This delightful May 2016 photo was taken at the Pioneer Historical marker on Highway #53 and features right to left

Sharing a proud Ponoka district family history with Danish cousins

This week's Reflections looks at sharing a proud history with Danish cousins.

My grandfather Holger Alfred Andersen came to Canada in 1928, leaving behind his parents, siblings and generation upon generation of farmers. He travelled from Denmark to Liverpool, England, then aboard the Monteclaire from Liverpool, England to Montreal, Canada. There were 30 of them coming together from Denmark with the help of the Danish Immigration Aid Society in Winnipeg.

After travelling by train to Alberta, he started working on land owned by Frank Dobbs near Lacombe (Ioalta, Alberta). I found a small bio in a book called “Pavement to Top Soil”. (However, not all the information in there was correct.) In a letter, he describes that the harvest is too much for one man, so he will hire a man to help him and then grandfather will in turn help him harvest.

At the age of nine, my grandmother, Margaret Ellen Jones (Jenkins) moved with her widowed mother and brothers to Canada in 1919. They came up by train, through Saskatchewan. Grandmother was born in Lebo, Kansas. They, too, were starting a new life in the welcoming Welsh community of Wood River east of Ponoka. They were coming to be with family.

Grandfather met my grandmother while he was working on her step father’s farm, in the Welsh Settlement of Wood River in the Mecca Glen district near Ponoka and they were married in August 1933. Their wedding is described in the Ponoka Herald. Grandfather also describes in his letters, the gifts they received from the Danish people and family: a dish set for six, silverware, and two pigs. I printed a copy of the announcement that I found on film at the Provincial Archives in Edmonton. “News has been received from Wood River, on the marriage of …” were the words in the Emporia Gazette from Kansas, USA. Grandfather wrote to his parents in Denmark. “Well, now I am married, so now I’m not so alone anymore…. It will be some time before I can come home to see you, as I have to buy 2 tickets.” I have her wedding dress carefully folded in the original red with a gold pattern on the box.

In May 1934, my dad (Harry Andersen) was born, and they lived and worked on the homestead farm of Thomas Jenkins. They had planned to stay there and eventually get their own land. In December of 1934 my grandfather passed away suddenly. He had gone down to the root cellar and when he didn’t return my grandmother went looking for him, he was on the floor and she ran to the closest farm to get help, but it was too late. My dad was only seven-months old and he never knew his father or his Danish family. Over the years, my grandmother raised their son and her nephew and looked after her aging mother as well as working very hard for 30 years in the P.M.H. Laundry Department.

A few years ago, on Family Day, my dad and I started to look for our living Danish family. We went through a suitcase that had my grandmother’s photo albums. In there was my grandfather’s military passport, I was able to get the name of his father, his birth date and where in Denmark he was born. With help from Danish speaking friends, I was able to find my family in the 1906 Danish census, and then found them in the 1911, 1916, 1921 and 1925 census. I was able to search online the church records and found the names, dates for the family for their births, baptisms, conformations, marriage and death dates. I then put a post on a Danish Genealogy Facebook group hoping that I might make a connection or at least find out where I should look next. In a short time, I had a reply. It was a cousin of the husband of a Danish cousin. “I’m looking with someone with the same name, but different birth date. But I know who you are looking for.”

“Hi, I’m your cousin from Canada….” I had enclosed pictures of my grandfather and other pictures that he had brought with him from Denmark. They had to check amongst themselves to confirm that had family in Canada. My grandfather’s goddaughter, who was 91 at the time, assured them it was true, they did have family in Canada. My dad didn’t realize that he is actually first generation Canadian.

We corresponded back and forth for a year or so and the next thing I new, my Danish family was coming to Canada for a visit. I couldn’t wait to show them the Ponoka area, Jenkins Hill, the Zion Church, Fort Ostell museum, and Forest Home Cemetery; to share our family pictures; to experience Kraft Dinner and a rootbeer float. I saw more pictures of my Danish family, I could hold the postcards that grandfather had written to tell his parents about his new home in Alberta, about the woman he had married. I learned about the family and the struggles they encountered. I learned how the family got through the WW I and II. They also brought with them the letters that grandmother had written to tell them of their son’s passing. Those were the hardest to read. She tells of how she wanted to be worthy of this man, and how much she missed him. She wanted to meet this Danish family someday. But sadly that did not happen. There were a few letters over the years and had lost contact.

I want to thank my cousin Ole Petersen for making the long journey here to Canada. They put a lot of faith into people that they had never met or even spoken to on the phone. They came and established a long lost connection, and just as important, a connection that will last far into the future. My dad has waited 82 years to meet his Danish family. I’m proud of my adult children who have followed in the footsteps of their grandparents, who valued hard work, personal integrity and family. We’ve been able to trace the family back to 1620 in Denmark. They were all were farmers that worked the land.

Great grandparents, Naid and Taid, were Jane Griffiths Lewis Jones Jenkins and Thomas Lewis Jenkins, and my grandparents were Margaret Ellen Jones Jenkins and Holger Alfred Andersen. The exciting process of getting in touch with our Danish family involved Membership to Ancestry ($200) and a $1500 plane ticket from Denmark, but finding family and then bringing them to Canada for a wonderful visit and to share some of our proud history was a priceless experience for all of us. I would be very interested in hearing from anybody who has any stories or photos of the Wood River Welsh or the Danish farmers from the Mecca Glen District.

 

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