritage with us.

Here's a short video of a little clap dance:

In this dance, they bob up and down as if they were sailors on the sea:

Here's another dance that shows a variety of different steps:

For those who can't view video, here's a photo of Lene and Karsten dancing:

After Lene and Karsten performed, they taught us several dances. I was grateful to find a partner in a sweet, slightly-shy 15-year-old boy, a distant cousin I'd never before met. The dances were group ones, where you migrate around a circle, switching partners as you go until you arrive where you began with your own partner. What a fun way it was to get acquainted with all these distant relatives I had never before met! (Sorry I don't have photos or videos of this part--I was too busy dancing, and my parents were too busy visiting with the older non-dancing relatives to capture any).

Another highlight of the reunion was seeing all the old family photos that were on display.

These photos belonged to the Alvin and Carolyn Kibsgaard, who drove all the way to Redmond Utah from Ames Iowa to meet Lene and Karsten.

Looking at these old photos was like compressing time: immediately after seeing a person as a baby in a buggy, you saw them vibrant in their wedding photos, and then feeble as the grandparent of a family. It reminded me of how quickly our lives pass by, and how soon we are gone. Thinking of my own mortality motivates me to seize as much joy and good from the moments I still have left, and makes me especially grateful for the sweet moments I spent dancing with my Danish relatives.


Lori said...

That. Is. Incredible! I love the way genealogy bridges time and distance and helps us to learn about where we came from. Way to enjoy the moment!

cindyc said...

I just spoke to my mom, and learned that I made the story better than it actually was. Sorry! It turns out that Seier wrote the letter many years later, after he had remarried and had several children. At that point, he was still longing to reconnect with his family in Denmark.

Ruby Conlin said...

I loved reading about our adventures and seeing the photos and clips since I forgot my camera. Thanks Cindy! Love ya, Mom

kj said...

So so beautiful! I loved the dances and what wonderful people to come and dance for you.

Paigeo said...

When the lighting just shows silouettes, those relatives look like Aunt Margaret and Uncle Franz. Listening to the music and watching how comfortable those two are with the dance made me very happy this evening. Thanks for the love.