Ingrid – March 21, 2017

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Discovering one’s heritage has become an American passion. (photo source)

Everywhere these days is the opportunity to learn more about one’s ancestry. Websites, DNA swabs, it’s all the rage. I did a little digging into the ancestry craze myself and, without going too far back, learned of my relationship to a very special woman. I’ve known all my life that I am of Danish and Norwegian descent, but it wasn’t until recently that I discovered that I am the great-great-great-granddaughter (GGGG) of a Mrs. Olivia Rose. Once I knew her name and the time frame during which she lived, I began poking around Chicago’s Newberry Library archives. It felt so “old school” to be looking at images of Dewey Decimal System cards!

To my surprise and delight, I discovered that Olivia Rose was one of the 12 original founders of The Danish Home, a place I’ve known of since graduating from college and living in Chicago for the past seven years. My current roommate’s father is a resident of The Danish Home, whom she calls “Farfar.”

Being a bit of a rebel and not too keen on following the rules, I began to imagine what my GGGG (I’ll call her “GiGi” from now on) might have been like in a time when women couldn’t even vote, much less have a lasting impact on society. Immediately, I took to the idea that she was like me – or I like her – and a feeling of “kindred spirits” warmed me, even across the generations.

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Women won the right to vote in 1920, almost 30 years after 12 women founded The Danish Home. (photo source)

Because of her first name, I envision her to have the dark, flashing features of someone with olive skin. More likely, however, she looked like me – a fair-haired, fair-eyed Scandinavian. My name, by the way, is Ingrid. I think I like Olivia better!

A spark ignited in me to learn more about Olivia and her influence on The Danish Home. One look at the home’s website told me all about its 125th anniversary this year. My heart skipped a few beats, and my mind was racing, too, thinking of how exciting it would be to get involved in this momentous celebration. 125 years, and my GiGi helped make it happen!

After one call to The Danish Home, I was invited to join a planning committee for the anniversary events, the first of which is a kick-off luncheon hosted by the Women’s Auxiliary. What’s especially awesome is that the guest speaker is a Danish woman named Gitte Pedersen, whose company is working on better cancer diagnostics. Girl power!

No ancestry website could have prepared me for what I found at the planning meeting. Not one, but four other descendants of The Danish Home founders were there! Four! While we all tried to be productive at the meeting, it was difficult to stop chatting and comparing notes and stories.

What was perhaps most exciting was encountering a young woman whose grandmother is a resident of The Danish Home, a lady she calls “Mormor.” She told us about “The Hope Chest,” an online diary she created after discovering a chest full of photos and belongings of Emma Thorsen, The Danish Home’s first president. Before she could even finish, I was gushing over about writing, too. My four new friends, Mia, Liam, Ella, and Lili, were also interested, and now we’re all part of a new Hope Chest team!

I can’t wait to share how things are shaping up with the 125th anniversary celebration and all that I learn through my newfound interest in my great Danish heritage.