When it comes to my family I am obsessively protective. There is a sacredness to each family tree and it deserves our respect and reverence.
For about 6 years I have been particularly focussed on my Mennonite heritage. Actually, for most of my life the story of the Mennonites has intrigued me and befuddled me as well. I always knew who my mom’s parents and grandparents were but finding family connections and seeking out mysteries has only become important in recent years. Perhaps it’s the link that my husband and I have to our ONE family tree. Yes, like those jokes you hear from Mennonite, Hutterite and Amish communities, I married my cousin. Now, it was an honest union. I grew up 10 hours from where he did, our lives were very different and we had no known link until one day while visiting his grandpa. Someday I’ll share the rest but suffice it to say, we were a little shocked(and maybe not shocked at all) to learn that we are 4th cousins.
But, getting back to the point of this blog~ family.
If I could go back in time about 100 years, I would sit down with my Great-Grandma Anganetha Neufeld and ask her about life. Hers is a story for the ages and I’m not sure that anyone could fathom the depth of despair that she endured for many years. In 1908, 4 of her children died in a 2 week span during a worldwide flu pandemic . During that time, 2 of her brothers also died as well as several nieces and nephews. Some stories state that this family lost nearly 30 members in 6 weeks’ time. I visited that graveyard in 2007 and pondered for a moment the magnitude of loss. Grandma herself died in 1918 in a small farmhouse shack in Southern Saskatchewan from the Spanish Flu. At the time of her death, she was pregnant with her second set of twins. My grandma was 9 and Great Grandma left 5 other children.
Not too far away, my Great Grandpa Thiessen and his family were making their way to a new homestead. The loss of death had not hit them quite as hard but the worst was yet to come. One baby died in Manitoba before migrating to Saskatchewan and in 1922 another baby died. 1935, my Great Grandpa Heinrich Thiessen, who had survived a trip across the ocean in 1876, died leaving a widow and a family. There are many stories and thankfully we have found some photos that connect the names and places that we’ve only wondered about.
Every 4 years, our Thiessen family~ the descendants of Heinrich and Maria, gather together to reunite, rekindle relationships and share the traditions and passions of our family: Roll-kuchen and fiddles(well, that’s what it boils down to , right?).
I love these times; I cherish them. When I see a cousin who I’ve never met or perhaps have not seen in 20 years, I do not meekly introduce myself. Rather, I say: I am from the “Jake Thiessen” family(one of the kids of Henry and Maria) and from there the familiarity begins , the laughter, the joking, the hugs and sometimes the joyous tears. These people are the connection to people I’ve never met and people that have been gone for many years. I knew my Great-Grandma. She was the sweetest Mennonite Grossmama you could ever meet.
She was 100 when she died in 1984. Her children have all since passed on too. But their kids carry on the names, the faces and the heritage that I have grown to love. It is amazing to see the diversity of professions, denominations and styles but still gather together and just feel so at home and to know that you belong.
When I see these people, my heart skips a beat and my excitement is almost beyond containment~ they are celebrities to me. They have something I don’t and I have something they don’t and together we combine to form a picture of who my ancestors were. The white hair, the blue eyes, the rosy pink cheeks and the laughs that you can hear a mile away~ these are my people.