Thursday, June 23, 2011

Rise Sophia Poulsen Hansen

Rise Sophia Poulsen Hansen was the oldest of 12 children born to Poul Nielsen and Kirsten Klim. She married Peder Hansen. She joined the church along with 3 of her siblings. The others that joined the church were: Christian Poulsen, James Poulsen, and Karen Kirstine (who came to America later and joined the church much later.) In this family of five girls and seven boys, these are the ones that embraced the gospel as taught by the Mormon elders and would leave the old country.
In 1849, at the October conference held in Salt Lake City, a number of missionaries were called to open missions in various foreign lands. Among these were Apostle Erastus Snow and Elder Peter O. Hansen. Elder Snow left London June 8, 1850 for Denmark. He took with him Elders George P. Dykes and John E. Forsgreen. They arrived in Copenhagen June 14, 1850 at 10 a.m. They were met there by Elder Peter O. Hansen, who had preceded them. This was the beginning of the Scandinavian mission.
Preaching the Gospel in that land brought results very quickly. It was very natural that the Elders, sooner or later, would reach Soro County, the home of the Poulsen’s. Meetings were held at Kirkestillinge perhaps as early as 1856. It has been established that James Poulsen (brother of our ancestor) attended one of these early meetings.
Being a man of spiritual insight, he was immediately impressed with the new doctrine. The startling impact of the bold claims of Joseph Smith was not something easily tossed aside. James was also a careful reader of the bible. He could see the Mormons backed up their claims with sound scripture.
Like most of the Danish people, the Poulsen’s were Lutherans, this being the recognized state church in Denmark. The local pastor immediately got busy attempting to drive the “wolves” from among his flock, as he considered the Mormons. But young James Poulsen disputed with him. The men were not “wolves”, he contended. The more he listened to them preach, the more he was certain theirs was the only true conception of God. He told the minister this when he came to dissuade him from the teachings of the Mormons. To join an unpopular sect such as the Mormons was not an easy undertaking.
He shared his beliefs with his wife, and his brothers and sisters. They in turn were studying the gospel and listening to the preaching of the elders. The Poulsen family, like thousands of others, became hopelessly divided on the issue of religion. As it turned out, three of the children of Poul Nielsen and Kirstine Katrine Klim, together with their families, joined the church. According to our best information, these 3 families were baptized at various times between 1859 and 1861.
The spring of 1862 was a time of great activity among the Saints in Denmark. Hundreds of them sold their possessions in their native land, and made preparations to emigrate to America. Under the counsel of the leaders of the church, their great desire was to join the main body of the Saints located in the Rocky Mountains.
Small coastal ships made their way in and out of the Danish harbors, gathering these emigrants and such baggage as they were able to take on the long journey. In the larger harbors they were transferred to other vessels, where they were accumulated in greater numbers. In this process of gathering, people from many rural areas, and the smaller towns were thrown together with others whom they had never seen before. Some were poor, others had moderate means, and a few were relatively well off; but regardless of economic status, they were dedicated to the ideal of helping one another. They were willing to sacrifice what they had, and take large personal risks to start new lives in another part of the world, where they felt the gospel in its fullness was again being established on the earth.
Four full rigged sailing vessels, the Electra, the Athenia, the Humbolt, and the Franklin, lay in the Elb River off Hamburg. Into these vessels at intervals during the month, the 1,556 souls gathered from the Danish ports were dispatched. Our family sailed on the Athenia leaving Denmark on April 21, 1862. The group consisted of Peder Hansen, his wife Rise Sophia Poulsen Hansen, and their children: Poul 20 (He’s our ancestor), Maria Frederikka 18, Cathrine Kirstine 15, John Edmond 15 (they were twins), Peter 5, Line 3. Also in the group was Rise’s brother Christian Poulsen and his wife Bertha (Birte) Hansen Poulsen, her two children by a former marriage: Soren 14 and Mary 12. Christian and Birte’s children were with them, too. They were: Karen Sophia 8, Hans Peter 6Carl Evald Jacob 3, and baby Christina Lena (she had a twin who died before they left.) Rise’s other brother James Poulsen (the youngest of the 3 siblings) and his wife Kerstine were on the ship with their three children Poul 8, Frederikke Marie 4, and James Peter 3.
Ole N. Liljenquist was in charge of the 484 Danish Saints on board the Athenia. The captain of the ship was D. Shilling.
There were many problems aboard the ship such as seasickness, temperature changes, stagnant drinking water causing sickness and measles had broken out among the children and even other serious illnesses.
