The Truths I Know

My family was very lucky. My grandfather was born in Frankfurt am Main, Germany in 1922. He was his parents' third child of six; two boys, four girls. They were Jewish. For so many people he knew, that story ended badly. Twenty years or even less after his birth, friends and family members died at the hands of people who hated them, or worse, ignored them and their suffering at the hands of the Nazi party, thinking them unimportant and beneath their notice. Worse, some allowed the Nazi lies to lull them into believing nothing was wrong.

But my great-grandfather recognized the signs. He had been through something similar before. His family, who had escaped Eastern Europe for "friendlier" climes moved to London when he was still young. He lived there until the Great War broke out, when anyone in England who was "German," that is to say anyone who was from the Austrio-Hungarian empire, became an enemy. They were not only considered foreigners, regardless of how long they had lived in England, but a dangerous foreigner at that. Of course, being German, and worse, Jewish, meant that his family were not seen as possible candidates for citizenship. So he was sent to a camp, where he was sub-divided from the main group due to his religion. The Jews in the camp were kept separate from the Gentiles who felt they were beneath them, and dangerous to be near. After the war, England ejected him from the country, sending him back to Germany. He made his way to Frankfurt, where he met and married my great-grandmother. At the time, this was no great shock. Many Jews made their way to Frankfurt at the time. It was a good place to be Jewish. Many Jews came there from all over the Empire and built a great, strong (or at least what they believed was strong) community, with schools, businesses, synagogues and neighborhoods centered around their faith. They had such power in the city that they were even able to elect a Jew as the mayor of Frankfurt during this time. Unfortunately for him, his time as mayor ended with the Nazis hounding him from office, and hunting him into hiding, where he ultimately died.

So when violence against Jews began to rise in their city, my great-grandfather recognized the signs. He had no way of knowing how bad it would get, but he wasn't about to be separated from his family once again, and the anger against Jews in England was nothing to the anger he saw growing in Nazi Germany. Because of him, my family escaped. First to Paris for a year, and then to America, where the family has lived ever since, except for his youngest, who moved to Israel in her elder years. Aside from the war, we have been safe and protected because of the choice he made. I thank him for it constantly, ever since I finally understood the choice he made for his family, and in a larger sense, for all of us.

I am my family historian. I have been gathering the stories, the threads, the people, since my other grandfather's death in 1991. 28 years of looking for information on my family. 28 years of looking through lists of the dead, both hoping and dreading to find a link to my grandfather's side of my family tree, knowing that in that list were likely relations of mine; people whose names I did not know and could never meet because of other people's hatred, greed, and violence. It is only in the last ten years that I have really begun to understand more about this branch of my family. My grandfather never talked about it. For obvious reasons. Yes, they had escaped, but it had not been a pleasant time they'd lived through before that. It was not something he liked to speak of. He rarely even spoke German around the family. I think he didn't like sharing any of that with us, and probably did all he could to repress the memories. His language skills did stand him in good stead, especially after the war, when knowing French and German was in high demand for the Allies as they tried to deal with the consequences of what had happened. He worked as a translator in Europe well after the surrender, and because of it, met my grandmother, who was also there, helping with the cleanup after the war. But after they returned to America, it was a skill he rarely used.

Because of all that, and because he and my grandmother moved away from their families, we grew up with very little knowledge of our family history on his side of the family. We knew we were of German Jewish descent, and where they had lived, but little beyond that. Added to this was the fact that the experience had detached him from the beliefs he had grown up in. His sisters remained in the faith, but he had seen too much to believe religion held much value. At least, for him. So my father and his siblings grew up without religion in their family traditions. As did I. It was not even a part of my consciousness until I was an adult. I now know, thanks to a DNA kit, that I got larger than my natural share of Jewish ancestry. As I have only one Jewish grandparent, by all rights, I should have 25% or less Jewish DNA. Instead, I have discovered that a minimum of 30% of my genetic makeup is Jewish. But it is something I have never practiced or allowed to influence me in any major way. I am Jewish in heritage, but my grandfather's people would not consider me one of them, as my mother is not Jewish, nor was I raised in the religion. Aside from a passing acquaintance with some of the traditions of the faith thanks to my nanny's family when I was young, I know very little about the Jewish faith. This has left me struggling for many years now, trying to decide what my ancestry means, how I can honor it, and what I should take from it for myself.

