[The following includes information and quotes from some of my dad’s (James Madsen Towner) writings in the 1980s.]
In 1888 my Daddy’s grandparents Hans and Anna Marie Madsen (born 1837 and 1840, respectively) were living near a rural village in Denmark with their eight children: Peter, Christina, Christopher (Mads), Hannah, Christian, Margretha, James, and my grandmother Petrea (b. 1882). Daddy described their two-story stone house from a color photograph that his cousin Harry Nielsen (deceased) showed him, which Harry had taken on a visit to Denmark in 1970. Daddy wrote, “It is a surprisingly good looking structure…a straight box-shaped home with foot-thick walls and deep set windows and doors. The picture was a side view with eight windows, four upper and four lower, with one door on the end and one in the center of the side showing. A large white stone chimney showed above the sharp pitched rough wood roof. The yard area was open, rough looking, but neat. A few bushes or natural shrubs could be seen with fairly thick, tall trees in the background on a rolling landscape.” Harry told Daddy that he talked to one old timer, who said he remembered the Madsens.
According to my father, the Madsens decided to move to America around 1888. The United States was advertising for immigrants to come to America. Labor was needed to develop the land – the East needed factory workers, and the West needed farmers. One quarter sections of land were offered to any and all. Immigrants came mostly from Europe and Scandinavia. The two oldest Madsen children, Peter (b. 1862) and Christina (b. 1864), came ahead to find land and to establish a home for the rest of the family.
I heard Daddy say over the years that the name of the town in Denmark that my grandmother Petrea emigrated from was Taulov. I could tell he wasn’t sure how to pronounce it, and neither he nor I had any idea how to spell it. When I began my ancestry project around 2005, I searched for it on the Internet using various spellings, but I came up with nothing. Then in 2007, my husband Gene and I took a cruise from London through the Baltic Sea, and one of our stops was Aarhus, Denmark. We toured a church there, and I asked a woman working at the church’s information desk if she knew the town. I am sure I said it wrong, but she recognized the name, in spite of my mispronunciation. She told me the name of the town was Taulov. She spelled it for me, and pronounced it tah-loof. The town happened to be only about 45 minutes from where we were. Unfortunately, our time in Aarhus was limited, and we were unable to go to Taulov, but I was very happy to have gathered this very valuable information.
When Daddy was a young boy, his grandmother Anna Marie Christiansen Madsen talked to him about her life in the old country, but he had difficulty understanding her Danish and couldn’t remember a lot of it. However, he did remember one story vividly. His grandmother told him that when her family was young (many years before my father’s mother was born) it was a troubled time in Denmark and in neighboring European countries. During the summer, German soldiers traveled from Germany north across the land. They pillaged along the way and lived off of the land. Daddy’s grandmother told him that most of these soldiers were gentle people, but there were enough mean people and bullies to frighten all of the natives. Young Danes ran ahead of the soldiers to warn people that the Germans were coming. At that time, his grandparents took all of their precious possessions, including mattresses, bedding, and utensils, into the woods and buried them. Daddy’s Uncle Pete was the oldest and grew from six years to thirteen years during this time. Some of the Germans were not much older than the children themselves, and they liked to play with him. They stayed for several days at a time, and when they left, they often took Dad’s Uncle Pete with them. He would be gone for weeks or even months at a time, but they always brought him back in the fall, as winter closed in, and then continued on their way back to Germany. Dad wrote, “He was none the worse for the experience.”
My great-grandparents and their family came to America three years before Ellis Island opened, which was the processing portal for millions of immigrants. Daddy said he didn’t recall talking with his mother about the old country at all, but he did discuss it with her brother James (Uncle Jim). According to my father, Uncle Jim described the old country as rolling wooded land with cart trails from village to village which were about seven to ten miles apart. He said everyone walked everywhere and that Daddy’s grandfather returned twice to Denmark for a visit after coming to America. Each time he was gone about three months.