Thursday, May 19, 2011

Those Places Thursday: Ærø, Denmark

Ærø, Denmark
I'm proud of my Danish heritage, and I've been having fun writing about the Madsen side of my family. I especially enjoy sharing information about my great grandfather, Lars Hansen (Louis) Madsen, who immigrated to California from Ærø, Denmark, as a young boy in 1908.

A couple of years ago, when I was searching for information on my Madsen family (beyond what I already knew), I came across the most wonderful website, Genealogy Ærø. Ib Christensen, who happens to be a distant cousin of mine, has spent years researching his genealogy, as well as others, on the small island of Ærø, which is in the Baltic sea off the southern edge of Denmark. Fortunately for me, he's gone all the way back to my 10th great grandfather, Erich, and has very graciously sent me some amazing information about our Danish ancestory (including smuggers, witch trials, arranged marriages gone awry and other fun stuff that I'll surely write about later!).
Rise (REE-suh) is the little village, noted in
the center, near the farm where my
Great Grandpa Louie grew up.

For anyone interested in Ærø genealogy, or Danish history, Ib's website is a goldmine. He's written it in Danish, but he's already translated many pages into English (and you can always use Google Translate for the pages that aren't yet translated). It includes information on many Ærø families, including Ærø residents (like Great Grandpa Louie) who eventually emigrated away from Denmark. He has detailed the overall history of Ærø, from the Middle Ages (starting in the 13th century) until now. I've thoroughly enjoyed reading about Ærø's smugging past, including my own 9th great grandfather's part in that: Apparently, Bertel Erichsen was a skipper and smuggler who had a history with the law due to his bad temper.

Ib also wrote histories of some of the villages and other historical places. What thrilled me is that he included a photo of the oldest house in Ærøskøbing, one of Ærø's largest villages, which was built in 1645 by my 9th great grandfather, Bertel Erichsen (1617-1701), the ill-tempered smuggler referenced above. The house is called "Kjøbinghus" and appears to have been very well kept all these years.
Kjøbinghus. Photo by Ib Christensen, Genealogy Ærø
Ærø is now a tourist destination for travelers looking for a quiet vacation amongst old villages, thatched-roof buildings and well-tended farms. The island is only about 5-by-19 miles in size, and many visitors rent bicycles to get around and explore. My ancestors' farm, Bakkegaard ("hill farm"), near the town of Rise, is still there. Sadly, I'm told by Ib and another distant Madsen cousin who visited there last year, that it's a bit in disrepair.

I'm hoping to get to Ærø in the next few years so I can set foot on the land where my ancestors farmed, lived and raised their families for so many generations. Meanwhile, I enjoy going back to Genealogy Ærø to see what's new and continue learning about my Danish heritage. I hope you'll also visit Ib's website, especially if your family hails from Ærø. And, if you do have Ærø ancestry, please leave a message for me here so we can compare notes!


  1. Wow, Wendy. Wouldn't it be something to see that home in person!

  2. I know! I think that you, Cindy and I need to plan a trip. =p