I have struggled with my family history, from those early searches and even now after learning so much more. Finally, I know the names of both of my great-grandparents' siblings. I know that my great-grandfather's family either stayed in England (how, I still have yet to determine), or left for America rather than going back to Germany. I know that my great-grandmother's eldest brother and two of her three sisters and one of her younger brothers survived. The other brother was lost shortly after the first World War. Her sister is the only one on both sides of the family who was lost because of the Nazis. All of my family on that side made it out aside from her. It's so much less than I expected to hear, knowing they were right in the middle of Poland; right in the middle of the target area. I wish it were none. I wish she'd survived. We don't know what happened to her, only that she failed to escape with her husband and their children. And that there is no record of her after that. I have guesses, but I doubt we will ever know for certain what they did to her. It is a horrible thing, not to know, but in some ways it is a blessing. As much of a blessing as knowing she was the only one lost.

This year, I have made a challenge for myself. To look into the books and movies made about my grandfather's people. I know it will hurt. I've read and seen enough to know. I grew up with Fiddler on the Roof. And even as I worked on my genealogy, I was certain that that was not my family's story. My grandfather was born in Frankfurt, after all. They were from a city. I was wrong. The two towns his parents were born in were exactly like Annatevka. Poor, and surrounded by Gentiles easily riled against them. So much so that I have learned of a pogram against one of those towns, where my great-grandmother's family was still living at the time. And I have a reasonable amount of certainty that her father was wounded or died in that attack. And I grew up knowing Anne Frank's story, too. Of the girl who was just like me. Who wanted nothing but to be free. Who was killed by the Nazis for the crime of being born into the wrong family. I watched a few movies last year towards the end of the year, and realize how many more there are to watch. And I wondered why I was doing this, because each hurts in a whole new and unique way.

Then I started reading Night this morning, and I learned. This isn't about being comfortable. This can't be about being comfortable. This is about knowing. About understanding. About standing witness. Because those who survived are dying. There are few left now who experienced it. And they need to be remembered. Their stories need to be remembered. I thank Elie Wiesel for that. I had always admired him, and the way he spoke out and reminded people of what the Nazis had done. Then 2016 happened. There were so many blows that year. And among them was Elie's death. And then that man came to power, and Elie wasn't here to speak about it. And since that man has been in office, since he has started running even for election, I have worried. I worry more every single day. The phrase "It can't happen here" no longer holds meaning. We have to remember. We have to stand up and we have to stop this. Now. Before it becomes like then. If it hasn't already.

So for my part, I plan to read, and watch, and understand, though the words and the knowledge cut me to the quick. So that when the time comes that I am faced with someone who doesn't understand, or doesn't believe, I will have words to give them. Because I can't let my great-grandfather's choice be in vain.

Mika Karin (Hillinger) Bartroff, 1/24/2019

New Family Discovery

So I have been putting off posting about this because I had a book I am trying to get published, but now that it's been edited and sent on its way, I wanted to write this up for everyone.

When I first got Nana's mom's family tree, it only went as far back as Oline's parents, so I have been spending a great deal of time trying to piece together the generations before them. Census records, birth records, anything that would give me the information I needed. Oline's mother was one of the first I found a record for—a birth record in the place of birth I had recorded for her.

Maren Sofie Olsen was born in 1855 in Slots-Bjergby, Denmark to Ole Larsen and Birthe Marie Schrøder. As I learned about her story, I got bits and pieces as I continued to research her. It seems her father left for America, and never sent for her and her mother. I also learned that her mother had been married before and had two daughters, only marrying again after her first husband died. Which meant that he'd left all four of them behind.

Well, a few weeks ago, I discovered a new record for a child for Ole and Birthe Marie—a son by the name of Lars Christian Olsen. A son who was three years older than Maren Sofie. I researched him more, and discovered another record for him—in America. So apparently Ole hadn't completely left his family behind. Though apparently Lars hadn't come over until after his confirmation. He was fifteen when he came to the US. Eventually, I also found a marriage record for him. And then a census record with his family.

