Thursday, February 21, 2013

Peder Mortensen & Helena Sandersen

Peder Mortensen was the only living child of Morten Pedersen and Karen Hansen. (Morten was married 3 other times and had more children with his other wives.) He was born on 28 January 1806 in Haarbolle, Franefjord, Praesto, Denmark, which is located on a small island called Moen.
Helena Sandersen was born 8 March 1808 in Damine, Franefjord, Praesto, Denmark to Peder Sandersen and Ana Kirstine Jorgensen who had a large family. (Most records show Helena Sandersen or Sanders, but she was probably actually born Helena Pedersdatter. Records in Denmark show this as her surname. Some records also show Pedersen as a last name.)
Peder and Helena were marred 9 November 1827 in Haarbolle, Denmark. The couple had nine children, eight living to adulthood. Their children were: Morten, Anne, Anders, Hans, Peder (who died at age 10 in Denmark), Lars, Mette, Mary and Caroline. All the children were born in Haarbolle.
Although crippled at a relatively young age, he was industrious and made a living as a cooper, making wooden barrels, tubs and buckets, and a shoemaker. They also kept animals such as cows and sheep. Helena, or Lena as she was known, was a talented homemaker, wife and mother. The Mortensens were a typical middle class family and lived comfortably, yet they had to work hard and be industrious and thrifty.
Peder played the clarinet and the whole family enjoyed music and dancing.
The family was religious. The studied the Bible and Peder very often prayed for the Lord to send his servants to them so “they could become his disciples in very deed.”
In 1855, the first Mormon missionaries traveled to Haarbolle. When they first came to town, Morten and Anders went to a meeting held by the missionaries. Morten was studying for the ministry in the Lutheran church and attended due to curiosity, taking Anders along for company. After hearing the teachings of the Elders, the brothers were convinced that the Lord had restored His true church. When they returned home, they told their family of their feelings. Peder was skeptical due to the negative reports he had heard about the Mormon Elders. Anders replied that these Elders were what Peder had been praying for and he encouraged the rest of the family to attend the next meeting.
The family did attend and were converted. Morten was baptized 12 February 1855, Anders was baptized 13 June 1855 and Peder, Helena, Anne and Hans were baptized on 16 June 1855.
After the whole family was converted, they began to be persecuted by their neighbors and felt anxious to migrate to America.  In fact, one night, an angry mob came to the home but the mob dispersed when the leader suddenly collapsed at the gate. The family was lucky to own desirable property and was soon able to sell their land and obtain sufficient funds to travel to America.
The family left home on 31 March 1856, arriving in Copenhagen on 23 April 1856. While there, the Scandinavian mission president, Hector C. Hate, approached the oldest son Morten and asked him to serve a mission. The family wanted so much to travel to Utah together. The mission president promised them that if Morten fulfilled a mission that the entire family would reach Zion (Utah) in safety. 
The Mortensen family left Copenhagen on the steamship “Rhoda” which traveled to Keil, Germany. The family then went by railroad to Hamburg, by steamer to Grimsby, England and then by railroad to Liverpool, England where they boarded the ship “Thornton” with about 600 Saints from Europe.
The Saints on the ship were under the leadership on James G. Willie with Miller Atwood, John A. Ahmanson and Moses Cluff assisting.  The ship left on 4 May 1856 and arrived in New York on 14 Jun 1856.

Peder, Lena and family on the register for the ship, "Thornton."
Closer view.

