Tuesday, 17 July 2018

New Found Family: A DNA, Ancestry, Facebook success story

The following story was sent to me by a friend who thought Discover Genealogy readers would be interested in a happy and successful discovery of new family members, at least new to each other. I agreed, so I am pleased to present it here. Never underestimate the possibility of chance meetings, in person or online.

New Found Family: A DNA, Ancestry, Facebook success story
Guest Post by Janet Matiisen

My friends, I have got a story to tell you. 

This goes on for a bit. Apparently, I’ve decided to write a novella.

My family is a small, tight group. My sister, Melanie, and I are the best of friends; our parents, Arne and Carolyn, are loving and amazing. Mel’s husband, Loren, is the best man I know and their daughters, Arabelle and Lucia, are shining lights in my life. Our aunt Eda (Dad’s sister) has been a terrific influence and force in our lives. We have wonderful family on my Mom’s side as well: Uncle Grant and Aunt Carolyne, and their sons (and their families), Mike and Kara, Brad and Meredith, and Mitch and Angela. We are blessed to have such a small and vibrant family unit.

Dad was the middle of three kids, Eda is his younger sister, and Hendo was his older brother, each born four years apart in Estonia. The Matiisen family story could be made in to a movie – fleeing Estonia in the early stages of the WWII to Sweden, and eventually settling in central Alberta, near Eckville. There are a handful of Estonian settlements in Alberta, most prominently near Eckville and Stettler.

Dad’s brother, Hendo, passed away in Edmonton in 1987. He had never married. Neither he nor Eda had children, so we have no Matiisen cousins (we thought). Mel and I are two of the Last of our Matiisen line.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, around 11:00 pm, when I noticed a Facebook message from an unknown person. Having a curious nature, I opened it up and started reading. My eyes just about popped out of my head.

Hello, my name is Michael K...... I’ve found you by way of Ancestry.com, and then through Facebook. In what must seem like an odd message from out of nowhere, it would seem that we’re related...”

Wait! What now?

He went on, “... it was not until I was in my 20’s that I was told by my mother that my father was a man named Hendo Matiisen, an engineer with whom she had had a brief relationship in the summer of 1967 in Fort McMurray... Apparently, my mother never communicated her pregnancy or my existence to Mr. Matiisen – they immediately lost touch, as she returned to her life as a nursing student in Red Deer, having only been in Fort McMurray on a road trip with a friend. I was born on April 9th in Red Deer.

Again, what now?

I’ve never quite known what to do with the information about Mr. Matiisen, particularly while my mother and step-father were alive. They both passed away in 2009 and 2014, respectively. More than this, I’ve never quite known if the information was true. A few months ago, for fun, my wife and I decided to join Ancestry.com along with her parents who were interested in their DNA story. Last month, I checked my results, which, with ‘extremely high confidence’ predicts my relationship to ‘A.M. (managed by Carolyn Matiisen)’ as ‘close family’.

The message continued on very respectfully and I was quite sure this wasn’t some Nigerian prince looking to unload several million dollars if I would just forward him my banking information. 

I started frantically texting Melanie, in all caps, “ARE YOU AWAKE WE HAVE TO TALK HOLY CRAP YOU HAVE TO BE UP.” No immediate response. “WAKE UP AND TALK TO ME WE HAVE TO TALK RIGHT NOW.” I copy/pasted Michael’s message to her in text form, and she did finally (maybe all of six minutes later) respond. We had simultaneous meltdowns. She’d deleted the message from him without reading it, assuming it was, in fact, a Nigerian prince scam. 

The message seemed legit; this guy seemed really normal. It was well written and grammatically correct, the dates all lined up, and holy s--t! Now what?

We decided to invite Mom over to Mel’s for spontaneous coffee the next day and show her the message. We would also try to get Eda on the phone at the same time. The next couple of days were crazy. Mom reacted in shock, as did we all, but moved on quickly from shock to excitement. We didn’t contact Eda by phone right then, but Mel talked to her shortly afterwards. We didn’t want to respond to Michael without having all of the family in the know and had a chance to collect our thoughts. 

We responded a couple of days later, and that started an avalanche of correspondence. We have a Matiisen cousin!

Fast forward again. Michael said that he and his wife Kathy (they live in Tucson, Arizona) would be in Abbotsford, BC, for a couple of weeks visiting Kathy’s parents, and maybe they could come to Calgary while in Canada. 


For the last couple of days, as I write this, they’ve been here and we’ve gotten to know each other. Michael and Kathy are so, so lovely. We also got to meet Michael's sister, Jennifer, who, as it turns out, lives in Calgary, too! Our hearts are full; our lives are enriched; our family has grown; and we are all so grateful to have discovered each other. We each have said over and over that we wish it hadn’t taken this long to meet each other, but we’re so happy that we have come together. 

And here are a few pictures of our very happy family reunion. We can’t stop smiling!

