The idea was preposterous, the timing was bad and the list of family contacts almost 30 years out of date. But there we were, huddled around a sketchy map of Estonia trying to find a place called Voru, or however it is spelled in Estonian. Our daughter Tobi had just convinced my wife Annette that she should accompany me on a quick trip to Estonia to locate the boyhood farmstead of my grandfather Hendrik Kingsep and his brother Kristjan, the first two Estonian settlers to register homesteads in Alberta. The primary motivation and the immediacy of the trip were to provide a story line for the AEHS DVD presentation in Los Angeles in August 2007.
The trip was made more intriguing by the possibility of finding out more information on Horma Ott (Kingsep). Horma Ott was the father of the Kingsep brothers and had come to Canada to visit his sons. His visit ended tragically as pneumonia, aggravated by the severe cold of an Alberta winter, took his life.
As neighborhood school chums, Garry Raabis, Allan Posti, Howard Posti and I used to explore the old original Gilby cemetery with its overgrowth of poplar trees and deteriorating grave markings. The overturned headstone of Horma Ott Kangsep was a mystery relative of mine. At least we boys presumed so, even though his surname was spelled differently.
Somehow Annette and I managed to get the framework of a trip to Estonia in place. A key component was an e-mail from Einar Lukkonen from Tallinn. Einar had e-mailed a copy of the Kingsep/Saar family tree to my cousin Arnold Mottus in Red Deer. The tree was more complete than any family records we had in Canada. Einar’s wife was related to the Saars (Hendrik Kingsep’s wife Emily was a Saar) and from there we made the first positive contacts with descendants from the original Kingsep farmstead. In short order I was exchanging e-mails with Mariko from Võru in her excellent English. Horma, we learned, was the estate near Võru from which Ott acquired a farmstead when the German Barons were forced to give back some of the land. It appears that Hendrik and Kristjan anglicized Kangsep to Kingsep when they immigrated to Canada.
Adding to the excitement, my cousin June (Lapp) Kinsella who was raised near Eckville, but lives in Melbourne, Australia, accepted my late invitation and would be meeting us in Tallinn! A few days later there was more good news. Tobi called from Hong Kong. “Guess what Dad, I’ll meet up with you in London!”
Eda McClung, Arne Matiisen (Eckville schoolmates of mine) and Arne’s daughter Janet had committed some of their time to this Estonian venture and made the trip to Võru a few hours ahead of us. We were depending on Eda and Arne’s Estonian/English translating and Janet’s journalism skills to help record the event. The anticipation of those last few minutes as we parked our rental car at the meeting place in Võru found us chattering with nervous excitement.
Almost too suddenly it was happening! Eye to eye, hand in hand, we were meeting Evar Saar, a direct descendant of Horma Ott, his wife Mariko, my miracle contact, and their five-year-old daughter Hipp. Hipp presented me with a drawing she had prepared just for me!
We followed Evar into the picturesque countryside, constantly commenting on the similarity to central Alberta. Twenty minutes later we maneuvered up the twisting lane to the farmstead. There beside a rock memorial to Horma Ott, an Estonian flag waving, stood a large group of relatives, their faces glowing.
We stepped out of the car to cheers and welcomes in both English and Estonian!
These were my cousins, holding fresh flowers, waiting for us! This was for us!
One hundred and eight years without contact on Estonian soil had come to an end and the beginning of a wonderful family relationship had just begun!
Kingsep descendants set foot on home soil after 108 years (5)