Berta Olivia Nilsson was born in Ransbysäter, Lysvik, Värmland, Sweden on 22 February 1894.1
She was the daughter of Nils Nilsson (1866-1917) and Ingeborg Johannesdotter (b. 1866), Lysvik natives who had married in 1888.
She had seven known siblings: Per Johan (b. 1888), Nils Adolf (b. 1890), Maria Karolina (b. 1891), Selma Emelia (b. 1896), Johan Helmer (b. 1899), Hanna Frideborg (b. 1902) and Hilma Sofia (b. 1904).
Berta was engaged to be married to a cousin, Edvard Larsson-Rondberg (b. 1889) 2, also a native of Lysvik and who worked as a cook. He had emigrated to the USA in 1908 and settled in Missoula, Montana but had returned to Sweden to fetch Berta. The pair boarded the Titanic at Southampton as third class passengers (Berta on ticket number 347066 which cost £7, 15s, 6d).
On the night of the sinking Berta was asleep at the time of the collision. Edvard arrived at her cabin, waking her and telling her that his own cabin in the forward quarters had filled with water. She then dressed in heavy clothing and made her way to the communal steerage areas. Being short on height but with much determination, she managed somehow to navigate her way to the upper decks.
Berta survived the sinking, escaping in the last lifeboat to be successfully launched from the ship, collapsible D. She prayed in the lifeboat in the hope that she would be saved.
Upon arrival in New York the "Women's Relief Committee" in gave her $50. On 26 April she passed St Paul, Minnesota on her way Westwards with other Scandinavian survivors Carl Olof Jansson, Oscar Hedman and Anna Sjöblom.
After the disaster Berta never dared to travel over the Atlantic ocean again. Following the loss of her fiancé she began a relationship with a fellow Swede by the name of Lars Oskar Persson (b. 27 January 1890) but it is not clear if they were married. They had one surviving child, a son named Leonard (1916-1983).
Berta's father died back in Sweden in 1917 and the following year in 1918 Lars Persson died from influenza. Berta was left as a single mother with a young child and was forced to go out to work to support herself and her son; by the time of the 1920 census she was working as a hospital tray girl in Butte, Silver Bow, Montana.
She was married on 16 December 1920 in Kalispell, Montana to Hans Aron Christensen (b. 1 May 1890), a carpenter, also Swedish and who had emigrated in 1910 from Göteborg; the couple reportedly met when Hans rescued her young son from bullies. The couple would have four children of their own: Arthur (b. 1922), Marian Bernice (1923-1988, later Mrs William James McCrum), Ruth Loraine (1925-2003, later Mrs Carl Gabriel) and Dorothy June (1926-2010, later Mrs George John Cherry).
Initially staying in Montana, Berta and her family later moved to Chicago, Illinois in the mid-1920s and remained living in that city. Family report that they did not know Berta had been on Titanic until the 1950s when she and a daughter were watching the TV movie A Night to Remember which caused Berta to break down and tell her daughter that she had survived the sinking; in years after Berta would give several interviews about her experiences.
During the 1950s Berta's husband was involved in serious car crash which resulted in him being hospitalised for several months. Following his death in 1973 Berta resided at 4205 Fullerton Avenue, Chicago and she died in hospital following a stroke on 27 December 1976 aged 82. She was buried in Mount Olive Cemetery in Chicago.
- Her death record gives her date of birth as 22 February 1893. The Swedish birth record index confirms the year as 1894.
- In later interviews Berta described Edvard as her cousin.
Contract Ticket List, White Star Line 1912 (National Archives, New York; NRAN-21-SDNYCIVCAS-55).
Claes-Göran Wetterholm (1988, 1996, 1999) Titanic. Prisma, Stockholm. ISBN 91 518 3644 0
Articles and Stories
Chicago Tribune (1976)
Chicago Tribune (1966)