Christensen Ranch, Danish Immigrants, Danish Heritage


The island of Ærø lies southwest of Copenhagen, in the Baltic Sea. Just south of the city of Odense, it is connected to the mainland by ferries. Between 1850 and 1920, nearly two thousand of Ærø’s residents decided to immigrate to the United States. When the first emigrants left Ærø the island had three major port towns—Marstal, Ærøskøbing, and Søby. Marstal was well known for its shipbuilding, which made it a local economic power base, while Ærøskøbing was the chief town and primary port for ferry traffic. Aside from sailors, ship’s captains, and shipbuilders, most of the island’s residents were small landholders, village tradespeople, and merchants. Until 1864 Ærø was part of the duchy of Slesvig, but when Denmark was defeated by Prussia, the island was traded to the Danish king in exchange for some of his possessions in what is today northern Germany. It officially became part of the kingdom of Denmark in 1867. Aside from a devastating flood in 1872, times were good for Ærø in the late nineteenth century. By 1893, the island’s merchant fleet was the second largest in the country, after Copenhagen, with 341 ships. Still, the lack of arable land for a growing population drove young people off the island, to nearby cities and across the Atlantic. Seven churches, like the one pictured above, supplied the records for my research into emigration from Ærø: Søby, Bregninge, Tranderup, Ærøskøbing, Rise, Marstal and Ommel. each is a beautiful structure adorned with a typical Danish ship floating in the air above the congregation.