I'm going to digress here a bit to put things in context now. The reason we had the family tree for Oline's side of the family was because my grandmother and her siblings had gone looking for information about their mother's family because of her death when my grandmother was only nine. In learning the information about their family, they discovered that their mother's younger brother was still alive, and went to visit him. Their uncle Hans told them many things about his life and their early lives. One of the things he told them was that he had come and worked for his uncle Oscar on his farm in Minnesota. So I have always had Oscar listed as a brother of Ole in my family tree, with a child also named Oscar, and a daughter named Tina.

When I looked at the census record, I was shocked because I recognized the names there. Lars and his wife, but also Oscar and Tina. Apparently, Hans hadn't fully understood the connections between himself and the people he worked with when he first came to America. So now I have the family properly mapped out.

> Ole and Birthe Marie had two children: Lars Christian and Maren Sofie.
> Lars Christian married Anna Elisabeth Johnsen and they had two children: Oscar Martin and Tena Marie Bergithe.

According to family story, neither had children, so that was the end of that line.

I also learned something else as I did research. Apparently Birthe Marie died in 1858, when Maren Sofie was only three. So this is likely why Ole never sent for them—by the time he was able, Birthe was probably dead, and he probably had no way to find out where the children were. Of course, there is also a story about a vase that was sent to Maren by her father, and that after, she never heard from him again. But whatever happened, Maren made her way in the world, and had a lovely family, and I will never forget what she and her mother went through; that without them, we wouldn't be here at all.

Four Generation Photos

I've done this one before, too, but I love how many photos we have that show four generations of our family.

L-R: Else Hansen (Generation 2); Florence Hansen; Florence & Hans Jorgen's daughter (Generation 4); Hans Jorgen (Generation 3); Ivare (Generation 1).

Back: Bjarne Bordewick (Generation 2), Merle Bordewick (Generation 3), Mary  Bordewick (Generation 2)
Front: Harde Bordewick (Generation 1), mom's eldest brother (Generation 4), Lizzie Park (Generation 1)

L-R: Mary Bordewick (Generation 1), Mom (Generation 3), Me (on her lap) (Generation 4), George Bordewick (Generation 2)

Me (Generation 4), Dad (Generation 3), Holger (Generation 1), Nana (Generation 2)

L-R: Mom (Generation 3), Sis (on mom's lap) (Generation 4), Merle (Generation 2), Eliza (Generation 1), Me (Generation 4)

Sis (Generation 3), Dad (Generation 2), Niece (Generation 4), Nana (Generation 1)

L-R: Me (Generation 3), Mom (Generation 2), Niece (Generation 4), Sis (Generation 3), Merle (Generation 1), Aunt (Generation 2)

Visual Family Tree IV - The Jones & Howells family

Here is the Welsh branch of my family tree.

Daniel & Eliza's 50th with their three daughters, Marjorie, Merle, & Edwina, 1961

Nain with her three eldest grandchildren, ca 1943

Merle Jones ca 1939

Merle, Eliza, Marjorie, Edwina, ca 1930s

Eliza Jones ca 1930s

Jones kids, ca 1925
Edwina, Marjorie, Merle

Gabriel & Selina's 50th Anniversary, ca 1924

Daniel & Eliza with their eldest two daughters, Marjorie & Edwina, ca  1914

Daniel Jones, date unknown

Eliza Howells, ca 1900?

 Hannah & Benjamin Jones and their two daughters, May & Sophia, ca 1915

Howells family ca 1885
Back - Selina, Selina, Gabriel
Front - Eliza, Gwen, Hugh

Hugh & Ellen Roberts with Eliza Howells, ca 1886

And that's the lot! If you have any photos you think should be added, feel free to send them my way, or post them below. :)

Visual Family Tree III - The Bordewicks, Parks, and ancestors

Here's the Norwegian-Irish parts of my family tree.

