The Gift of Oline: A story of lost and found

By Mika Bartroff

Note: Most of this was written for a paper for my Women's History class in 2001, and so there may be flaws or changes since this was written.
Note 2: This piece has been edited from the original to provide privacy to my family. If you are family and would like a copy of the paper, please contact me, and I can snail or email you a copy of the original.

Link to a map of the locations related in this entry: Google map

Most of my family tree was well mapped out well before I was born. My parents knew about their grandparents, and in many cases, about their great-grandparents, except for one very particular instance, and that was my father’s mother’s mother, Oline Hansen. My grandmother lost her mother at a very young age, and her father did not know his wife’s family, so he lost the few connections he had to them that after her death. However, my grandmother never truly forgot her mother, and when the chance came to reconnect to her family, she and her siblings did so. My grandmother also sees a connection to her mother in her youngest daughter, who shares a specific talent with her grandmother, though they were separated by more than thirty years in time, from death to birth.

My grandmother’s story begins with the birth of her mother.

My great-grandmother, Julie Oline Hansen, was born in Fjenneslev, Denmark, on December 26, 1886 (Hansen). Fjenneslev is located halfway between the cities of Soro and Ringsted to the South-West of Copenhagen on the island of Sjælland. She went by her middle name, Oline, which is pronounced Oh-leen-ah. She was the third child of six children born to Rasmus and Sofie Hansen. Her father was probably a farmer, as this was the main form of industry in Denmark at the time.

Oline with her brothers and sisters -
Back row: Oline, Herman, Maren Hansine
Front row: Ole, Johanne Kirsten, Hans Kristian

Our family knows very little about Oline’s early life—only that she, at a rather young age, decided to come to America with her brother Hans. It is thought that they traveled to America with an uncle’s family. Like many European immigrants, Danes came to America dreaming of a better life. We don’t know exactly why Oline and Hans decided to come to America, but as they were from such a large family, it was probably the only way for them to make a better place for themselves in the world. Denmark was becoming quite overpopulated, and so the best chance for a good life was to immigrate. Once in America, we believe that she settled somewhere in the Midwest; either in Iowa, Nebraska or South Dakota, as these are areas that Danish immigrants settled. We are not too certain of what Oline did in America for work, but my grandmother recalls her uncle Hans mentioning something about her being a housemaid for a family in Chicago. We also have evidence that she was a seamstress. Her marriage certificate lists her as a seamstress, and my grandmother recalls that she loved to sew.

We do know that sometime in the 19-teens, Oline went back to visit her family in Denmark. There may have been a death or an illness in the family, but whatever her reason, it was very likely the last time she would see any of them. I believe that it was on her return trip to the United States on the Oscar II in 1914 (We know that this is the boat that Holger immigrated on, and the date that he immigrated. We believe that they met on the boat. I have not been able to confirm this on the Ellis Island website, but it is what their son found when he researched it.) , that she met the man who would become her husband, Holger Scov Hansen. He was coming to America for the first time, and the two met and fell in love. In America, the two continued their courtship, and on the 14th of September in 1918, they were married in Cleveland, Ohio.

Holger and Oline

Holger was a bricklayer and a mason contractor, and so he built them a house, and was able to provide a decent living building and selling houses. The couple was part of a large community of Danish immigrants who visited back and forth and celebrated holidays and other events together. They spent a lot of time with friends going on outings or picnics. In the words of their daughter: “I don’t remember any friction [between my parents]. The Depression came after she died…and that could have created some friction in any family…it…did for my father, that’s for sure”. However, while Oline was alive, she and Holger had a good life.

Maggie with her parents

Into this happy home, on August 23, 1919, my grandmother, Margaret Hansen, also known as Maggie, was born. She was the first of three children. Her sister Marilyn Hansen was born on February 10, 1923, and their baby brother Torben Scov Hansen was born in 1925. Oline was a good mother, and often took her children with her as she drove around Cleveland doing errands. This is something that my grandmother likes to remember—the fact that her mother was so independent as to drive a car at a time when cars were still very new, and most women did not drive.