The saints were brought by tug boat to Castle Gardens where they were welcomed by John Taylor and Nathaniel H. Felt. Three days later, the family traveled to Ohio and then to Chicago, Illinois. From there, the company was divided and traveled to Iowa City, which was the Western terminus of the railroad at the time and the appointed place for the Saints to prepare to cross the plains.
The family still had plenty of money, enough that they would have been able to buy a wagon and team to take them to Utah, but the Saints were advised to use handcarts which were less expensive. Although Peder was lame and would not be able to walk the trip and their youngest daughter was only about 5 years of age, the family took the advice of their leaders. They were also able to “loan” money to three others, money that was never returned, but surely appreciated.
The family had traveled with dishes, linens and trinkets from home that they hoped to sell but the people around Iowa City were aware that the Saints could only take a few pounds of luggage and waited until the items were abandoned instead of buying them. The Mortensen boys locked up their things in their large steamer trunks and put them into the Mississippi River, saying, “If they get them, they’ll work for them.”
The Mortensen family left with the rest of the Willie Handcart Company on 15 July 1856. The group endured many trials as they traveled to Utah, including loss of oxen and rationed food supply, to harsh conditions due to the lateness of the season.
The crossing at the Platt River was especially hard on the company. It took many tries to find a suitable area to cross with their handcarts. Anders recalled crossing some 90 times in the freezing water. Helena recounted, “We walked by the river day after day burying our dead who gave their lives for the Gospel. We wept as we went on our journey. We went before the Lord, and pled with him to make good his promises which were given by his servant back in Old Denmark. How we implored him to raise the sick, and give us strength to carry our burden without complaint, for we had the lame to haul on our hard carts, the maimed to care for, and our beloved dead ones to bury by the wayside.”
After crossing the river and getting into the mountains, the company encountered severe snow storms and the company’s food supply was basically a few ounces of flour per person each day. Helena remembered an old pin cushion she had brought from Denmark which was filled with bran. In their desperation, the cushion was torn apart. Helena made dough with the bran and it was baked and eaten. They also would take pieces of rawhide off the hand cart wheels and boil them in water to make soup. To further supplement their food, Lena would gather berries for juice, herbs for teas, soups and stews and even mad a warm barley drink from small amounts of rationed grain.
Lena was a strong woman who encouraged her family along the trek. Once her son Hans left his hand cart and felt he could go no further. She gave him something to drink and some dry biscuit and said, “Be brave, my boy. We must go on.” After a short rest, Hans took up his hand cart and the family caught up with the rest of the company.
Peder used his shoemaking skills to make sure that his children always had something to protect their feet from the cold ground, using whatever material he could find.
Although many of the members of the Willie Handcart Company were buried on the way to Utah, but the entire Mortensen family (minus Morten who was still serving in Denmark) reached Salt Lake City, Utah on 9 November 1856 feeling very blessed. Morten would join the family three years later.
Only a few days after arriving in Salt Lake, the family was advised to travel to Southern Utah and make Parowan their home. With their hand carts, the family traveled to Parowan and arrived 1 December 1856.
In Parowan, Peder took up shoe making again and continued to make sure that his girls had good soles on their shoes, which was not always common during this time. Lame for the remainder of his life, Peder was transported to and from church in the same hand cart that carried him across the plains to Utah. Neither held any major positions in the church, but were faithful members and regularly attended their meetings.
Peder and Helena were sealed in Salt Lake City on 14 October 1859 at the Endowment House. The couple spoke Danish to each other, but tried to speak mainly English to their children and grandchildren.
After suffering greatly from some sort of heart problem, Peder died, “full of faith,” on 9 April 1866 in Parowan at the age of 60. Before he died he asked his daughter Mary to take care of her mother, which she did.
Lena had a pleasant disposition and did not like arguments. She loved to dance and would dance for her children and grandchildren.  She was neat and taught her daughters to keep a tidy home. She also was independent, even later in life when being cared for by her children. In fact, she once turned down fast offering money from her bishop, asking him to give it to someone who needed it. She knew her children would care for her and that is all she needed. She was very hospitable and loved serving everything from cookies to fine meals to her family.
Lena always wore some type of small cap and when she went out she had a fancier bonnet with ribbons and trimmings.
At some point, Lena suffered a stroke leaving her left hand useless.
1870 and 1880 Census records showing Lena living with her children in Parowan.
Before she passed away, her daughter Mary asked what she could do to make her happy. Lena said that she wanted all of her girls around the table once more. She loved her family dearly and left a large posterity. Lena died on 24 August 1890 at the age of 82. Her grandson, Anders, said of her: “No more faithful soul than she ever lived, may her memory ever be sacred.”
(Quotations without citation in this history are from a short history of the Mortensen family written by Anders Mortensen, son of Anders Jorgen Mortensen. Other information was taken from several DUP histories.)

