Strømm Baptism Record (1860)Cornelius Christoffersen was born on 16 Sep 1860 in Svelvik, Vestfold, Norway to sailor, Christoffer Christensen and his wife Mathea Gulliksdatter. He was baptized a month later on 28 Oct 1860 at the newly opened Svelvik Church in Svelvik. Godparents were John Gabrielsen, Thormond Nilsen, Randi Jane, Susanne Hansdatter, Birgitte Hansdatter.1, A
At the time, the town was known as Svelvikstrømmen a combination of the two adjoining towns of Svelvik and Strømm (between 1845-1964) on the west banks of the Svelvikstrømmen strait in the Drammen fjord. It was a small but bustling port town, big in the shipping and trade business for the nearby city of Drammen, and thus a big home for all sorts of seafaring men.
Cornelius grew up in Svelvik at farm house 19a on what is now the southeast corner of Storgaten and Brinches Gate on the southern end of town. He lived there with his parents, 2 brothers Johan & Carl.2 His father was a sailor and was regularly away at sea for long stretches of time, returning home for the winter months and heading out again in spring after the thaw. In part due to this fact, a room in the home was rented out to another sailor's family who shared the house with Cornelius.
Young Cornelius ChristoffersenOn 04 Oct 1874, Cornelius was confirmed in Strømm (Svelvik), Vestfold, Norway.3 In Norway, this was an important event marking the entrance into adult life, a right of passage where boys received their first suits and girls their white dresses. Young adults were not allowed to work or get married unless they had been confirmed.
After confirmation, Cornelius took right to sea like his father. He joined with the ship "Laura" and started learning the trade under the tutelage of its Captain Andreas Gundersen of Svelvik.4
When Cornelius turned 17, he passed his co-pilot exam and quickly advanced to the rank of Master (commonly known as Captain). For a period of time Cornelius even owned a small schooner named the "Jens Ruffen", which he had bought for $2400 kr. in 1897.4, 5
A month after Cornelus' 18th birthday, on 25 Oct 1878, Cornelius' father Christoffer died at sea from yellow fever. Four days later (29 Oct), Cornelius returned home following almost two months at sea. There was a delay in the news making it's way home as Christoffer's ship had to dock in France before it was able to send word home to the parish priest via telegraph and then for the priest to deliver the news to the family.
Cornelius Christoffersen married Birthe Marie Andreasen on 04 Oct 1888 in Svelvik, Vestfold, Norway at Svelvik Church. Best men at the wedding were Birthe's uncle, Jens Christian Olsen Ruud and friend & fellow mate of Cornelius, Hans Christian Killingstad.6 The couple were childhood neighbors, growing up just a few houses apart from each other.
Cornleius & Marie's Marriage Record (1888)In 1889, Cornelius acquired the Andreasen family house from his sister-in-law and the family moved into farmhouse 11a on road Tømmeraas Gade for a period of time.7
In the coming years as the family grew, they moved. Never far, the family jumped from one side of the street to the other. They lived at house 11a in 1889, house 20 at Oscar's baptism in 1891, at house 23 from 1893 to 1900, and house 21 in 1903. Cornelius was doing well enough for himself that he was able to employ a nanny to help Birthe with the growing number of children while he was away at sea. In 1900 it is noted that Cornelius not only employed a nanny but the nanny's daughter worked around the house as well.8 (All of these residences were no more than a stone's throw from his mother's home, 19a.)
In 1901, Cornelius was offered the opportunity to officer the crew of a new ship destined for the China trade. Jumping at the chance, he sold his boat the "Jens Ruffen" in 1902 for $4000 and took boat owner Bruusgaard Kiøsterud up on his offer to captain his shipping vessel.4, 5, C
To put into context, Life in Norway was difficult during this time. Their economy was in a deep depression (during the 100-year period of 1830-1930 only Ireland had higher emigration rates). This contributed to a massive decline in the maritime power that was the Norwegian sailing fleet while the country struggled to find the economic capital to make the major investment involved in transitioning to steamships. In 1900, a crash in the Norwegian building industry led to another major financial crash and stagnation for the next 5 years. Things would eventually start to turn around after the country gained their independence from Sweden in 1905, but I'm sure the uncertainty surrounding their future at this time would have been concerning, and for the Christoffersen family, the pieces were already in motion.
