One of the things I found in going through my father’s papers was some genealogies on various branches of our family. Readers will be hearing some of these stories in months ahead. This first installment relates to Charles N. Claudson, our ancestor who emigrated from Denmark.
I wrote previously about Charles, who was born in 1847 in Denmark. In that post, I described some of our family stories about his journey to the United States—how he stowed away on a ship and later found his way to Iowa, and then to Nebraska. Our family has always believed that he was thrown overboard, was pulled back on board when he surfaced, and then worked in the ship’s galley. We were also told that he lost his belongings on his first night in America, allegedly because he could not find his way back to the boarding house where he left them.
But the details in the genealogy I found—which came from an oral history by someone who knew him—don’t verify all the family myths.
According to the information I found, Charles was born Charles Nickli Clauson in Copenhagen. His father was a watchmaker. Charles attended a trade school in Copenhagen, where he learned to cook. He did stow away to come to America when he was fourteen (1861). I found no verification that he left Denmark to escape military service, as I have always suspected, but that still seems plausible.
Charles apparently spent seven years working on the ship as a cook. The oral history does not describe him being thrown overboard, so that may not be true. But it makes a great story and will probably remain part of our family lore!
At some point Charles and two other sailors left the ship in New Orleans, and he was robbed that night of all his possessions. So the truth apparently is not that he lost his way; he was robbed! Both make good stories.
One sad result of the robbery is that Charles’s family had moved in Denmark, and after the theft he didn’t have their new address—he was alone in America.
The railroad was sending men from New Orleans to Iowa to work, and that’s how Charles got to Iowa. The account I have describes why he left the railroad:
“The story is that he was to push a wheelbarrow of concrete across a gully or ravine. He got it across, set it down and just kept walking.”
Apparently, Charles had an independent streak. Either that, or he didn’t like manual labor and preferred to cook.
Charles then got a job on a farm in Iowa, and married the farmer’s daughter, Sophrenia Vaught. In 1886, they emigrated with Sophrenia’s family to Nebraska. So that explains how he got to Nebraska.
Later Charles owned his own restaurant. At some point he was also head cook for the Union Pacific Railroad (whether before or after the wheelbarrow incident is not clear). The account I have says that he could cook dinner for 400 people in an hour. He wanted to be a pastry chef, but no one would teach him, so he hid in a back room and watched through a knothole to learn how to prepare the pastries.
So Charles was an enterprising fellow as well as independent. I smiled as I read this oral history, because some of Charles’s traits—as well as his love of cooking—filtered through the generations to my father. I don’t think my father could prepare dinner for 400 people in an hour, but he paid for his room and board in his college fraternity by being a short-order cook for the house.
What traits have you seen pass through generations in your family?