For more than a quarter of a century Winnie Benson had dreamed of this moment.
With Carstairs’ Dawn Taylor at her side, she knelt down on the sun-scorched ground of a long-forgotten southern Alberta cemetery and caressed the ancient etchings of a flat gravestone marking the final resting place of Drusilla Ennis, the pair’s great-great-grandmother.
“I feel like a whole new world has opened up as if all the research Dawn and I have done has come full circle,” said Benson.
The 68-year-old Minnesotan had spent most of the previous 25 years painstakingly collecting pieces of information about her ancestor, a pioneer homesteader who settled in South Dakota more than a century ago and then seemingly vanished without a trace. Benson, adopted at the age of two, had a longing to find out more about her bloodlines. But she was frustrated in her attempts to find out what happened to Ennis despite searching stacks of government records and enlisting the help from genealogy contacts.
She finally gave up, but six years ago, she had an inspiration to Google the name of Drusilla Ennis. Within seconds, she was looking at a picture of her great-great-grandmother’s gravesite taken by Stirling heritage enthusiast Cody Kapcsos. It turned out Drusilla had settled in a southern Alberta hamlet called Masinasin, located 18 kilometres from the American border, and died there in 1921.
The mystery was solved, but the story didn’t end there.
Last year, following a newspaper article on her discovery of Kapcsos’s photograph, she was contacted by three Albertans who read about her mission. They were cousins she never knew she had — all great-great-grandchildren of Drusilla Ennis.
Last month, Benson and husband Jim made their way to Raven, 34 kilometres west of Innisfail, to hold a most unusual family reunion.
While waiting inside the hamlet’s historic Union Church for a heavy rain to subside, Slave Lake’s Lorne Larson arrived with his wife Patricia. Dawn was already there with Winnie, as was cousin Marilyn Taylor of Irricana.
“I call this warm and fuzzy days,” said Dawn. “I really think God has worked through this whole thing. There have been too many things that have happened. It is like, ‘Wow.’” Almost immediately, the gloom of the overcast and wet midsummer day gave over to brilliant sunshine, slicing its way through the old window panels of the historic church.
It was a clear signal for Benson’s newly found cousins to take the emotional American outside to the cemetery, where another piece of Benson’s long mystery was waiting to be solved. It was the gravesites of Brice Ennis, Drusilla’s oldest son, and his wife Lillie. Brice and Lillie are the great-grandparents of both Taylor and Larson, and Benson’s great-uncle and -aunt.
“To find Brice and Lillie and to fill in the blanks it really almost puts the puzzle together,” said Benson.
But not quite.
Three days later Benson and Dawn walked into the cemetery near Masinasin, now a deserted ghost hamlet. All around, amidst the drought-stricken and empty landscape, there was only harsh reminders of the toils Drusilla must have faced. But Benson rejoiced.
“I told you that I knew,” she said. “This is fulfilment of that, that I was led here. We were meant to be a family and to know who family is. The blessings will go from there.”