About a year after Maggie’s birth, on the 24th of September, 1920, Holger became a naturalized US citizen. We have been unable to determine, unfortunately, whether or not Oline was ever naturalized, though she probably would have become a citizen by virtue of Holger’s naturalization.

Maggie remembers her mother as a pleasant and happy person. She often made use of her talent for sewing to make new outfits for to her children wear. She was also a good cook. Unfortunately, as Maggie was her eldest, Oline unable to spend much time with her, as she had two younger children to deal with.

In the late winter or early spring of 1929, Oline caught something that quickly progressed into pneumonia. She had always been prone to illness, often catching colds or having the flu. Though the doctor was called, there was little in those days that he could do to halt the progress of the pneumonia, as penicillin had yet to be discovered. Within three days of the doctor’s first appearance, Oline died. It was March 26, 1929. My grandmother was nine.

Holger was devastated. Though he was not alone with his children—Maggie recalls an aunt coming from New York to help him out—he did not want to stay any longer in the house where his wife had died. He and his brother, Alfred, made plans to move Holger and the children into Alfred’s house, which had also been built by Holger. Alfred’s wife, Helga, was not pleased. At the time, she and Alfred had only one child, Elsie, who was only about a year old, having been born in 1928. And now, suddenly, Helga had three more children to take care of. Unfortunately for her, she had no say in the matter, and so Holger and his family moved in.

Maggie and her family stayed with her uncle’s family for about a year while Holger built another house, near his brother’s home. Once he was finished, they moved in, and Hoger hired someone to care for his children and clean the house, by the name of Rose. Not too long after, Holger and Rose were married, and Maggie gained two new sisters, one older, and one younger.

By this time, the depression began to have an effect on Holger’s business, and he could no longer sell the houses he was making. The family began to move from house to house. Maggie recalls: “I’m sure that [the fact that he could no longer sell houses] made a great deal of difference, in the family arrangements, because…he was not able to get work, even as an ordinary bricklayer.” So he and Rose did what they could to find work so that they could support their children, but it was no longer a peaceful life.

Maggie did not get along with her father’s new wife. Rose was very different from her mother, and often argued with Holger. As Holger was a very passive person, this meant that the arguments were never truly solved, but probably pushed into the background, until Rose would bring them up again. Maggie recalls that “She frequently would hold it against him that she came into the family and took care of his children.” This is something that has always upset my grandmother. Rose did not hesitate in showing favoritism to her younger daughter and Maggie’s younger brother, the blonde, blue-eyed Torben. Because Maggie was the oldest of Holger’s children, she felt a need to stick up for herself, and so she and Rose never got along well.

When the opportunity for boarding school came along, Maggie jumped at the chance. Andrews School was and still is located in Willoughby, Ohio, a community near Cleveland, but far enough away that Maggie would have to board there. This meant that she could get away from her stepmother, and didn’t have to deal with moving around as much. The school itself was founded on the principal that girls should be able to be self-sufficient, and trained them to be so.

Maggie had been baptized in the Lutheran faith, but after her mother died, her father stopped going to church. Once she got to Andrews, she began to go to church once more. All the girls were required to find a church service to attend, but as it was a non-sectarian school, they could attend any service they wished. So, Maggie set out to find a church where she could sit in the back and mostly ignore the service. She ended up at the Methodist church, which was the biggest church in town. Her school also had chapel twice a week before breakfast, and the school was run by Methodists, so the chapel was in the Methodist tradition. So, by the end of her stay at Andrews, she knew all of the Methodist hymns and bible readings by heart. After leaving school, she never again attended church regularly.