Janet, Michael & Melanie
Eda, Michael & Arne
Lunch at River Cafe - Carolyn, Kathy, Arne, Janet, Michael, Eda
A new and expanded family: Janet, Lenore, Eda, Jennifer, Kathy, Michael, MNelanie, Arabelle, Carolyn, Arne, Loren, Lucia

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Natural Disasters and Family Misfortunes 15: Heat Waves

We have had some very warm days, right across the Northern Hemisphere, this past week. Not just unpleasant in many areas, but deadly!

Along with the news reports, of course, come the claims that it has never been this hot or this is a sign of the impending doom of climate change.

Unfortunately, or perhaps what is more normal, people have short memories and journalists fail in their fact-checking and due diligence – or perhaps news outlets just like to exaggerate and scare people.

A very quick search of the Internet for “historic heat waves” comes up with over 600,000 hits. In looking through many of the old reports one realizes there were many times when people suffered from exceptionally hot days. (Next winter I will probably find similar reports of the opposite case, when reports come out that it has never been colder.)

Real, accurate and consistent temperature readings in most of the world do not go back more that a few of centuries. It is impossible to gauge the severity of heat waves that occurred prior to the 19th century with any reliability.

But it is easy to find report of heat waves that occurred during the last two centuries. I found a great webpage that details many heat waves in North America and Europe at Wanstead Mateo, “a blog about weather that affects Wanstead and the surrounding areas of east London and west Essex…” On the 26 June 2015 post there are a number of specific examples described along with a table that list the worst heat waves that affected London, England, since 1852.

There are dozens of other website that cover heat waves in North America and other parts of the world.

One major event happened in July 1757, during apparently the second hottest summer in Europe in over 500 years to that point. What is interesting about this one is that it occurred during the depth of the Little Ice Age.

The worst heat wave on record was in 2003, accompanied by very high humidity levels, which apparently killed 70,000 people in Europe.

The conclusion is that these weather anomalies are not unique to the 21st century, nor to any time period, actually. During the 20th century they happened at least once a decade with temperatures soaring past 90°F (32°C) or even 100° (38°C) for days on end. Deaths were common from hyperthermia, in recent decades more deadly than floods or hurricanes in North America.

As we search old records further will we find that some of our ancestors also suffered during prolonged heat waves, perhaps during many of the droughts and famines that were common in the 13th to 19th centuries?

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Graveyards: Aren’t they great?

Genealogists are lucky to have graveyards! Strange but true.

Cemeteries have been the focus of many field explorations by family historians and have yielded substantial information about our ancestors. Memorial information often gives researchers valuable data concerning people: name (particularly spelling); birth dates (sometimes); death dates (naturally); spouses; children; places of residence; occupations; religion (occasionally); etc. Some of the verses and poems engraved on headstones are also interesting and may offer a personal glimpse into how the deceased was viewed in life.

Almost every family history society have organized committees to record burial data, including photos of headstones. The local society in Calgary has published 15 volumes of cemetery records (available in electronic form) and allows visitors to their website to search thousands of entries of basic data of those interred, for free.

The oldest stone recording the lives of members of my family dates from the 1790s. Shown on the memorial is:
Here Lieth
the Body of
who Died Nov. 23d 1794 Aged 32 years
His Mother
who died Sep. 4h 1797 Aged 62 years
Now here we lie as you may see;
As you are now so once were we;
As we are now so Must you be;
God give you Grace to follow we.
who Died May 23d 1803 Aged 76 years

Richard Jr. was my 4th great-granduncle. His parents, Richard Sr. and Mary were my 5th great-grandparents. All were born in Cornwood, Devon, England. Richard Jr. did marry a lady named Catherine Watts, in Cornwood. They had two children together who also went on to marry in Cornwood and have children there. After Richard’s death Catherine remarried a man named John Northmore. They moved to a nearby parish where they had seven more children. That explains why she is not on the memorial.

The above example is a little different as it starts with a child and then adds the parents’ names, although the death dates are in chronological order. The one below has the father first, the son second and the mother third. The death dates are again in order. Harriet (nee Shepheard) was my 2nd cousin, 4 times removed.

The inscription reads:
AUGUST 12TH 1917,

The memorial indicates the son was killed in France during the Great War. He was buried there, not in Cornwood, as the information on the stone says, but he is remembered on this grave marker. Interestingly, he joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force (28th Canadian Battalion, Saskatchewan Regiment), not the British Army. We are not sure why but his attestation form showed a birth date two years later than his actual birthday – another curious fact. The memorial is correct in that it indicates his birth took place in 1885. Looks like another family story to chase down. There is quite a lot of information on this marker.

The headstone for the grave of my 4th great-grandparents shows he was “for many years a carpenter” in Cornwood parish.

And this one for another 4th great-granduncle, Arthur Shepheard, says he lived at Middle Rook in Cornwood parish.

Cemetery memorials and headstones have proved to be important sources of information about ancestors. Wouldn’t it be great if they went back further?