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NIELSINE DORTHEA THOMPSON WOODLAND
Dorthe Pedersen and Niels Thompson
Adapted by Susan W. Howard*
Nielsine Dorthea Thompson Woodland was born 15 Feb 1852 in Sindal, Hjorring County, Denmark to Dorthe Pedersen and Niels Thomsen. Sindal was a small town eight miles east of the city of Hjorring. Nielsine was the fourth child in a family of eight. In Denmark, the father’s surname was Thomsen, and according to the Scandinavian custom of patronymics, all the children carried the last name of Nielsen, or Nielsdatter. When they came to America, they used the surname Thomsen, which then became Thompson.
Hjorring, the northernmost county in Denmark, lies where the Kattegat and the Skagerrak meet and hug the peninsula to join feeble forces against the fury of the wild North Sea—it was a hard land for those who lived by the soil, as did the Thomsens.
Sena, as she became known, told her children of milking cows as a girl, quite possibly for farmers besides her father. Being a milkmaid was a common occupation of the Danish girls, especially in families of low income or rural areas.
Mormon missionaries arrived in Denmark in 1850 when Erastus Snow established the Scandinavian Mission. In 1851 the Aalborg Conference was organized with headquarters only thirty miles south of Sindal. The missionaries were welcomed into the Thomsen cottage. When Nielsine was four years old, her parents were baptized into the church. (9 Dec 1856.)
As in Great Britain, some of the local citizens preferred not to have the Mormons in their area. Missionaries and members underwent harassment that at times included broken windows and the near destruction of the Hall to the Aalborg Conference. Despite the negative reaction on the part of some of the Danes, the Conference flourished and grew.
Nielsine learned basic reading and writing, along with Danish history. Her hours of schooling were limited by the necessity to spend long hard hours working, as did the rest of her family.
When Sena was fourteen or fifteen a Jens Larsen came from America. We aren’t told whether he was a missionary or someone returning to Denmark to see family members, but when he returned to the United States, he took Katrina, Sena’s next younger sister, with him. They married 23 August 1869 and moved to Montpelier, Idaho, where their first child was born 9 Sept 1871.
On 20 July 1870 Sena’s father and her 10-year-old brother Palle (Parley) sailed to America on the ship Minnesota in charge of Jessie M. Smith. Once arriving in America most of the passengers continued their journey by rail, but Niels and his son didn’t have the funds to travel farther, so they stopped in Omaha to work to earn the rest of the money to enable them to go to Utah. Once there, Parley went to stay with his sister Katrina until he was 13 years old.
Nielsine was eighteen when her father left. The next year she gave birth to a son, Niels Peter. (The name of the father remains unknown to us.) The next year her mother left for Utah, leaving Sena alone with her child. Mother and father lived with Katrina in Montpelier for a while, and then in 1873 they moved to Richmond, Utah.
In 1875 Sena received a letter from her parents that contained enough money for passage to the US. The money had been lent by a co-worker of her father on the railroad. Once she arrived in Richmond, she met the person who made her trip possible, Alfred Woodland. He spoke no Danish, she spoke no English. Still, she was able to let it be known that he was the man she wanted to marry. He must have been lonely, having by now given up all hope that his family back in England would join him. They were married in 1876 and had ten children.
Sena also raised Sarah Woodland, the daughter of Peter Niels Woodland and Elizabeth Hemp Cameron, who was called Lizzie. Lizzie died a few days after her daughter’s birth. She also took care of Sarah’s brother Ezra until he was five and went to live with his father.
Niels Thompson was born in Milbak, Lendum, Hjorring Denmark on 15 January 1822. He married Dorthe Pedersen 10 Dec 1843. They had eight children. Both he and his wife traveled to the US on the Minnesota albeit on different voyages. After they moved from Montpelier to Richmond, Niels worked with Alfred Woodland on the railroad.
In about 1877 the Thompsons, Parley, Katrina (now called Katherine) and husband all moved to Mink Creek, Idaho where Niels and “Jim” Jens Larsen took up a homestead. They later moved to Marysville, Idaho with Parley and his family and Katherine and Jim. They homesteaded land there and the Thompsons lived in the Snake River Valley until their deaths. Niels died 8 Oct 1895 and Dorthe 17 Jan 1912. For many years after her husband’s death Dorthe lived with cousin Sena Fransen in Ashton. Alfred G. Woodland spoke at her funeral. He recalled that he visited her many times. “She wouldn’t speak English until she found I could speak no Danish, then she would talk English with me by the hour.”
When Alfred died at age 65 in 1901 he left his widow with a paid-up farm and nine single children. Sena then had to rely on her children to handle her business affairs. They remember that the necessities of life often came the hard way. They all remember the big apple tree that stood near their house that helped fill their stomachs.
“She was charitable to a fault, thinking others needs greater than her own. When her growing boys proved either their super strength or point of argument by physical contact, the unlucky on top felt the full force of her prowess, via her broomstick, with a disapproving “kissshi!”
Sena took delight in reading library books and in socializing with her many friends. Church meetings were held in the old Opera house adjacent on the north to her home lot. The Presbyterian Church and the City Jail were on the east boundary of the church.
Her home was the place for family gatherings where the adults shared a big meal and talk together while the grandchildren played outside and had their separate meal. Her grandson, Philip, especially remembered that she made the best thin pancakes. He also recalled that during Prohibition several of the uncles and cousins made “bathtub” gin in her upstairs bathroom.
Philip remembered her knitting long black stockings for the family. She carded the wool, spun it into thread on a spinning wheel she kept in the south upstairs bedroom, and dyed it black in her big bread pans. In her later years she braided rugs for extra income. There was never a time when she wasn’t busy. She was also good at telling fortunes with the tea leaves by pouring out the tea and examining the remaining leaves—the position of which indicated to her what the person could expect to happen.
Her son Noah bought the farm from her and paid for it in installments. She died quickly and painlessly of a stroke while working on a quilt at the home of her daughter, Emily Nelson on 24 October 1930. She was 78 years old and had outlived Alfred by nearly thirty years. She was preceded in death by one child, her much-loved firstborn son Peter, who had also died of a stroke while traveling to visit her on 15 May 1928.
*Adapted by Susan Woodland Howard from The Alfred Woodland Family, Woodland Family Organization, J. Grant Stevenson, Publisher, 1978, p. 5-13
July 13, 2006
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