My Danish Roots

I am not a regular newspaper reader. About the only time I read it is when something catches my eye as I am crumpling up the paper to start a fire in the wood stove. Today’s fire-starter included an article in the Nov. 30 Guardian about Charlottetown native Frank Zakem’s new book The Zakem-Marji Story: Five Generations. The article was yet another reminder that I should try to trace back the Sorensen line of my ancestry a little further. My mom has had great genealogical success with much of our family’s history, but we just don’t know all that much about our Sorensen ancestors. My grandfather Aage Sørensen came to Canada in 1928 at the age of 17, and never returned to his home country. His youngest brother Gunnar related a story to my brother Barrie (the only one of us who has ever made it over to Denmark for a visit), in which he recalled watching Aage board the ship to Canada, somehow knowing it would be the last time he would ever see his big brother. Aage died in 1961. Interestingly, it was my PEI-born grandmother that would maintain any correspondence with our Danish relatives, first with her sister-in-law Katherine, then with Gunnar’s daughter Inge Lisa (with whom my parents now keep in touch).

The Zakem article inspired me to do a brief internet search for information. A great starting point for anyone is the Mormon genealogy site,, and I did find an entry there for my grandfather which listed the names of his parents. I also came across a very interesting website called My Danish, where I learned that “Sørensen” is the eighth most common surname in Denmark – of 5.3 million Danes, 127,078 are Sørensens. (Click here for the list of the 100 most common surnames in Denmark). A common last name would be a natural extension of a first name being common:

Unlike in England, for example, surnames were generally adopted rather late in Scandinavia. This meant that most families until the mid-1800s did not have an actual family name as we know them today. Peoble [sic] were instead named according to the patronymic naming tradition where [the] childrens’ last name derived from their father’s given name with the addition of a suffix meaning “son” or “daughter”. [My Danish]

(If we still followed this tradition, I would be named “Dale Jacksen”).

This means that many of those 127,078 Sørensens would be of no relation at all. It also means that the “Sorensen” trail will end after only a few generations, at which point last names will begin changing. No matter what, it won’t be easy. In fact, it seems the only way to find out anything more at this point is to head on over to Denmark and search the birth/baptismal records at one of the 2200 parishes! I’ve got to make it over there one of these days…

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