Andrews school at the time had a policy that the girls had to hold down a job for six months before they received their diploma. Maggie was quite lucky, as one of the board members, a Mr. Shankland, set out to find jobs to give the girls. At that time, in 1936, the job situation was beginning to look better, and so he was able to find some jobs for some of the girls. Maggie got a job that Mr Shankland found for her at an insurance agency. She worked as a clerk there until the war.

Maggie in uniform

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Maggie enlisted as soon as she could, early in 1942, when they opened the ranks for women enlistments. She was sent in July of that year to basic training, in Fort Des Moines, Iowa. She had some basic training and then some clerical training, then she was sent to Florida for a couple of months, then was sent back to Iowa for Officer Candidate School. Once she was finished with OCS, she was sent to Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, where she worked as a training officer for the women’s training center there. After that, she sent to Hot Springs, Arkansas, where she was put in charge of technicians and clerks at the Army hospital there. She was there for thee and a half years. By that time, the war was over, and she had to decide what to do next.

Marilyn and Maggie

In Maggie’s words, “The war was over, and I didn’t know what to do. I hadn’t found a mate. I had no plans for the future, and there was no way I was going back to Cleveland, because I’d found that there [were] lots of nicer places than Cleveland.” Then she got a letter from her sister Marilyn. Marilyn had also entered the Army during the war, and had just applied to go to Germany with the US Army of occupation. Maggie decided that was just what she wanted to do, so she applied, and in 1946 found herself on the same boat as her sister, headed to Europe. Maggie was assigned Wiesbaden, and Marilyn to Berlin.

One of the things happening in Europe after the war were special trips set up by the Red Cross, American Express, and other groups for the military personnel who were helping out, so that they could take a break. Military personnel were not allowed to explore on their own, so this was the only way to see other parts of Europe at the time. Maggie, six months after arriving in Germany decided to go on one of these trips, a trip to Switzerland, and met my grandfather, Sam Hillinger, a German Jewish émigré to America who had enlisted during the war, then volunteered to help out in Germany afterwards. Maggie had gone on the trip by herself, while Sam had gone on the trip with a group of friends, who spent most of their time drinking. Sam was embarrassed by his friends’ drinking, so he ended up spending most of his time with the lovely WAC officer.

Sam and Maggie's wedding photo

The two had a fabulous time in Switzerland, which had survived the war unscathed because it had stayed a neutral country during the war. The two took skiing lessons together, which led to a life-long love of skiing. They also spent time together enjoying the pastry and the scenery. They returned to Germany and continued to date, and on the 12th of June, 1948, were wed, first in a civil ceremony at the mayor’s office in Frankfurt, then returned to base and were married by a chaplain they knew. Maggie’s sister was her bridesmaid, and one of Sam’s friends, Bruno Richter, was his best man. The couple stayed in Germany for more than a year before returning to the US.

Maggie had never had a middle name, and had always envied her brother the fact that he was the only one of their parent’s children who had one. She had gone through the war, having to fill out forms “Margaret NMI Hansen,” because all forms had to have something in the Middle name section, and NMI stood for “No Middle Initial.”. When she married Sam, she suddenly realized that she could use her Maiden name as her middle name now, so she became Margaret Hansen Hillinger.

Their first child...was the Frankfurt US Army Hospital. Maggie had never really wanted to have children, so when she found herself pregnant, she immediately sent a message to a friend from Hot Springs who had medical training, and said, “Help! I can’t find any help here. Nobody will tell me anything about having…a baby. What happens to me? How do I…do this?” At the time, there were very few other couples in the area, and so she felt isolated and scared. Her friend sent her back a book that became not only her guide as a mother, but most other families since then as well: Dr. Spock’s Book on Baby and Child Care. This became her main resource for questions while raising all of her children.

Maggie and son with sister Marilyn, Dora, and one of Sam's sisters

About nine months after [their son's] birth, the Hillinger family moved back to the United States. They moved to Columbus, Ohio, where Sam attended Ohio State University. After Sam graduated, they had a choice to make: where did they want to live? Neither of them wanted to live on the East coast, and so they ended up making the choice to move to the Pacific Northwest. They had met people in the service who had praised the Northwest, and made the area sound like heaven. Also, both still looked back fondly on their time in Switzerland, and the fact that there were Ski Areas near Seattle made it very attractive. So they moved to Seattle, and never looked back.

