In the early 1950s Carl Barks was in his second decade of creating comic book stories starring Donald Duck and his various relatives. He had personally created several of the latter. Scrooge McDuck and Gladstone Gander being the most notable among them. But the exact relation between them was still somewhat uncertain. Carl decided to create a personal version of their Family tree. To better define their relations he added several previously unknown relatives. Among them was Hortense McDuck.
Hortense was introduced as a relatively well-connected member of her family. A daughter-in-law to Grandma Duck, a sister to Matilda McDuck and Scrooge McDuck, wife to Quackmore Duck, sister-in-law of Goosetave Gander and Daphne Duck, aunt to Gladstone Gander, mother to Thelma Duck and Donald Duck and finally grandmother to Huey, Dewey and Louie Duck. It should perhaps be noted that Carl had forgotten that Al Taliaferro had already given the name of Donald's sister as Della Duck. To avoid confusion her full name was later given as Della Thelma Duck. Carl never intended to publish this family tree as he had created it for personal use.
In 1981 Carl was well into his retirement but his stories remained popular and had gained him unexpected fame. He had given several interviews and answered questions about his personal views on the characters and their stories. Among other subjects, Carl described his early version of the family tree. Rough sketches of the tree were published in a number of fanzines. Fans of the characters were pleased for the background it added to them. At this point Mark Worden decided to create a drawing of this family tree including portraits of the characters mentioned. Among them was a portrait of Hortense. Otherwise Mark made few changes to the tree, most notably adding Daisy Duck as Donald's main love interest. His illustrated version of the tree was published at first in several fanzines and later in the Carl Barks Library. The later was a ten-volume collection of his works in hardcover black-and-white edition. Many readers were first introduced to Hortense through this edition.
In 1987 Don Rosa, a long-time fan of Carl Barks and personal friend of Mark Worden, started creating his own stories featuring Scrooge McDuck and his various associates. His stories contained numerous references to older stories by Carl as well as several original ideas. After several years he gained a fanbase of his own. In the early 1990s Egmont, the publishing house employing Don, offered him an ambitious assignment. He was to create the definitive version of Scrooge's biography and a family tree accompanying it. This was supposed to end decades of contradictions between stories which caused confusion to readers. The project was to become The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck. The family tree accompanying it was first published in Norway on July 3, 1993. Hortense was redesigned and several further relations were added to her.
In the process of working on Scrooge's biography, Don studied Barks' old stories mentioning his past. Then he added several ideas of his own. Among them were biographical information for Scrooge's supporting cast. In a way Scrooge's biography was also their own biography. Hortense first became a significant character instead of a name on a family tree.
Hortense was born on 1876 in Glasgow, Scotland as the youngest child of Fergus McDuck and Downy O'Drake. She had an older half-brother named Rumpus McFowl, an older brother named Scrooge McDuck and an older sister named Matilda McDuck. She would later have a younger half-brother named Gideon McDuck. Jake McDuck, her paternal uncle was also living with them.
Hortense was born in a working class family living in relative poverty. In 1877 her ten-year-old brother Scrooge started working as a shoe polisher in an effort to help support his family. At the time Hortense was merely an infant sucking on her thumb. She observed from a distance with her father and sister while her brother earned his Number One Dime. Scrooge continued working for the next couple years. In his leisure time he would spend some time with his younger sisters. He occasionally repaired their dolls. Otherwise Hortense spent most of her time clinging to her older sister.
By 1880, Scrooge had come to realise that his earnings were not enough despite his hard work and efforts. He took the decision of emigrating to the USA in hopes of earning his own fortune. He was hired as a cabinboy in a merchant ship heading to New Orleans, Louisiana. His family was there to see him depart. Scrooge noted that Hortense's "Goodbye, Scrooge" were her first spoken words. Though sad to see her brother leave, Hortense was obviously enjoying the rest of the family's attention.
From an early age it was obvious Hortense had a fairly nasty temper combined with considerable strength. Her brother continued to maintain correspondence with his parents and was also informed about this. In 1882, Scrooge was hired as a cowboy by Murdo MacKenzie. To do this he had to ride Widow Maker, a female horse which had already managed to dispose of five other cowboys. Scrooge soon managed to become its rider although he never really managed to tame it. He renamed it Hortense after his spirited six-year-old sister. The latter found this idea unflattering at best.
In 1885 The Clan McDuck's hereditary lands were in danger of being seized due to her father being unable to pay taxes for them. The lands also included Dismal Downs, the Clan's Castle which had been abandoned since 1675. The Whiskervilles, traditional enemies of the McDucks since the 15th century planned to gain ownership of the lands and were already trying to plunder the castle and its graveyard in search of old relics and treasure. Fergus and Jake started guarding the Castle in order to stop them. Nine-year-old Hortense offered to help them and prooved more effective in conflict than either of the elder McDucks. The Whiskervilles began to fear her.
In 1902 Scrooge McDuck returned to Scotland to fetch Hortense and their sister Matilda McDuck. When Scrooge established Duckburg, Calisota, United States as his homebase he started journeying the world trying to expand his financial empire. From 1902 till 1930 his sisters ran his empire from his homebase while he was away. During these years she met her boyfriend Quackmore Duck whom she married on 1920. Later the same year she gave birth to twins. Her son was named Donald Duck and her daughter Della Thelma Duck. Of the two only the boy inherited his mother's temper. A fight with Scrooge in 1930 ended all relationships between him and his family and she retired. She was presumably deceased by 1948 because in this year Scrooge claimed he was the last McDuck.