Family Legends: Baptised in the Kitchen Sink

14 Oct

Legend: My father told us this story, which he had been told by his grandmother, Helene Andersen Riis. Helene gave birth to a baby boy at home but there was something seriously wrong with the child. Dad’s grandfather, Hans C. Riis, carried the newborn directly to the kitchen and baptized him himself at the tap before the child died.

Verdict: True. It took years of looking, but I was able to confirm the story. I can’t specifically confirm the baptism in the sink, but that much is consistent with Hans being a religious man and a practicing Lutheran. In the Lutheran Church, all confirmed members have the ability to baptize others, especially in emergency situations.

A baby boy was born to Hans and Helene in their home in Holliswood [now Hollis], Queens, on October 7, 1911. Named Kenneth Peter Riis, his birth was never officially registered because little Kenneth died only two days later, on October 9. A death certificate, however, was issued, citing the cause of death only as a “stomach problem.” In 2003 I was able to locate Kenneth’s grave in Maple Grove Cemetery in Maspeth, Queens, where another surprise awaited: Office records show Kenneth is buried with a sister, interred on October 5, 1905, and entered only as “Stillborn Girl Riis.”

The children of Hans C. Riis and Helene Andersen Riis, married September 12, 1900, in New York, NY:

Hans Alfred Andersen “Alfred” Riis, born April 20, 1902, in Bronx, NY

Thorvald Christian Riis, born February 12, 1904, in Morris Park, NY

Unnamed girl, stillborn before October 5, 1905, in Morris Park, NY (?)

Kenneth Peter Riis, born October 7, 1911, in Holliswood [now Hollis], NY

Helen E. Riis, born April 27, 1914, in Holliswood [now Hollis], NY (?)


Posted by on October 14, 2013 in Family Legends


9 responses to “Family Legends: Baptised in the Kitchen Sink

  1. swedie1

    October 14, 2013 at 6:38 pm

    Wow! This is really interesting. I only knew of the 3 Riis children. I think they probably went to Grace Lutheran in Queens VIllage (I’ll have to ask my mom or my uncle), which is where my grandparents (Alva and Alfred) were married and where we went, along with all the Lundquists (Grandma’s family). That was Missouri Synod, though, so they may have gone somewhere else.

    And my grandfather was Alfred Hans, not Hans Alfred, as I’ve been told? Very interesting. FYI, he’s buried in a cemetery on Springfield Ave. in Queens Village (same street as the church, but farther down the street; needed a car ride for that). We used to visit his grave once or twice a year and bring him flowers.

    • RRiis

      October 14, 2013 at 9:20 pm

      Alfred’s full name is a little mysterious. I showed him in the article as Alfred so people would know who he is. His name in records is inconsistent.

      Jens Riis and his wife Laura’s firstborn child was named Alfred J. Riis. Alfred was born in Brooklyn on July 5, 1901, but died only 8 days later, July 13, 1901, in Brooklyn’s Riverside Hospital.

      Hans and Helene Andersen Riis’ first child was born nine months later, on April 20, 1902. His birth certificate shows his name as Hans Andersen Riis. How he came to be called Alfred is unclear. Is the birth certificate incorrect (not uncommon)? Should it really read Hans Alfred, not Hans Andersen, perhaps named in honor of his deceased cousin? That could be the answer.

      I’d be interested to learn what records you have that might settle the question.

      Thank you for the cemetery info; I will add him to my must-visit list.

      • swedie1

        October 14, 2013 at 9:26 pm

        This is so cool! Actually, Mom and Grandma always told me his full name was Hans Alfred Andersen Riis. As to the matter of incorrect birth certificates, I guess civil servants are the same all over.

        And the HC Andersen issue, I’m assuming, is not a myth. How cool!

      • RRiis

        October 14, 2013 at 11:31 pm

        What is the HC Andersen issue you refer to?

      • swedie1

        October 15, 2013 at 8:57 am

        Hans Christian. I’d been brought up believing we were related.

      • RRiis

        October 15, 2013 at 12:28 pm

        Re: HCA. Sadly, we’re not. Our Andersens didn’t even have that last name until Helene and her siblings were born, c1869-. Their father was Anders Pedersen.

      • swedie1

        October 15, 2013 at 1:19 pm

        Awww, too bad. It would be neat, since I’m a writer/editor. But at least we have Cousin Jake.

      • RRiis

        October 15, 2013 at 3:02 pm

        We have some Danish writers – you’ll see them in future posts.

      • swedie1

        October 14, 2013 at 9:34 pm

        I’ll ask Mom and Uncle Cliff if they have anything. I’m sure my grandmother’s Bible is around somewhere. Mom always had a picture of her dad; I believe he’s rowing a boat. Handsome guy, 6’4″. She still has that picture; can’t recall if it’s still on her dresser, but she has it somewhere. I’ll try to get hold of it and scan it.


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