XX: Hans and Gudrun
I first tried to trace Hans’ path to America, I went to the Ellis
Island web site and typed in the name by which I had known him and came
up empty. After multiple attempts, using every combination of names I
could think of, I came across Hans Lien, born in 1883 in Romsdal and
emigrating from Norway in 1901. Since three of his siblings had taken
the surname Lien (the others were known as either Ona or Jensen), I assumed
that this was he. It fit everything except his year of immigration which
he had stated as either 1905 or 1908 on later census records. Hans Lien
went to work for a Knutson family in Odebolt, Iowa. When he first appeared
in North Dakota he was working for a Knutson family in Nelson County.
This had to be him. About a year later, imagine my chagrin when I found
his naturalization papers and found that his date of immigration actually
had been 1905. The naturalization record listed the ship on which he
had sailed. Back on the Ellis Island site, I now found the ship’s
manifest, but still no Hans Ona, Hans Lien, or Hans Jensen. What I did
find was a Hans Andreas Jemen. He was from Ona and was the right age,
but I couldn’t imagine
how they had come up with Jemen, until I realized that the Ellis Island
official must have seen the handwritten name Jensen, and misinterpreted
the ns as an "m".
When Hans came to America about 1905, he went to
the farm of the Herman Knutson family in Central Township in Nelson County,
North Dakota. This is about halfway between the communities of Michigan and McVille.
He worked on this farm until he made enough money to send for Gudrun. His brother,
Ludwig, and Gudrun made the trip to North Dakota in 1908. Gudrun went to live
with the Kjorsvik family where she made preparations for her wedding. The Kjorsviks
were also a family from Romsdal, Kjorsvik being on the mainland about six to
eight miles north of Molde. It is my assumption that they knew both the Kjorsviks
and Knutsons in Norway, and that is why they settled with these people.
They were married in 1908 in the Lutheran Church in
the neighboring town of Lakota. After the wedding they continued to live on the
Herman Knutson farm. The census records from 1910 show Herman and Anna Knutson
and their eleven-year-old daughter, Agnes. Herman’s year of immigration
was 1878, so at this time he had been in America for thirty years. The daughter,
Agnes, is undoubtedly who my mother was named after. Sometime after Hans and
Gudrun were married, but before 1910, Gudrun’s sister, Astrid, came to
live with them. The census goes on to list Hans, Gudrun, one year old Agnes,
Ludwig, Astrid, Gunnar Onstad and Laurish Misand. The last two were hired men.
A problem developed very early on. Astrid and Gunnar
Onstad announced plans to marry. Gudrun was adamantly opposed. She wrote to her
parents in Norway for support, but the answer came back that Astrid should be
able to do as she pleased. I’m not sure just exactly what Gunnar did
to win disfavor, but to this day, his name is seldom mentioned in the family
without some sort of disclaimer. They moved to a farm in Ross, North Dakota
in the western part of the state, but after a few years they were back renting
a farm just one mile north of the Nels Elvick farm in Michigan Township. They
had three daughters, Agnes, Grace and Ruth. When Ruth was still a baby, Astrid
contracted the 1918 influenza. Because Astrid was too sick to care for the
children, Gudrun took them home with her. Within a few days, Astrid died.
The Kjorsviks had always wanted a daughter and Gunnar
apparently consented to let them adopt Ruth, the baby. Agnes and Grace continued
to live with Hans and Gudrun. There must have been some continuing friction with
Gunnar. One day when the Onas were away from home, he picked up Agnes and Grace
and took them to some of his relatives in Hillsboro, North Dakota about eighty
miles away. He left them there, and apparently didn’t participate any
further in their lives. The banker and his wife in Hillsboro (named Wilson)
were childless and they eventually adopted Grace, and then later, Agnes. Agnes
became a nurse, and married a woodworker, Joe Center, who specialized in making
small wooden chests. They lived the rest of their lives in Atlanta, Georgia
and had become estranged from the rest of the family until shortly before they
died. They had no children. Grace married Clarence (Buzz) Ericksen, who was
a relative of the Wilsons. Buzz had many occupations (boxer, musician, mortician,
and finally teacher). They had two children, Guy and Linda. They lived their
entire married life in Northern California, and lived in a community near by
to me in their final years.
Ruth was raised by the Kjorsvik family. She married
a local man, Wendy Senger, who subsequently became a grocer in East Grand Forks,
Minnesota. They had three children, twin boys Robin and Richard, and a daughter
Wynell. Ruth, tragically, died at the age of fifty of esophageal cancer.
Hans and Gudrun had four children in their first ten
years of marriage. Agnes, my mother, was born in 1909, Henry in 1910, Jennie
in 1914, and Gladys in 1918. Sometime before 1920 they moved to a farm in Melvin
Township that they rented. When Hans first came to North Dakota, it was during
the second wave of immigration into the state. By this time all homestead land
was gone, and new immigrants had to take employment as farm workers or renters.
Hans was a renter during his stay in North Dakota.
When the children were still very young Hans was able
to rent a farm just a few miles away, and close to the Melrose country school
in Melvin Township. During their early years the children would attend this
school. Agnes, the oldest, spoke only Norwegian when she entered first grade.
