Not-So-Distant Cousins
11/2/2011
A family reunion connects cousins from two continents.

Birgit Thygesen Mose stepped off the escalator at the Madison, Wis., airport after a journey from her home in Vejle, Denmark, involving planes, a train and an automobile. I was part of a small greeting committee, led by the person responsible for Mose’s journey.

Patricia Skubis of Belleville, Wis., is Mose’s fourth cousin—a relationship it took 27 years to unpuzzle. Back in 1984, Skubis wrote a woman in Queensland, Australia: “Are we related?”

Skubis was at a Family History Center researching her great-grandmother Caroline Thygesen Jessen. In 1888, Caroline took five of her children and left the small town of Møgeltønder in Denmark’s southern Jutland Peninsula to join her husband and three other children in the United States.

In the center’s Ancestral File database, Skubis found a Peder Anderson Thygesen from Møgeltønder. His great-great-granddaughter Alison Rogers submitted him.

Rogers wrote back to Skubis about Peder’s son, Andreas Thygesen, who left for Australia in 1873 with his wife and eight children. The women knew the children in their respective families were baptized at the same church, but they couldn’t document a connection.

At the Madison airport, the well-organized Skubis presented me with a copy of that handwritten letter from Rogers. It seems quaint now that genealogy has graduated to email and online trees. Skubis had posted her tree on MyHeritage.com, including details about Caroline, her father, Martin, and his parents, Thyge Jørgenson and Karen Nielsdattter.

In March, MyHeritage sent Skubis an automated message: The site’s SmartMatching system had found a potential match with “Karen Jorgensen born Nielsdattter” in the tree of someone named Tage Thygesen.

“At first, Tage didn’t have much on the site,” Skubis says. “They were his great-great-great-grandparents. The names were the same as my great-great-great-grandparents, but there weren’t dates.”

She pressed for more. “I sent an email and asked for information. He replied with the dates, and the dates matched.”

But each tree had just one of the Jorgensens’ children, and that name was different. This experienced genealogist knew what to do next. She climbed further up the family tree, scouring the Danish archives’ free online church records for the other Jørgenson children.

Caroline’s father—Skubis’s great-great-grandfather—Martin Thygesen was the youngest, born in 1805 in Møgeltønder. Mose’s great-great-grandfather Niels Madsen, born in 1794, was third. The names of the other children, Margaret, Jorgen, Peder, Hans and Anders, confirmed the match.

And Peder? He was Peder Andersen Thygesen, father of Andreas and the great-great-grandfather Alison Rogers had named in her letter back in 1984. That 27-year-old mystery was solved.

Google translation tools were essential as Thygesen and Skubis emailed and exchanged photos. Then Skubis won the MyHeritage.com/Family Tree Magazine family reunion contest in June and communications shifted into high gear. Mose, a cheerleader in her brother’s roots search, would make the trip, her first visit to America. (Skubis had visited Denmark years before.)

Mose struggles only a little to find the English words describing her feelings about meeting her fourth cousin: “Surprised. Very, very lucky. Like I won the lottery.”

On the ladies’ agenda: A lot of sight-seeing. Some genealogy, including a search for descendants of the four other Thygesen children. And perhaps another family reunion—this one, in Denmark.

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