At the time, Maggie was pregnant with their second child, who was due quite soon, and they drove across country... They arrived, and shortly after, [their second son] was born.

Life continued apace, and time passed. Two more children were born. ... Maggie’s life was now filled with concerns about her children. She was alone in a city with only her husband for support, and he had his job to worry about, so she began to look around for friends. The family then lived in a house on Queen Anne hill, and [her eldest] was attending Kindergarten at the nearby elementary. Maggie began to get involved with the PTA. She soon met women who also had children attending the same school. The women began to meet, and some of them eventually formed a group to raise funds for the Ryther Child Center, having bazaars and garage sales, and eventually, they set up a store in Ballard called the R Shoppe. Maggie says she was especially attracted to the group because she had no friends or family in the area, and the same was also true of all the other women in the group.

The family moved once more, in 1958, this time to Crown Hill, just North of Ballard. They moved to a much larger house, necessary with so many kids, and were able to give the kids more space.

Motherhood did not stop Maggie from being quite active in the community. Aside from her work with the Ryther Child Center, she was also a member of the League of Women Voters, and kept very active in the PTA while her children were in school. The same year [her elder daughter] was due to start Kindergarten, the Seattle School District decided to discontinue having kindergarten. Maggie and many of the other parents organized against this move and were allowed to hire their own kindergarten teacher, though she had to be okayed by the School District, and set up a space for the kids at the nearby school. Luckily, one of the students had an aunt who was eligible to teach, and so the kids had kindergarten that year.

By the time [her youngest, C] came along, Maggie was a pro at handling kids, and both mother and daughter agree that they got along well while she was growing up. C missed the cut off date for going to school the year she turned five, because her birth date was in December, so she and Maggie got to spend another year together.

The Hillinger Siblings in the 50s

C got along well with her siblings, having no more than the usual sibling fights. She was quite close to her sister, they shared the attic living space in their home. She recalls having to walk through [her sister's] room to get to her own. This could cause problems, as C’s mess sometimes leaked over the line between their rooms. She remembers that “[She] was always tossing anything of mine that went over the ‘line’ back into my room.”

In the mid-sixties, Sam decided to become his own boss, and began to set up his own CPA business out of their home. As he began to work for himself, Maggie also had more free time. All the kids were now in school, so she began to help Sam out, sorting papers, delivering and picking things up, and typing for him. After a few years, the business was big enough for him to need to move it to a larger space, so he moved to a small building in Ballard, moving once or twice before finally settling in a building he had remodeled for his business purposes. As time passed, Maggie began to spend more time helping him at the office, and eventually began to work for him full time as his secretary.

By this time, C and [her sister] were both in high school, and [her brothers] were moving on to college. There was a real possibility that [they] might be drafted to serve in Vietnam. Maggie and Sam, recalling their experiences in World War II, were not too concerned about their sons, but would have been supportive of anything that either of them had done. C, however, was more concerned that something could happen to her older brothers. Even more, she was worried that the whole world would become communist.

E entered the University of Washington, which allowed him to obtain a student deferment, then married and was soon a father. By the time the lottery had come about, [he] had drawn a number so high that he just never got called. H, about three years younger, was young enough to mostly avoid the draft, and once he was old enough to be part of the lottery, he also never got called.

By this time both [girls] were in high school, and C was soon left alone when [her sister] went off to college in Olympia attending Evergreen State. In 1973, C took a job at McDonalds to fill her time and earn some extra money, then moved on to Pacific Fabrics because she could earn a bit more there. This was more in line with her interests, as she had already been sewing for several years at the time.