After four years at sea, Cornelius made a decision to put the shipping industry on hold and took up carpentry. After consulting with Birthe's relatives in America, he decided to take a trip to the United States for the summer to explore the possibility of immigration. On the 21 Jun 1906, Cornelius arrived in America to visit with Birthe's siblings and get the grand tour of the Cleveland area and the local economy.9
Cornelius must have liked what he saw, because on 08 Feb 1907, the Christoffersen family boarded the S.S. Hellig Olav in Christiania, Norway and set sail for New York City, USA. The family arrived at Ellis Island in New York on 20 Feb 1907 with $82 to his name. Cornelius was said to be a white male, standing 5'8" tall with fair hair and blue eyes, who was able to read, write, and speak English. Birthe described as being a white female, 5'2" tall with a fresh complexion, fair hair and blue eyes.10
Declaration of Intention to NaturalizeBirthe didn't seem to like her name too much and had officially abandoned it by the late 1880s. For this reason Birthe is referred on all American documents, including her passenger manifest, as Marie and not Birthe. This type of name modification (after settling in the USA) was referred to as the Americanization of foreign names and was very common among immigrants, usually done as a means of fitting in. As a matter of fact, Marie and the rest of her siblings would modify their family surname Andreasen and adopt Anderson after arriving in the US.
Cornelius and Marie's first residence in America was living with Marie's twin sister Julie and her husband Martin Christiansen (Cornelius' cousin) at 225 Superior in Cleveland, Ohio. Here they settled in and found jobs and their own place to live.
The family lived in multiple rental properties in the coming years. The first is believed to have been at 3904 Whitman Avenue NW,11 and by the end of 1909 the family had moved again to 2064 West 55th Street in what seems to be a small building with 4 separate apartments where they lived until 1912.12
Shortly after arriving in America, Cornelius was known immediately through his employment as a sexton at the Calvary Presbyterian Church on East 79th Street, one of the larger churches in Cleveland, and remained employed there for the rest of his life.13
On 18 Nov 1912, Cornelius obtained his naturalization, became an American citizen and legally changed the family surname from Christoffersen to Christopher. At the time he was living at 7812 Euclid Avenue. Witnesses who testified on his behalf in front of the County Judge were his wife's brother Andrew Andersen of 1884 W. 58th St. and cousin Martin Christiansen of 304 Superior Ave. (also husband of Birthe's twin sister).14, B
Cornelius at 64 (1925)It seems the Christophersen children didn't all care for the new family surname. The children too young to be employed and leave the house (Ingvald & Cora) kept the Christopher surname, while the others chose to follow in their brother Christopher's footsteps and adopt the last name "Lowe" in honor of Cornelius' mother (their grandmother), Mathea Gulliksdatter Loe, who died in Norway about 7 years prior.15
In 1913, the newly named Christopher family finally found some sense of stability and were able to make a home they could settle in at 2275 E 74th SE in Cleveland.16 That stability wouldn't last long however, as on 10 Sep 1914 their 2nd son Oscar was admitted to the Cleveland Marine Hospital with terrible stomach pains (he was most likely working aboard a steamship on Lake Erie at the time). Over the next 2 weeks the doctors and nurses tended to him and did what they could, they even attempted to operate. I assume the operation was too late and Oscar's appendix had already burst because on the 24 Sep 1914, Oscar died of acute appendicitis.17
The family did their best to recover and continue living their lives. Eldest daughter Anna "Marie" married Carl Oxford in 1916,18 eldest son Christopher married Thora Haugen in 1917,19 and in 1919 the family moved to a new rental property at 7612 Dix Court.20 The Christopher family's final move occurred on 26 Apr 1920, when Cornelius was finally able to purchase the deed to a family home at 1883 E 69th Street.21
Five years later, in 1926, tragedy would strike the family again. This time, youngest son Ingvald "Rudd" took a turn for the worse on 15 Apr 1926. Rudd had been suffering from tuberculosis for the past 10 years and had been managing well enough. He'd altered his life and avoided marine lifestyle his family knew, becoming a salesman instead, but it wasn't enough. His parents cared for him at his bedside for the next 2 weeks and on 30 Apr 1926 at 4:30 AM, Ingvald Rudd Christopher passed away from tuberculosis at the age of 31.22
Death Notice in the Plain Dealer (1927)Eight months later, the bad news kept piling on: In December 1926, Cornelius fell ill and doctors discovered that he had stomach cancer. Cornelius was able to get by for a while but eight months later, on the 10th of August, he got sick again. Over the next two months, his wife Marie and daughter Cornelia cared for him.
