Since we North Americans started out as immigrants, many of us are searching for our roots—DNA tests and Ancestry dot.com among others. I found my roots thanks to having written a memoir published in 2017, MYSTERIOUS BUILDER OF SEATTLE LANDMARKS Searching for My Father.
Well into my eighties, I found my father in 2018. Hans Pederson left Denmark for Seattle in 1884 where he became a major pioneer builder— roads, bridges, dams, buildings. How did he learn to do this? Hans attended a laborers’ school twice a week from the ages of 7-14. Years later he shared his Northwestern good fortune by bringing his Danish relatives to the Seattle area as dairy farmers. I hope to meet them. Last summer they told our Danish cousins Dorte and Hanne that we’d be passing through Denmark on a cruise.
This past summer we spent an enchanting day with them as we feasted with 20 cousins. They drove us to the village of Stenstrup where we found Hans’ childhood home. His grandparents raised him because his mother had to return to her life as a maid shortly after his birth. We visited the church where he was christened and climbed the twisting staircase to the church tower. How moving it was to move outdoors and tour the church cemetery. Rather than stone markers of various sizes spread throughout a graveyard, each family plot was surrounded by a little hedge with room for a little garden as well as the family headstone.
I knew little about either of my parents until I was in my seventies. My mother rarely mentioned her own family. In 2009 I was invited to a a Huchulak family reunion in Edmonton, Alberta. Along with 50 relatives, we retraced the steps of our great grandfather, Stephan Tokaruk, a Ukrainian horse groomer who brought his family to Canada in 1899 on the Canadian Pacific Railroad. After they felled the forest, they homesteaded their farm Since the Canadian government offered schooling only to English-speaking children, my mother, a fourth child, was the first in her family to attend school.
It was heartwarming to learn that the family gathers for an annual picnic at the Andrew cemetery on Orthodox Easter. I felt that this is a family that knows where it belongs.
Wanderlust brought our forebears to North America. Most of us settle down, but many of us pick up and wander again.