Ona Lighthouse
 Surname Origins
 Chapter XX: Hans and Gudrun

        When 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 country. 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.

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