Click HERE to see Peder's headstone on Find-A-Grave.

Click HERE to see Helena's headstone on Find-A-Grave.


  1. Thank you SO MUCH for posting these! I'm also a descendent of Anders Jorgen Mortensen and Christine Andersen (but through their son, Peder Miller Jensen), and I knew very little about them, and nothing at all about their parents. And my pedigrees don't even list the parents of Peder Mortensen & Helena Sandersen, so this is valuable information! Not to mention the incredible stories and research here! If you have anything more on this line, I would LOVE to hear about it!

    THANK YOU!!!


  2. Sorry, I mean I'm descended through Anders and Christine's daughter Sarah Ann Elsena Mortensen, who married Peder Miller Jensen.

  3. I am so excited to find this! I went on an LDS Trek July 18-20, 2013. Each youth was given the name of a pioneer to walk in memory of. I was given Mary Mortensen. Along with her name, I was given a story about her (possibly written by her)! I don't know where the information is from but I'm sure it is accurate:

    Part One:

    My family heard the gospel and was converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in 1855. After joining the Church, we were no longer respected or accepted in our town. We sold our property and left in the face of an angry mob, to go to Zion to be with the Saints.
    We traveled to Copenhagen, and stayed in the mission home while we finished preparations for our journey. My oldest brother, Morten, was asked to stay, and we were told “I promise you in the name of the Lord that you will, every one of you, reach the land of Zion in safety, and God will protect you on sea and on land.” Morten agreed to stay. My parents Peder(50) and Lena(48), with their children Annie Kirstine(24), Anders Jergen(22), Hans Jorgen(18), Metta Kirstene(11), Mary(8), and Caroline(5), sailed for America. I had my 9th birthday in Iowa City.
    Father had planned to buy an ox team and wagon, but was promised again that if he sacrificed to share with others, his family would reach their destination in safety. It meant sacrifice, all right, but we did it willingly.
    I remember asking my mother if I would ever have enough to eat again. There were some people who were so hungry that they gnawed the flesh from the joints of their fingers.
    My mother used up all of her handwoven sheets to cover the bodies of those who died along the way. Two of my playmates died and were buried at Rock Creek.

    Part Two

    When the rescue party reached us, it was the happiest day of my life, and we all cried for joy. All of us survived and Morten joined us three years later in Utah.
    My brothers were able to get some land and sheep. I learned to card and spin the wool for clothing to help support the family. While in my teens, I had a serious illness that left my right hand crippled, making tasks difficult. One day, while I sat spinning, I met my future husband. He was a Scandinavian emigrant who had just come from the Old Country.
    Mary and Peder Jensen were married on his 25th birthday, December 6, 1867, and were later sealed in the St. George temple. They had five children. They later attended the dedications of the St. George, Manti, and Salt Lake Temples. Mary was a faithful worker in the Relief Society and the Primary.
    Mary’s motto to her children was to NEVER WASTE FOOD! She never forgot the time in her life when she had seen so many go so long without. Mary died in 1903 at the age of 56.

  4. Metta Kirstene is my great great grandmother, and I'm so grateful you have posted these stories, as I have had very little information also. do you have a copy of Grandma Helena's patriarchal blessing?

  5. Thanks for all your comments!
    Jennifer, I don't have her patriarchal blessing. Most of the information I have on her and her husband is posted on this blog. If you have any other information, I'd love to see it.

  6. Hi! I'm a descendant of Morten P. Mortensen and I just found this blog. How fun! Hannah's history is the same we have of the crossing, less detail but at least the part one is what's written in our write up! My daughter has a school thing where they are to talk about how they came to America. On my mother's side this is the most recent immigration. I am so touched by this story because the Mission president: Haight (is how it's spelled in our account but spelling was a little inconsistent) promised them in the name of the Lord this family would cross safely! That is a mighty promise!!!