In genealogy we are all consumed with names, dates, and places. With the collection of information on an individual or family we collect all the dates and places and relationships but are lucky when we learn more about someone. In this case we are lucky and have both.

      Dusine Dagmar Olga Henningson was born June 8, 1894 in Mejsling Skov, Denmark which is located on the part of Denmark attached to Germany to the south. She died in Modesto, California March 6, 1988. Her parents were Anders Henningsen born October 8, 1844 died November 26, 1898 and Juliane Nielsen born April 16, 1850 and died April 8, 1944.

      Near the turn of the century, Juliane Henningson came to Alameda, California. A few of the children had preceded her. In my source only nine children are listed, Mariane, Niels, Karen, Marie, Jens, Hansine, Henning, Anders, and Dagmar. Dagmar married John Jessie Nielsen born August 24, 1890 in Alameda, California and died June 15, 1931 in San Francisco, California. To this marriage were born three children: John Christian, Richard Eugene and, Robert Raymond Nielsen. After the death of John in 1931, she married Arthur B. Downing born 1892 and died 1974. Dagmar, affectionately nicknamed, “Zeke” gave us a beautiful narrative addressed to her children. As you read her story picture in your mind just who was “Zeke”?



Story of my Life
by Dusine Dagmar Olga Henningsen
April 7, 1966

Dear Children:

      I will tell you a little about my life. I was born in Denmark in 1894 June 5, in Yerlev. It is near Kolding. My fathers name was Anders Henningsen and my mothers name is Juliane Nielsen. We lived on a little farm. My father died when I was about 3 ½ years old, so I do not remember him very well, but I know he had been a hard working man.

      My parents lived long enough to celebrate their silver wedding. They were married twenty eight years before he passed away. I was the youngest of twelve children. My name if Dusine Dagmar Olga Henningsen.

      After my father died Mama sold the little farm and took four of us children to America. One sister who was married stayed in Denmark. Her name is Magdalene. She was such a good person. She later came to America and died there of T.B. My two sisters Margaret and Nora and my brother Niels were already over here. So, there was Hansine, Jens, Henning and I came over with my mother. That was in 1901 we came over.

      We lived in Oakland, and then called Piedmont, for six years, and Mama ran a boardinghouse. She had my own three brothers and three other men. These were the days when they got room and board, washing and ironing for five dollars per week. Poor Mama she always worked so hard and was so good to us all. I was so fond of my brother Henning. We were so close. He was like a father to me. He later became a Methodist minister. He was a wonderful person. He died so young of T.B.

      Oh, yes those were no doubt the happiest times of my life. I went to Piedmont school and just loved it there. We were living there when the great earth quake struck in 1906. It was just terrible – so much damage both in San Francisco and in Oakland. The fire destroyed every thing after the quake. My brother Henning and by brother-in-law Archie Beaman were on the refugee committee, taking food and clothing to San Francisco. Those were the days of the ferry boats, only those who had official business were allowed over there because of so much looting. Some of our friends from over there lost every thing they owned. Some came over to our house and even slept in the hall and all over. Henning took Theresa and me over once to see all the destruction. It was just awful – the ruins were still smoking. There was not a building standing for as far as one could see, well they did save the Ferry Building.

      Well, any way after we were here six years some of my brothers got married – so Mama decided to go back to Denmark and of course, I went too. I must have been about twelve years old then. I was not happy in Denmark – every thing was so different. When I was about fifteen years old I came back to America alone. I thought it would be like when mother was here but believe it was so very different. My favorite sister Nora was living on a farm in Sebastopol and having such a struggle to get along.

      I know what it is to wander on the street with my suit case in one hand and the ads from the news paper in the other hand. I never had been away from my mother – oh, the heart aches and the home sickness, loneliness and the utter sense of insecurity. I think the mark of it will stay with me until I die. Sure found out what it is like to be alone and on my own.

      I tried to work one place for my room and board and go to school, but did not have any clothes or any thing. At recess I used to go to the rest room and stay until class begun again just so the children would not make fun of me. Well, it just did not work out. I worked at different jobs. I did house work and for a little while worked in a grocery store; I worked where they made electric light bulbs for awhile but my hands got so burned I had to quit. I also did not have my old mother to help as she was having a hard time in Denmark. I always sent her what money I could.

      Then I started to train for a nurse and how I wished later that I had finished my training. I was now about 18 years of age. Then I met your father, Daddy Jack in 1913 and we decided to get married. I was 19 years old and he was 24.

      November 1, 1913 we got married and were very happy. He was so tender hearted and good. Daddy Jack worked as a house painter. I worked in a grocery store for nearly five years before little Jack was born. He was born Sept. 21st 1918 on a Saturday and we were so proud and happy with our baby boy.

      In the meantime Jack’s folks had bought a 60 acres of farm land in Modesto and it was just too much for them. They insisted we come to Modesto to help them. I did not want to go and cried many bitter tears over it….We sold our house and moved to Modesto. That was surely the biggest mistake of our lives. We supposedly had a contract drawn up and we sunk every penny into that farm. But, Jack’s father and mother did not leave the farm. They built a house right next to ours and stayed on the farm. We nearly worked ourselves to death….it was a beautiful farm and we all liked it, especially Daddy Jack, he loved the out of doors….then on June the 28th1923 on a Thursday little Dick was born….Then on 17th of June 1924 Bob was born….Daddy Jack died at the U.C. Hospital in San Francisco on the 15th June 1931 with cancer of the brain. He suffered so terribly….he was 41 years of age just in the prime of life. I wished it could have been me. We were just lost. Remember how we used to stand and put our arms around each other and just cry and cry.

      There was little insurance; some had lapsed while I was in the city with Daddy Jack. So, by the time I paid the hospital bills we were just about broke. Then Jack’s folks told us we had to get off the farm after 18 years of hard work. I thought we had a contract, but it did not mean a thing. It was all drawn up in their favor. The lawyer said “I did not think any parent could be so low as to draw up such a contract for his child”. At that time Jack was 12, Bob 6 and Dick 7….I worked at the college kitchen for awhile and then I began taking care of children….On the 28th of June 1937 I married Arthur B. Downing….Arthur and I have now been married almost thirty one years in June 1966. I am seventy one years old and Arthur is seventy three. He was born in Missouri Sept. 11, 1892. And now you are all married and have wonderful wives and I am so happy for you all….Well, my tale has been told, hope you can make it out. The years have so swiftly gone by. Thank you all dear children for all your love and kindness always. Blessings on you all until we meet again.


Much love from Mom, Zeke
your mother Dagmar Downing.

Written April 7, 1966.
Source: http://www.bessmanns.dk/showmedia.php?mediaID=141&medialinkID=73