SHEFFIELD – Americans seeking their past can often be found returning to England, or Italy, or Germany, looking for information about a great-grandfather or great-grandmother lost in the mists of time.
For a Danish actress, that search recently led her the opposite way across the Atlantic Ocean.
A few weeks ago, Suzanne Bjerrehuus, accompanied by a Danish film crew, came to Sheffield to learn about Bjerrehuus’ great-great-grandparents.
The crew was filming an upcoming television program for the Danish Broadcasting Corporation. The program is similar to the American genealogy program “Who Do You Think You Are?”
The episode being filmed was a documentary about the ancestors of Bjerrehuus, who was present to learn about her ancestors who lived in Sheffield and to meet some of her living relatives.
Bjerrehuus’ great-great-grandparents, George and Anna Hansen, and five of their six children left Denmark in 1869 and moved to Sheffield, where other Danes from their area had settled. They had very little money when they arrived, but with the help of other Danes, they managed to get established.
George was 49 when they arrived, and he most likely worked as a carpenter. He quickly became a U.S. citizen.
Their children married and only Lydia (Hansen) Johnson remained in Sheffield. Her husband, John G. Johnson, worked at a number of general stores in Sheffield and finally operated his own store. The remaining four children moved to Iowa, Nebraska and Colorado where land was cheaper.
Anna died on Dec. 31, 1890, and George died the next day. Both were buried in the Sheffield Cemetery.
On Friday, filming was done at the site of the former train depot in Sheffield, St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, the two lots owned by the Hansens, and the Sheffield Cemetery. John Mark Neilsen from the Danish Immigrant Museum talked about Sheffield and George and Anna Hansen. Mary Johnson, a great-granddaughter of George and Anna, of Rockford spoke at the cemetery and showed the record from St. Peter’s Lutheran Church stating that George and Anna had died a day apart in Audubon, Iowa, where their daughter and son-in-law lived.
Bjerrehuus and the crew braved the cold weather, which Bjerrehuus said reminded her of Denmark.
She said she was very excited to be in Sheffield and to learn about her American ancestors.
“My mother never told me,” she said. “My grandmother’s father is the man they left behind. The mother took five kids with her and left one behind.”
Volunteers at the Bureau County Genealogical Society with assistance of the Sheffield Historical Society and the Danish Immigrant Museum in Elk Horn, Iowa, provided the family history information necessary for this part of the documentary. The program will be seen in Denmark in September. After that it can be seen on the Internet.
Carol McGee of the Bureau County Genealogical Society said the society was contacted by the Danish Broadcasting Corporation and asked to do the Bureau County research for this program.
“It was a wonderful experience to provide genealogical information for this program,” McGee said. “Suzanne was so pleased to receive the family history information I gave to her personally.”
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