Jim Patton recalls feeling determined and excited as he left a voice message for Nanaimo relatives "lost" to his family for more than 100 years.
"We had heard rumours our great-grandmother had two brothers, who left (England) to mine for gold . . . but they were really a mystery," said Patton, a California resident.
It wasn't until he discovered a fragile, old letter in a family chest that Patton started wondering about his Canadian ties. The letter was written by Josephine Harper in 1915 to his great-grandmother, informing her about the death of her brother James. It was the last correspondence between the family and addressed from Departure Bay.
"I thought 'what the heck, I am going to see what I can find,'" Patton said. "I looked online and by God there was this (Nanaimo Daily News) article on the Harpers - my relatives."
He tracked down the phone number for Jim Harper, a descendent of one of the brothers, and left a message saying he could be family with information to share. Harper responded within the day - and a family that parted ways 100 years ago is now planning to reunite.
"I had no idea my great-grandfather even had a sister," said Harper, smiling. "But I recognized my grandma's handwriting in the letter right away . . . and we've been trading information back and forth ever since."
Joseph and James Harper set sail from Whitehaven, England, in the 1870s, rumoured to be searching for gold. They landed in Departure Bay in Nanaimo, where Joseph purchased waterfront property and opened a saloon. He sold creek water to coal ships and the "best brands" of wine, ale and cigars to the legion of sailors anchoring offshore. Joseph even offered a ferry service for a few months to those able to pay the 25-cent fee, while his brother James -who reportedly found two gold nuggets -spent his days in a cabin on the family property. For close to 134 years their descendents have lived on the same land and those remaining say they've never heard talk of the brothers' sister, Mary Jane.
Jim's sister Irene Luknowsky, 75, had an old black-and-white family photograph of her great grandfather, Joseph, and always wondered who the young woman was beside him. Her name is just one of the family mysteries they are now starting to unravel.
"It's been very exciting and it is neat how it all came together," Luknowsky said. "I wish (our grandma and our aunt) were still here so we could ask them questions."
Patton, 71, started researching the history of his great grandmother six months ago, curious to know more about his heredity. She had arrived from England with her eight daughters in 1902, after her husband fell to his death while working on the White Star Line. They settled in New Jersey and the family has always "been close," he said. But there was always the lingering question of what became of the brothers and their descendents.
"I think it's surreal . . . and kind of joyful that we found each other after 100 years," he said. "We are virtually the same age with the same blood flowing through our veins and we never knew about each other."
The relatives are swapping memorabilia and are planning to a family reunion.
" We want to hear from you. Send comments on this story to email@example.com. Letters must include daytime phone number and hometown.
[Tamara Cunningham, Daily News] / Irene Luknowsky, Beverly Harper and Jim Harper have discovered a new branch in the family tree. The knowledge is helping them solve mysteries, including the names of the people present in old family photographs.; / A letter written by Jim Harper's grandmother to his great-grandmother.;
© Copyright 2013