THE MISSING LINK – a different kind of memory

By Elizabeth Donaldson
Special to the Times

I have watched those shows on television about the reunions of people who searched for a long lost relative – maybe a baby that had been given up at birth or someone that had been separated from a sibling. These reunions are so very touching and emotional that I often have tears watching. It is amazing how there seems to be an instant bond even though many years have elapsed.

My story today takes place partly in the 1940s in Box Alder and partly in the present. Before we moved to the farm with the big barn, we lived several miles to the east where the farm of my Swedish Grandmother Anderson was on the north side of the road. Two uncles and my Aunt Emma lived there also but she was not always home as she worked in different places. My memories seem to be of the excitement when Aunt Emma came home.

Aunt Emma was a small, lively, beautiful woman and we children loved her. Since it was war time, both Emma and her brother Tom enlisted in the army. Emma was a CWAC and stationed in different parts of the country. I remember the last Christmas on those two farms as they had both been sold to J. A. Mathieu. That Christmas Emma came home dressed in her uniform and we thought she looked so wonderful. It was such a happy time. She loved hot, strong coffee, smoked ‘roll your owns’ and blew smoke rings for us. Aunt Emma showed us wonderful card tricks and taught us simple card games. She was so adept at shuffling the cards and we were all enthralled by her. In 1942 we moved from those farms and my grandmother moved to Fort Frances.

When the war ended, more changes took place. Tom and Emma came home to Fort Frances and later both uncles married. Grandma Anderson was not very well and I remember Aunt Emma only briefly at my grandmother’s house. In 1947 my grandmother died and very soon after this Aunt Emma left and never returned.

It seemed the adults did not want to talk much about her. At some point we knew that she had gone to Red Lake, which in those days seemed a very remote part of the world. As we were all so busy life goes on, but we never forgot her.

We knew that she had married. As we grew up, whenever we cousins got together we always talked about Aunt Emma and wondered about her life. My sister and I had pictures of her on the wall.

When we got computers we would try searches but really had nothing to go on. I became interested in genealogy and always felt bad that I had nothing to add to her page except her birthdate (December 18, 1917) and place of birth. Once she returned very briefly in the early ‘70’s when her last sister was dying but she saw only one niece. We still knew nothing.

Then came the magic of DNA testing combined with the technology. Both my sister and I were tested through Ancestry. In July 2018 I received an amazing email from my sister who was vacationing with her family in Finland. The daughter of a cousin had heard from an Anderson relative in Sweden that through DNA results a family connection was found linking some of us to a man who was the son of Emma Anderson. I got in touch with the cousin in Winnipeg that had emailed Marion and found that this man had a Facebook account. I sent him a message saying if he was the son of Emma Anderson that we were first cousins. In no time the reply came back and a whole new page of family history was opened up.

The emails began to fly back and forth with our two new cousins Doug and Lois. We soon found that they knew nothing of the relatives that Emma had left behind as she had told them almost nothing of her former life. Both cousins said that the only one she spoke briefly about was her brother Axel, who was my father. She did not talk about her mother or father or the sister and brother who had died. I shared all the family tree information that I had and both cousins were eager to learn of it all and to embrace relationships with nine new cousins. We were also anxious to know about their background. It was good that know that Emma married a school principal and had two children and lived a good long life and died in 2007 aged 90.

Doug came to Thunder Bay from Kitchener in August 2018 and we met at Marion’s home. The feeling of anticipation before meeting this man was indescribable. The moment the door opened we were engulfed in hugs with tears, laughing and crying. It was there – that instant bond of kinship!

This is just the bare bones of what I consider a remarkable experience. Doug was very eager to meet more of his cousins and came to our Thanksgiving gathering in 2019. I keep in close touch with both cousins, thankful for what modern technology has done for our family connections. I now have filled out that family tree page for Aunt Emma and her family. There are questions that will never be answered, but I am so happy the story will continue.