C started sewing when she was fairly young. Maggie says that after C began to sew, her talent just took off from there. C says that she recalls her mother speaking about how her mother had sewn clothing for her own children, and says “There is a photo of [Maggie] as a toddler in a darling dress. I have always admired the…dress. [Maggie] told me her mother made it, and I have always marveled at the detail of workmanship on that dress.” She says that she believes that her grandmother’s talent may have subliminally affected her, and that she recalls how when people would complement Maggie about C’s sewing abilities, that she would say that C must take after her grandmother. C started with simple things, finishing a piece of embroidery that someone had left laying around, then moving on to troll doll and Barbie doll clothes. As a teenager, she made enough clothes to sell at a small mom and pop store in Ballard.

Once out of high school, C decided to get an art degree at the University of Washington. She studied art and textile design, never thinking that it would be of any use, as she was working for Fredrick & Nelson’s as a student employee.

By this time, Maggie was working full time. Both of her sons were now married—E in 1969, and H in 1973. E and his wife...had had their first child, me...and so Maggie had made a choice. She did not want to be Grandma Hillinger. Instead, she would become Nana. She figured that it would be much easier on her grandkids to just call her Nana instead of trying to say “grandma Hillinger.” However, she was not the only one to use a different name. Sam, a rather stern and introverted man, also took on a new name. Maggie says that when I tried to say “grandpa,” it came out “grumpy” and the name stuck, so Maggie and Sam became Nana and Grumpy. I was the first grandchild, but I was eventually followed by my sister...

For many years, my sister and I were the only grandkids, but eventually, H and his wife...had their first son... Shortly after [his] birth, they moved to Alaska for Howard’s job, and their second son...was born up there...

By the mid-eighties, Sam and Maggie were getting on in years, and so Sam decided that it was time to retire. Now they had more time to go on trips. They went on many different trips, including several to Europe, and a very special trip to Denmark that almost didn’t happen.
In the early eighties, E began to write up the family trees for all branches of his and his wife’s families. Unfortunately, after Oline’s death, Maggie’s father had lost all touch with the only person from Oline’s family that they saw regularly: Hans. Because of this, Maggie, Marilyn and Torben never knew any of their mother’s family, and had no idea where she had even come from. On her own, Marilyn began to research about their mother with the few details that she had. Through her discoveries of Holger and Oline’s wedding license, Oline’s death certificate, and other documents, she was able to discover that their mother had been born in Denmark. She wrote to an official in Ringsted, and asked him if he could find her any further information. He, in return, sent her a letter telling her that not only did she have cousins alive and well in Denmark, but that her Uncle Hans Kristian Hansen, her mother’s brother was still alive and living in Omaha, Nebraska.

The Hansen Sibs with their spouses in the 80s
Back: Luther, Eileen, Sam
Front: Marilyn, Torben, Maggie

Maggie, Marilyn and Torben went to visit their uncle, after an absence of about sixty years. They were thrilled to meet him again, and went to visit him before his death just before he turned one hundred. They spent several hours with him, talking to him about his early life. Marilyn was also planning a trip to Denmark at the time, so that she could visit some of their father’s family there, so she also contacted one of the cousins from her mother’s side, and made arrangements with them so that she could come visit. Though she did not speak Danish, she traveled there with a cousin who did, so they managed to get along quite well when they visited.

Maggie too, tried to visit their new-found cousins. She and Sam were traveling in Europe, and made arrangements to meet one of her cousins before they returned to America. Unfortunately, while they were in the Alps, their last stop before going to Denmark, there was an avalanche. They were unable to leave the area because no transportation was able to leave the area. Maggie and Sam arrived in Copenhagen late, but still in time to make connections with her cousin at the airport. Maggie did not speak any Danish, and her cousin did not speak any English, but because Sam had been born in Germany, they managed to make due with his German, not too dissimilar from Danish. It was the only time she was able to visit with them.

