Peterson Surname Genealogy

Scandinavian names of Petersen and Pedersen, most common today in
Denmark and Sweden and also to be found in Holland and Germany, derive
from the
Peter (or Per) from the Christian Bible. Patronyms were the norm
for these
countries during the Middle Ages. Thus the son of Per Jonsson
under this system in Sweden would be, for example, Johan Petersson.
The practice of adopting
surnames spread to Denmark and Norway from Germany in the later Middle
Ages, but it was not until 1844 that they became fixed and required.The English and Scottish surnames Paterson and Patterson come from a
different first name, Patrick instead of Peter. The Peterson name
is only really indigenous in the Shetland isles where the Scandinavian
influence has remained strong.

Resources on

Peterson Ancestry

The Scandinavian influx to
America in the 19th century brought with it Scandinavian names like
Petersen and Pedersen. These names are most common in Denmarrk
(Pedersen is the fourth most common surname there) but also occur
elsewhere in Scandinavia and in Germany and Holland:

  • 280,000 in Denmark (more Pedersen)
  • 40,000 in Norway (more Pedersen)
  • 120,000 in Sweden (more Pettersson and Petersson)
  • 40,000 in Germany (more Petersen)
  • and 5,000 in the Netherlands (more Petersen and Pietersen)

When these names came to America more often than not they became
Peterson. Peterson today accounts for 75 percent of these
in the United States.
The largest number of these immigrants came from Sweden.

Surnames in the modern sense arrived late in the Shetland isles, as
they did in Scandinavia. Thus in a Shetland tale of the 1700’s
patronyms were still in place and the lad Robert Nicolson of Fetlar was
in fact the son of Nicol Peterson.

The Rev. Peter Peterson was
born in the Shetlands in 1790 and his son John Peterson was a merchant in
Edinburgh. One of John’s sons, Peter, became an eminent Sanskrit
scholar; another, William, was also an academic and was Principal of
McGill University in Canada from 1895 to 1919.

The Scottish surname Paterson has sometimes been rendered Peterson.

America. One Peterson
line in America can claim a Mayflower descent – via Mary Soule who
married John Peterson, an early settler in Duxbury,
Massachusetts. His origins are unknown. The 1916 book The Peterson Family of Duxbury by
E.B. Browne covered his descendants.

The wave of
Scandinavian and Peterson immigration to America began in the 1850’s
and continued for the next sixty years. The majority of these
immigrants came though receiving points such as New York and Chicago
and then moved onto the new farming land that became available in the
Midwest, in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Nebraska and Idaho in particular.

They came from northern Germany, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden.
These were some of the Petersons and their stories:

from Holstein in northern

  • Casper Petersen emigrated to America in 1851, moved to Wisconsin,
    and later settled in New Holstein, Wisconsin. Some of his
    descendants moved onto California at the turn of the century.
  • Hans Petersen, a shepherd in Holstein, had arrived with his
    family in 1865 and later bought land to farm in Pierce county,
    They were in the country early enough to see antelope grazing and to
    witness many a prairie fire, although the family never suffered any
    loss through them.
  • J.H.C. Petersen came in 1872, tried to make a living farming in
    Maysville, Iowa, but then moved to Davenport where he opened up a small
    store. His sons expanded the business and by the early 1900’s the
    store was being called “the finest department store west of

from Denmark

  • Peter Petersen came to Nebraska in 1872 with his parents.
    He was for many years postmaster of Donnebrog in Howard county,
  • Hjalmar Petersen came to Askov, Minnesota in the early 1900’s and
    ran the local newspaper,the Askov
    . He joined the Farmer Labor party in his state,
    rose through its ranks, and was briefly Governor of Minnesota in
  • William Peterson came to Dewitt, Nebraska, also in the early
    1900’s. He failed at farming but succeeded as an inventor.
    His vise
    grip locking pliers
    proved a hit with farmers and he started
    a factory to manufacture them in the 1930’s.

from Norway

  • P.F. Peterson came to America in the early 1850’s and intially
    headed out to California in search of gold. He subsequently moved
    to Burt county, Nebraska where he was an early settler in
    Tekamah. His daughter Emma was said to be the first white woman
    born in that
  • Atley
    was a Wisconsin pioneer. He had arrived with
    his parents in 1854, settled in Soldiers Grove, and during his time
    there served as a state legislator and state railroad commissioner.

from Sweden

  • Peter Waldemar Peterson came to America in 1865 and settled, like
    many of his compatriots, in Crawford county in Iowa.
  • Another “little Sweden” was Oakland in Nebraska, where Henry and
    Hermanda Peterson had settled. Their son Val Peterson rose to
    become Governor of Nebraska in 1947.
  • John Peterson came to Nebraska in 1868 but then moved with his
    family onto Tarrant county, Texas to farm.
  • Another John Peterson arrived in Holt, Minnesota with his family
    in 1893. They had come with other Peterson relatives who settled
    elsewhere in Minnesota and in Canada.

There was a rags-to-riches Peterson story with Peter Peterson, who was
born in Nebraska in 1926 and left to make his fortune on Wall
Street. But he was, interestingly, born to Greek immigrant
parents. His father ran a diner in Kearney, Nebraska after having
changed his name from Georgios Petropoulos to George Peterson.

Canada. Heinrich
Peterson was a Lutheran minister who moved north from Pennsylvania in
the 1820’s to minister to the German settlers in Markham in the
Waterloo area of Ontario.

Later Peterson immigrants from Sweden tended to settle further west as
Canada began to advertise cheap homesteads in the Prairies.
August and Anna Peterson travelled north from Minnesota to take up land
in Saskatchewan in 1906. Ed Peterson moved out to Revelstoke
in British Columbia in 1911 and then settled in Salmon Arm where his
family started an apple orchard business.

Danish Petersens are very much associated with
the history of Queensland.

Peder Pedersen and his wife Maren had arrived there as assisted
migrants in 1872. They worked as field laborers before striking
it lucky with a gold mine at Edmonton near Cairns in the early 1900’s.

“Edmonton of today bears many reminders
of the Petersen presence: Petersen Road serves the southern end of the
town and runs up to Petersen Park, a street has been named after Maren,
and a Humbolt Street after the ship on which they made their journey
from Denmark.”

Meanwhile, Bjelke-Petersen is the name of a family in Australia –
stemming from Georg Peter Bjelke-Petersen, a Danish farmer and
master-builder (born plain Petersen, he had hyphenated his name some
time in the 1860’s). Carl Bjelke-Petersen, a Lutheran minister,
had come to Queensland with his family in 1913. His son Johannes
(or Joh) Bjelke-Petersen started out in Queensland as a peanut farmer
and became a very controversial politician – one who dominated
Queensland politics for years, serving as its Premier from 1968 to

Peterson Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for
further stories and accounts:

Select Peterson Names

Val Peterson became Governor
of Nebraska in 1947.
Oscar Peterson, born in Canada
of a Caribbean family,
was a well-known jazz pianist.
Joh Bjelke-Petersen was the
controversial Premier of Queensland from 1968 to 1988.
Peter Peterson was US Secretary
of Commerce under Nixon and an investment banker who co-founded the
private equity group Blackstone. He was born in Nebraska of Greek
immigrant parents.

Select Petersons

  • 10,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Yorkshire)
  • 130,000 in America (most numerous
    in Minnesota)
  • 34,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada).



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