No one can properly tell the tragedy, heart ache, and terror of those days, as sickness and death began to mount. For a time there was probably scarcely enough well to take care of the sick. And the bodies of the 33 children and 5 adults that died were buried at sea.
The Poulsen and Hansen families were hit hard. All of the children were ill and at least part of the adults. It was James who suffered the most staggering blow. His wife Kerstine and all three of their children were numbered among the dead. James himself was so ill that he hovered between life and death. At one time it was a matter of debate whether he was dead or not.
But James Poulsen, with returning consciousness of the loss of his beloved family was a completely shattered and broken man. His purpose in life seemed suddenly vanished. The new world lost its appeal and even his faith became confused. He decided to go back to Denmark. The captain of the ship told him he could transfer to a ship going back to Europe if such a ship could be sighted.
A new force, however, began to exert an influence on James, in the person of a strong, clear-eyed young woman, who had helped nurse his wife and children through their last illness. Her name was Maren Kirstina Arff, another Danish convert. She nursed him back to health and did much to lift his spirits and cultivate new hope in him. He changed his mind about going back to Europe and later married Maren in Florence, Nebraska.
Rise’s 15 year old daughter Cathrine Kirstine died a few days before the ship docked in New York on June 7, 1862. On account of their nearness to New York at the time of her death, they had succeeded by pleading with the captain in gaining permission to bring her ashore. At that time, Rise was so weak she could barely stand and her baby Line 3 was hovering between life and death. With the help of church representatives (Remember- they didn’t speak English!) stationed in New York, they buried their daughter Cathrine in an unmarked grave at Ellis Island.
Despite their severe hardships, they regarded their arrival in America as a blessing. But as they were processed through the emigration office, they suddenly realized they were in a strange land. They heard only a foreign babble. They faced new problems and adjustments.
June 9, 1862 they left New York and went by train to Florence, Nebraska where the 1500 Danish saints were organized into companies for the trek west. As the train was approaching Chicago, Rise and Peder’s child Line 3 died. The party had to stop and make burial arrangements before continuing on.
The Poulsen-Hansen families were assigned to the third company under the leadership of Joseph Horne, a man of wisdom and experience who had crossed the plains a number of times. The company left Florence, Nebraska on July 29, 1862 and reached the valley October 1, 1862. Our family was part of the Perpetual Emigration fund which they later paid back after they reached Utah.
Hard times were not over for our family. It was a difficult journey and Christian Poulsen’s two little boys, Hans Peter 6 and Carl Evald Jacob 3 both died on the way and were hastily buried in shallow graves. Rise Sophia, our ancestor, had been suffering from illness and sorrow and by the time they reached Fort Laramie, she was dying. Her condition created a tragic situation for the family. They could not travel because of her situation so they remained at a temporary camp five miles west of Laramie. But the two older children, Poul (our ancestor) and Marie Frederikka, were sent on with the company in the care of their uncles Christian and James Poulsen. They never saw their mother again as she died a few days later. She lived to see her family onto Zion but never made it there herself.
There were 9 members of the Poulsen and Hansen families that died. Once again, those who died were:
Kerstine Poulsen, 34, (Wife of James) buried at sea.
Poul, 8, Frederikke Marie, 4, James Peter, 3, (Children of James and Kerstine) buried at sea
Rise Sophia Poulsen Hansen, 44, (Wife of Peder Hansen) buried near Ft. Laramie, Wyoming
Catherine Kirstine Hansen, 15, buried at Ellis Island. Line Hansen, 3, buried near Chicago. (Children of Rise Sophia and Peder Hansen)
Hans Peter, 6, Carl Evald, 3, buried on plains, exact location unknown. (Children of Christian and Bertha Poulsen)
This is taken from the book by Ezra J. Poulsen James Poulsen- A Faithful Dane. You may remember that this is the book that Dad found at Deseret Book. He was reaching for another book in a bookshelf there and got this one. When he looked at it, he realized that it was the brother of one of our ancestors and contains quite a bit of information about her. This is one of our most inspirational family history stories!


  1. This is Dennis Poulsen. I have been to Denmark
    and visited the Poulsen Family there. I republished "James Poulsen a Faithful Dane". Ezra
    Poulsen was my uncle. Great Site. I have the book
    on CD if you are interested.

  2. My email address is

  3. Thank you for posting this. It is amazing. My children are Poulsens, and I have been researching that part of their family history - so I am ever so grateful that you took the time to do this!