In the late 1980’s, C was working full-time for the Bon as a buyer for one of their clothing departments. Through a blind date, she met a man named G Lavinthal. The two began to date, and [in] 1989, they were married.

Late in 1989, C discovered she was pregnant—with twins. This was not entirely surprising as Sam had been a fraternal twin, but it was the first time twins had been born to the family, so it was a big event. Everyone, including the parents-to-be, was excited. [The twins were born in May of 1990.]

Hillinger Cousins L-R

For the first time, Maggie was able to bond with a daughter who had just given birth. She spent about a couple of weeks with C, G and the new babies, helping change diapers, and just enjoying bonding with her daughter and the new babies. Though she had previous grandchildren, this was the first time she had been able to participate more in the first days after their birth, as she had left that role to her daughter-in-law’s mothers. Now it was her turn, and she enjoyed it to their fullest extent. After the first weeks, she continued to visit often, though as time went on, the time between her visits grew longer, as C and G grew more confident as parents.

When C had left the Bon on maternity leave, there was an assumption that she would return in time. However, her time as a parent made her quite unwilling to return to that life, and eventually, she began to start her own business. Drawing on her sewing experience, and most likely smiled down upon by her grandmother, she began making children’s clothing and selling them at street fairs. Slowly her business began to grow, and nowadays, her clothing is sold in many specialty children’s clothing stores around the country. Her husband, G, helps out, as did their kids—as models, then later at fairs.

C and G decided to raise their children in the Jewish traditions, as both C’s father and G’s family were Jewish. C had grown up without religion, and felt the lack, so she wanted to provide her children a religious background. She also felt that Judaism was the best religion for them to be raised in, since it was such a big part of their family history. The two attend classes to learn Hebrew, and the family celebrates both Christmas and Hanukah. Starting out was a bit difficult their first year, though, as they were behind the rest of the kids their age.

As someone who knew very little about Judaism, C was rather shocked to learn about how sexist the religion is. One of [the chidrens'] Hebrew teachers told her that [her daughter] did not need a Hebrew name as she was a girl, and her Bat Mitzvah was not important, but [her son's] was. Another teacher said that [she] did not need to work as hard on her studies for the same reasons. Despite this, C worked hard to make sure that her kids did well on their schoolwork, and [in] 2003, they shared their B’nai Mitzvah.

My grandmother Maggie lost her husband Sam November 25, 2000. They had just celebrated their fiftieth anniversary two years before. Sam had never really stopped being active, though time was beginning to slow him down. Maggie lived in their big home on Crown Hill for a few years after, though she has now moved into a place closer to her daughter B, who helps her out a great deal along with her partner, B. After Sam’s death, C had her Rabbi speak of him in temple, and though none of us outside of C’s family are particularly religious, we all attended. On August 9, 2001, the family gathered one last time to say goodbye to Sam on the slopes of one of his favorite ski areas, Steven’s Pass. We scattered his ashes by a stream, and left flowers and seeds to mark the spot. We all miss him very much.

Now that Maggie has been able to re-connect with her mother’s family, and been able to fully connect with her daughter and her daughter’s daughter, the circle has closed. C continues sewing, a talent that Oline passed down to her, making a successful business out of something that connects her to the past.

“The Andrews School.” June 2000.

Direktor. Letter to the Direktor of Ringsted, Denmark. 24 February 1987.

Hansen Family Tree. 1 May 2001.

Hansen, Mrs. Poul. Letter from Marilyn Weare. 21 March 1987.

Hillinger, Ellis D. Phone interview. 19 May 2001.

Hillinger, Margaret H. Personal interview. 28 April 2001.

Lavinthal, Carol J. Email questionnaire. 13 May 2001.

Nielsen, George R. The Danish Americans. River Forest:Twayne, 1981.

Weare, Marilyn Hansen. Letter from the Direktor of Ringsted, Denmark. 11 March 1987.

----. Letter from Ingrid Hansen. 31 March 1987.


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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.