George and Merle, late 1980s

 The remaining Park siblings at their nephew's wedding, 1967
Margie, George, Rhoda, & Mary

Mom's elder brother and sister with Bjarne, Mary, & George ca 1948

George and Merle's wedding 1939, with Harde (left) and Lizzie (right)

 George and Henry (aka Harry) Bordewick, ca 1930s

 Bjarne & Mary ca 1930s

Robert Park ca 1920s

Park siblings, ca 1921-22
George, Rhoda, Mary, Elizabeth (their mother), ?, Margie
Young George at front holding mom's hand

 Bjarne & Mary with Baby George ca 1918

 Mary, Margie, Elizabeth, Bessie, ca 1917

 Robert and Elizbeth & friend 1917 at their daughter's wedding

 Hans, Margie, Mary, & Bjarne on Mary & Bjarne's wedding day, 1917

Young Mary Park ca 1910s

The Bordewick Brothers & Cousin ca 1897:
Margit Olsen, Bjarne, Hans, & Harald

Harde Bordewich ca 1900

Henrick Bergithon Bordewick ca 1890s

Johan Petter Bordewich ca mid 1800s

The things missing here make me a little sad, but I'm still pleased we get as far back as we do, thanks to the Bordewick family photos. If you have any photos you think should be added, feel free to send them my way, or post them below. :)

Visual Family Tree II - Hansens and ancestors

Here's the second half of my family tree, the Danish branches.

Maggie and Marilyn with their Uncle Hans ca 1987

Hansens during wartime (or just postwar): Hansine, Karen, Maggie, Hans Jorgen, Florence, and Marilyn

Hansen kids with aunt Helga and her daughter Else, ca 1929

 The Hansen kids ca 1927-28: Marilyn, Maggie, & Torben

 Holger & Oline's wedding portrait

 Oline Hansen with her siblings ca early 1900s: 
Back - Oline, Herman, Maren
Front - Ole, Johanne, Hans

Holger Hansen and most of his siblings ca early 1900s:
Back - Aage, Hans Jorgen, Holger
Front - Hansine, Alfred, Adolph, Ida
(Missing - Hans Knudsen)

Jens & Else Hansen ca 1900s

 Rasmus & Maren Sofie Hansen with Hans ca 1890

Jorgen & Ivare Larsen  ca 1900s

Ivare and her sister Katrine (I believe), ca 1900s

 Hans Knudsen & Christine Jensdatter, ca 1860s

Several of these are my best guess, as I don't have any actual dates for them, just the dates I already have for the people in the photos. 

I really am glad we have as many as we do, though, thanks to our Danish family who have found or given us several of these. If you have any photos you think should be added, feel free to send them my way, or post them below. :)

Visual Family Tree I – The Hillingers and ancestors

I did this way back when I first started posting to this blog, but the pictures no longer exist where I linked to them, so time to try again.

My sister and I ca 1981 or so in Ashland, Oregon.

 The Hillinger Family at Christmas ca 1971 or so

The Hillingers skiing ca 1960 (my dad is taking the photo)

Dora and Alex with their first grandchild, ca 1948

 The Hillinger family ca 1933:
Back row - Sam, Dora, Ben, Alex, Minna
Front Row - Helena, Selma, Peppi

Feige Golda Kresch (nee Reich) ca 1929

 The Kresch sisters in 1919, Dora & Minna

Alex Seneft ca 1916-1918

 Leon (aka Lewis) Seneft, unknown period

And that is as far as I am able to go back on this side, tree or photo. If you have any photos you think should be added, feel free to send them my way, or post them below. :)

About this blog

This blog is maintained by two sisters who have had a life long interest in geneology.
Mika writes here mostly about our family (Hansen, Hillinger, Bordewick, Park, etc), and her search for more information.
Shannon mostly uses this space as a place to make the many stories written about and by her husband's family (Holly, Walker, Walpole, etc) available to the rest of the family, present and future.

Our blog is named Oh Spusch! mostly because Shannon is bad at naming things. The first post I put up includes a story about the time Walker's great grandfather took his whole family out to see a play and the littlest kept saying "Oh! Spusch!" No one ever figured out what she meant by that.