The Hunt For Our Family’s History

Janey Goertzen set out on a mission to explore her father's family tree. What she discovered was a story of hard work, good luck and sacrifice.

1 / 3
Janey in Portland, Maine, holding a photo of her dad, along with his 1914 boarding pass
Courtesy: Janey Goertzen

My Father’s Family Tree

Standing on the pier in Portland, Maine, on April 15, 2014, 100 years after my father and my uncle Les arrived in North America, was quite a feeling. Perhaps that feeling is what led me and my husband Leon, along with my cousin Rene (Les’s daughter) and her husband Leverne on the hunt for our family history.

My dad, Percy Franklin Williams, was born in 1904 on Little Pill Farm on Little Pill Hill, near Truro, Cornwall, England, where my grandfather John was a labourer. Dad’s brother, Frederick Leslie, Les for short, was four years older.

Between 1906 and 1912, my great-grandparents Henry and Kezia Williams, three of my great-uncles and one great-aunt immigrated to the “land of sunshine, where prosperity awaits you,” otherwise known as west central Saskatchewan. There, they had the opportunity to own their own land, instead of simply working for wealthy farmers back in England.

2 / 3
Postcard Uncle Les sent to his aunt Elizabeth
Courtesy: Janey Goertzen

Boarding the S.S. Canada

In February 1912, at the age of 47, my grandfather John died of “intestinal obstruction and toxic absorption,” which I believe was colon cancer. My grandmother Evelyn died in October 1913 at the age of 45 from “cerebral thrombosis and paralysis,” which I took to mean she possibly had a stroke.

During this time, Dad and Uncle Les lived with their deaf spinster aunt, Elizabeth Webber. Word was sent to Canada that both parents were deceased and the boys needed a new home. Arrangements were made for them to set sail for Canada to live with their grandparents.

On April 4, 1914, in Liverpool, England, the boys boarded the S.S. Canada. They were nine and 13 years of age, with no adults accompanying them.

Find out what it was like living in Saskatchewan in the 1930s.

3 / 3
Janey's dad Percy and her grandparents
Courtesy: Janey Goertzen
From left: Janey’s dad, Percy; grandfather John and grandmother Evelyn.

A New Home in Penkill, Saskatchewan

Their ship docked in Portland, Maine, on April 15, 1914. From there, they boarded a train on the Grand Trunk Railway, destined for Brock, Saskatchewan. Their grandfather and their uncle Tom met them at the station and drove them to their new home in Penkill, Saskatchewan, where their grandmother Kezia said, “You can take your hat off; you’re home now.”

Les was put right to work for the grandparents and their uncle Tom. Dad, who turned ten shortly after arriving, was able to go to school for a few years. As soon as Les was financially set, he ventured out on his own. He bought land and was a successful farmer. Dad stayed on the original homestead and eventually inherited the farm. It was amazing to be in the exact place my father had been 100 years earlier. Perhaps one day I will write a book about my family’s history.

For another great Coming to Canada story, check out this tale of Prairie homesteaders.

Originally Published in Our Canada

Newsletter Unit