At the Niebuhr gathering in Abbotsford in the summer of 2006, visiting at lunchtime with cousins and second cousins, a vast interest in a shared great-aunt was discovered. That great-aunt was Mary (Maria) Thiessen Falk Tuesher Anderson, 1890 - 1966, was a descendant of the Aron line through her mother Elizabeth Niebuhr. I have this image in my mind, the memory of our younger generation at that lunch table. With their jaws dropping and their eyes popping out of their heads they listened to my generation tell stories of Great-Aunt Mary. One of them was my daughter, who promptly wrote a song about her great-great-aunt, having found at that moment that she did after all have an interest in family history. Her interest, however, was fixed on the "black sheep" rather than the hard-working good-hearted souls comprising most of our family. In several senses, Great-Aunt Mary was indeed a black sheep, and of this category of kin, there will be more in a later post.
My daughter's song was the start of a book I am assembling about Great-Aunt Mary (GAM.) I have collected memories from many people, and because my brother Barry has more personal memories of GAM than I do, he accepted the task of reviewing the transcribed memories and other material. I THOUGHT he might just do a little editing and proofreading, but no, the material cried out for a narrative to be written, with the memories as appendices. Being familiar with the phenomenon of family history telling me how it wanted to be written, I accepted this plan, and Brother Barry is in the process of writing the narrative.
We agreed that GAM's descendants had to be included in some manner, and found that we had little information about the life of Mary's son Henry, only that he had moved to the West Coast and lived out his life in Comox, British Columbia. He had married and there was reference to his having twin daughters, as well as glancing references to his work. Alberta cousins said that GAM visited her son every year and stopped with them on her way from Saskatoon to Comox; they had a wealth of anecdotes about those visits.
Attempts to track down these descendants have so far been unsuccessful. No record has been found of Henry and his wife and daughters in Comox. The next step will be to advertise in the local paper, asking anyone with knowledge of this family to contact Barry, for family history purposes.
Barry tells me writing the narrative has been a challenge largely because the materials we have are so conflicted about her character and her ways. One image of her arises from the letters she wrote to Canada from Russia when she was a young woman preparing for her marriage. She had stayed in Russia, the youngest of the family, when many of the rest in 1902 and later, emigrated from Russia to Canada. The letters were to her older sister, my grandmother Katharina Thiessen Rempel. They were written in German and fortunately other family members who are fluent in German have translated them.
Another image comes from the stories she told to her sister Katharina after she too came to Canada, of her life in Russia after her father died in 1912. She went through World War I, the Russian Revolution, famine and plague - and with her son, survived.
We have few pictures of her: as a girl in Russia; her first wedding; with her son when first in Canada; her second wedding. These are studio portraits. There is a snapshot of her third wedding.
It is not possible to know people well through the scraps they may leave of their lives. It IS possible, however, to know them better, and to honor their lives through making them accessible to the later generations of their family.
I would have liked to know Great-Aunt Mary well. Failing that, I can at least try to tell a little of her story.
Status: Waiting for Barry's narrative and the discovery of GAM's descendants.