Family histories worth treasuring
By: Dee-Ann Schwanke
| Posted: Saturday, Oct 05, 2013 06:00 am
A few weeks ago I traveled with a few of my siblings to go back in time and see our family’s homestead in the St. Michael’s area about 20 minutes past Lamont. The Ukrainian Cultural Centre near Elk Island Park gives a good idea of the feel of the farm; where hard work, optimism and unthinkable challenges shaped the last 120 years.
When my great, grandfather Anton and his wife Anne arrived in Canada, they made their way across the country by train, arriving in Alberta where they acquired information about their land. Immigration essentially pointed them in the right direction and they set off on foot to find the surveyor’s pegs that marked out their property. After digging a hole in the side of the hill, Anton left his wife in a hobbit-like dwelling and then walked to Calgary to find a job with the railroad. Over the next period of time he would earn enough money to start the family farm. I have no idea how Anne survived, but once her husband arrived home, they eventually became a prosperous farm family who built their first log and mud/straw home in the 1890s. It was this home that we stood in, examining the construction, plaster, and jackets left hanging on the pegs on the walls. Their second home, a two storey built in 1904, stood nearby, and beside that is the home my relatives live in today.
As we looked at old family photos, birth certificates, and read through the family histories that had been recorded, I was grateful that someone had taken the time to document where my ancestors had come from. I also enjoyed hearing stories from the elders, such as the distiller my great grandfather successfully kept hidden, and the fact that my great-grandmother had left someone at the altar in favour of Anton.
My husband still regrets that he did not sit down with his father and record the many stories his dad had told him about his experiences growing up near Bruderheim and of his life during the Second World War. He had some amazing stories, but like the dust on top of the fridge that is eventually swept away, those memories have faded, never to be retrieved.
Here in St. Albert, inscribed in the concrete pathway that I regularly walk, is, “Jim + F” from August 1975. I often wonder who Jim and “F” were, and what became of them, lives which moved on from that marker in the ground 40 years ago. I am curious about their stories, naively hoping those stories were happily intertwined. Perhaps they even live on the other side of the fence.
In the age of sounds bites and memes, and the billions of websites that pump out irrelevant information, we have lost sight of the value of safeguarding our family histories. We live with information overload. We know more about celebrities and global crime than we do about our heritage – where we come from and how we got here. Our frantic pace leaves us little margin to consider our place in this world, and passing on family stories is perhaps more needed today than ever before.
Recently my father put to paper his family history and the journey that he’s been on over the last 80 some years. It’s a small window into his world but it’s further helped me to appreciate the context and meaning of legacy. You won’t read about it on the six o’clock news or see it on Google, but I’m confident it will be appreciated long after we’re all gone.
Dee-Ann Schwanke is a masters student in international management.