Cornelius died at 5:30 AM on 28 Sep 1927 in Cleveland of an intestinal hemorrhage caused in part by the cancer.13 A funeral was held on 30 Sep 1927 at Calvary Presbyterian church where he had worked23 and he was buried at the family plot in West Park Cemetery in Cleveland with his sons Oscar and Ingvald - Section 21, Lot 226, Grave 1.24
Christopher Christensen Orhus, 19 May 1828 - 25 Oct 1878
Mathea Gulliksdatter Loe, 21 Mar 1831 - 06 Apr 1905
Birthe Marie Andreasen, 01 Nov 1858 - 17 Sep 1933
- Christoffer Christoffersen, 21 Nov 1889 – 02 Oct 1929
- Oscar Andreas Christoffersen, 03 Nov 1891 – 23 Sep 1914
- Anne Marie Christoffersen, 19 Aug 1893 – 01 May 1980
- Ingvald Rudd Christoffersen, 22 Dec 1894 – 30 Apr 1926
- Cornelia Christoffersen, 29 Sep 1897 – 06 Jun 1989
- Astrid Mathea Christoffersen, 21 Mar 1903 – 05 Dec 1903
A Norway Parish Registers for Svelvik at the time of Cornelius' baptism were not located under their current county of Vestfold. At the time, Svelvik's church was a part of the Hurum parish in Buskerud County.
B In 1912, when Cornelius starts the application process to become a naturalized citizen of the United States he lists his residence as 7812 Euclid Avenue. I have no other documentation to back up that they ever lived in the church while Cornelius was a sexton, but since it's mentioned, I felt I should list it just the same. My belief is it's more likely that with the frequency of his family relocating almost on a yearly basis, Cornelius chose to write his job as his residence, since they would always be able to find him through the church no matter where he was during the application process.
C The only known record of Cornelius sailing to trade with China is a photograph uncovered by a cousin visiting relatives in Norway. This photo shows Cornelius decked out head to toe in full period garb at a photography studio in China (likely Shanghai). During the time of Cornlius' tenure as Captain, Norway didn't keep a log of the sailings of ship's Masters, only of crew and youth.
D The 1910 Census lists a phantom child 'Cornelius', this is NOT CORRECT. There is no Cornelius born in the Svelvik Parish registers, nor on the emigration record in Svelvik Parish, nor on the family's arrival manifest, nor in father Cornelius' 1912 naturalization paperwork, nor in the family burial plot (with the other family members who died young), nor on any other census, nor in father Cornelius' nor mother Marie's wills or probate records. Marie even states this herself, by noting on the exact same census, that she has 6 children, 5 of whom are still living. That's 1.Christopher, 2.Oscar Andreas, 3.Anna Marie, 4.Ingvald Rudd, 5.Cornelia & 6.Astrid Mathea (deceased). The census taker is likely trying to note 20 year old son (not 10) Christopher Christophersen who was still living with the family but would have been out workingon a steamship on Lake Erie and not around to check the validity of his census entry. Christopher would not leave the house until he married in 1917-1918, at which point he still stated his residence was with his parents. (License was filed Dec 29, 1917, couple married Jan 2, 1918.)
Belief is Cornelius worked at Calvary Church "from the day he arrived", but very early directories list him as a watchman; was this a different title or a different job all together?
Did Cornelius have any involvement in his children choosing his mother Mathea's farm name as their family name?