It was at school that she learned to speak English, and it was she who would
introduce English to the rest of the family. Hans eventually became fairly fluent
but Gudrun did not. For the rest of her life she spoke and wrote a hybrid language
that was half English and half Norwegian and she was somewhat difficult to understand
in either language. The daughters eventually spoke English without an accent.
Henry always had a brogue.
When Agnes entered high school, the family owned a car,
and she drove to school about twelve miles into the town of Michigan every
day. An excellent student, she completed high school in three years.
In spite of the promise she made to her father before
she left Norway that she wouldn’t participate in the wicked pastime of
dancing, Gudrun and Hans became well known in the area as polka dancers. This
is something she probably didn’t write home about. Dances, picnics and
church events were some of the only public entertainment they had available
to them and they apparently made the most of it. Hans was also known around
the county for a skill that he had learned as a fisherman in Norway. He knew
how to tie knots. Commercial grain elevators used hoists and pulleys to lift
loads of grain to the top of the bins where the loads were discharged. Some
sort of complicated knot was used to fasten the hoist, and when they would
break Hans was known as the man to contact.
Sometime in the early 1920s they became the renters
at the Nels Elvick farm. This is, of course, how Nelson and Agnes met. In the
late 1930s, when Nelson and Agnes were living in Grand Forks, the Ona’s
two other daughters, Jennie and Gladys, lived with them and attended and graduated
from high school in Grand Forks. Somewhere along the way Jennie had her name
legally changed to Gen.
The 1930s were a time of hardship for this family just
as it was for almost everyone else in the area. By 1939 they had had enough,
and they departed for the west coast. Henry went with them. Gladys and Gen
would be married to Grand Forks men, but they too would soon leave for the West
Coast. Gen, whose first marriage to Gilbert Thompson, would last only briefly,
would marry Everly Cox, when she joined her parents in Kirkland, Washington.
The Onas were happy and at least moderately prosperous
in Washington. Hans got stable employment as a security guard at a Kirkland shipyard,
that was to last the rest of his life. They were able within a few years to buy
a large house. They began to rent out rooms in the large house, and had a stable
income from that and from Hans' job.
After the war, in 1952, they made a trip back to their
homeland. I think it was one of the highlights of their lives. Hans was able
to see his aging mother once more, and they were able to see all of the family
they had left behind. The relatives in Norway remember the visit very well. The
Onas knew about the food shortages during the war, and they carried a large ham
with them and Gudrun prepared a large feast on Ona for the family. Han’s
fishing nets were still hanging in the boathouse where he had put them over
40 years earlier.
Their son, Henry, had also made a trip to Norway after
the war. He met his future wife, Kirsten on the train. Kirsten was working
as a telephone operator in Oslo, but she had lived on the arctic coast of Norway
with her family during the war. Her family operated a store on a small island
between Hammerfest and Tromso, which are the two most northerly cities in the
world. During the war a sea battle had taken place just offshore from their
home. They were close enough to hear the screams from sailors.
When Henry was on the ferry from Molde to Ona, he began
to ask the other passengers questions about the landscape, and the islands
they were passing. He was answered very rudely. The next day he met several of
these people on Ona at a reception they were having for him. They apologized
profusely. They thought Henry was mocking them. His accent and command of the
local dialect was so perfect they assumed he was a local.
Today Norway has become a very modern and a very wealthy
Today Norway enjoys the world’s highest living standard. Their government has resources now to study and preserve their heritage from
the past. At the time when Norway finally was able to break away from their
colonial status with Denmark, Danish culture and influences permeated the country.
There had been a profound Danish influence on the language. There has since been
a deliberate effort to reverse this. After the common monarchy with Sweden was
discarded in the early 1900s, there were movements away from the Danish influenced
language by several spelling reforms, which moved the language more toward
the spoken Norwegian language. Another, more radical reform of the language had
already taken place in the late 1800s with the introduction of Nynorsk (New Norse).
Both of these are now official languages with official status.
In the study of language reforms and language history
it has become common for Norwegians to come to America to study the language
and accents of the early immigrants, and their descendants who still speak
Norwegian. Unlike in Norway, where the language has evolved and changed considerably
over the course of this century, in America it has remained static. As a consequence
of this these immigrants who return to Norway find the language considerably
changed, except in some rural areas where local dialects have persisted. My
mother, during her trip to Norway in 1973, sometimes found it difficult to communicate.
But in Romsdal it was easier where some trace of local dialect apparently persists.
It was typical of new immigrants to America, no matter
where they came from to try to blend in with their new country as quickly as
possible. They tried to dress like Americans. They tried hard to learn the new
language, so they could talk like Americans, and they tried to act like Americans.
But they also wanted to maintain ties to their homeland. One of the ways they
did this to continue to cook and eat the same type of food as in their homeland.
With Norwegians this means things like lutefisk, lefse, rolepolse, rumgrout and
krumkake. These foods are still used more or less by their descendants several
generations later. It’s interesting that lutefisk which remains somewhat
popular here is hardly ever used in Norway. It was discarded there when refrigeration
was introduced. I recall overhearing a conversation among some relatives in Norway,
who had visited the United States. “You wouldn’t believe the things
they eat”. They were talking about lutefisk.
Hans Ona died in Minneapolis in 1955 while he and Gudrun
were visiting their daughter Gladys. Gudrun was devastated. She had been utterly
devoted to him throughout their married life. Gudrun lived on as a widow until 1973. They
are both buried in the Seattle area.