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Friday, May 6, 2016

Gray Matter: When Genealogy takes interesting turns

Monday, November 5, 2007

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True genealogists search for their roots by digging in the past, tracing branches of their family tree to distant places.  If the tables are turned, they also enjoy finding themselves the object of someone else's search. When this rare event happens twice in the same family, as it did to Dr. Ray Drefke and his wife Ann who live in Marcus, it makes a remarkable story.

A few years ago, a native Texan, now a retired petroleum engineer living in Ohio, turned up looking for the origins of his Great-Grandfather Drefke who'd left Cherokee County for South Texas in 1916.  This gentleman, Jesse Brothers,  found his third cousin, Ray Drefke, by a series of coincidences and it's been a great experience for all involved.

Now Ray's wife, Ann, has had the same sort of adventure.  In the spring of 2005,  there was a 95- year-old lady named Andrea Schmidt, living near Odense, Denmark.  Physically healthy for her age, and still mentally sharp-as-a tack, she was reminiscing with her daughter, Bodil Rasmussen, wondering what ever happened to her cousin, Margrethe Laursen, who had emigrated to the US. 

Bodil,  then employed at the Odense Airport, is an extremely computer-savvy lady.  So she  immediately searched the Ellis Island internet site, and found that cousin Margrethe had gone from that entry port to Marcus, Iowa.

Rasmussen's next move was to cyber-search for an old people's home in our town. Finding the Heartland Care Center, she dispatched an e-mail, asking if anyone there knew of any of Margrethe Laursen's descendants now living in Marcus.  The e-mail was taken to Margaret McQueen, one of  their oldest and wisest residents.  Mrs. McQueen recalled  that the maiden name of  Margaret Simonsen of Quimby,  Ann Drefke's mother, was Rasmussen, so she suggested giving Ann the message.  That was quickly accomplished as Dr. Ray was in the Center at that very moment visiting his mother, who has since passed away, but  was a Heartland resident at that time. When Ann read the message, she knew immediately that Bodil  was referring to her Grandma Rasmussen.

Rasmussen, according to Ann, is  the "Smith" or "Jones" of Denmark.  The link between Bodil and Ann is through their Laursen heritage.  Margretha had married Hans Rasmussen in America and Bodil wed civil engineer Peter Rasmussen in Denmark, but their common surname was not the connection. Ann sent an immediate reply to Bodil, telling her Margrethe did, indeed, have descendants and that she was a granddaughter.  After recovering from the shock of the ease and speed with which the contact was made, the two distant cousins struck up an e-mail correspondence.  This culminated in  Ann and Ray visiting Bodil and Peter this past spring.

They were planning a trip to Paris and London on an ISU Alumni Tour when Ray suggested they go a few days early and spend some time in Denmark.  The resulting visit was truly a delight for all involved.

I have space to tell you of just one aspect of it here, and that is the astonishing similarities between the two women.  Ann's grandmother was the oldest of  the cousins and Bodil's mother the youngest.  So, though they are the same age, the two are of different generations.  They are the same height, of a similar body type, and their facial features are amazingly alike. Bodil resembles Ann much more closely than do any of her three sisters. 

The likeness was very evident in a picture taken at the railroad station the day the Americans arrived.  Their haircuts, which both have worn for years, were almost identical as were their glasses.  Each of them had on blue jeans, similar slip-on clogs and light sport jackets styled exactly the same.  The only difference, Ann's was black and Bodil's red!

I have written in the past of how I enjoy coincidences and of the astonishing things that turn up in gene pools, so you know this remarkable story is one I truly enjoy sharing  with you.