Changing the Historical Record

Can a Deceased “Person” Speak?

Note to followers of my blog posts. This blog was originally published under Google’s Blogger. I no longer use Google’s Blogger as a host for my blogs so I thought I would bring this one over. So if you think you’ve read it before, it’s likely because you have read it someone else before.

Photographers of historic and abandoned structures are constantly looking for new material.   Photographers often share locations between themselves and many places are found just by driving around country roads.  Recently, however, I searched through the Alberta Registry of Historic Places to see if I could find any interesting material to feed my hunger for photo subjects.   I found a few with potential and one of them was less than an hour from home so in short order I packed up the gear and headed out to see what there is to see.    That place, and the family that homesteaded there, is the subject of this blog.

The property of interest is called “Harold Person Log Cabin” in the Registry.   It’s situated near Miquelon Lake Provincial Park southeast of Edmonton, Alberta.    The cabin is not very remarkable in itself but for the provenance that it carries.    That is something often missing when we photograph random properties that we spot while driving by.  Who were these people?  Where did they come from? What was their life like?   Well today I have that information and will share it with you along with how I contributed to the historic record.

Harold Person Log Cabin. He came to Canada from Skansholm in Northern Sweden. Between 1905 and 1910 he applied to homestead and met the requirements. He lived in this log house until he died in 1936. He is buried a short distance away at Wilhelmina Lutheran Church.

According to the Alberta historic record,  Harold Person was born in 1865 in Skansholm, Sweden.  In 1905 he and his family arrived in Canada and he applied to homestead near Miquelon Lake in the same year.  By 1910 he met all the requirements of homesteading so the land was then legally his.  Harold Person was very involved with the construction and administration of the nearby Lutheran church until – and here is where the record is incorrect – he died in 1960.  This date of death would mean that he was approximately 95 years old when he died.  That is unusual for that era but certainly possible.  But that is not what placed doubt in my mind.   The record indicates that he lived in his log house until he died.   It is possible but highly unlikely that he would live in a tiny log cabin until 1960.  Still, I was just out for the photographs so at that point the questions were really incidental to the purpose of my trip.  My wife and I drove out to photograph the log cabin.  It’s situated on private property and cannot be accessed without going past two houses.   Upon arrival we knocked on the doors of both houses, I called out “hello, is anyone here” and honked my car horn.   There was no response.  However the cabin was just meters away so I did photograph it which took less than a minute before heading back to the car.  Our next stop was the local church because my previous photographs of it were in the winter; I wanted some autumn images even though the leaves have already fallen.  On a previous visit to that church the caretaker said we could come in to take some photos of the inside so today I just wanted to add outdoor images to my collection.   Once done I asked my wife if she wanted to walk around the cemetery.  She usually enjoys that sort of thing.   She said “no” but it was really close so for some reason I kept walking to it.   We immediately spotted the area with the Person family plots.   I photographed Harold Person’s grave marker and took a quick image of the area where others with the same last name are located.  We then returned to the car to move on to two other unrelated locations to photograph.

It wasn’t until I returned home and processed the images that I noted the problem.  According to the grave marker, Harold Person died in 1936 at an approximate age of 71 (a much more likely age for men of that time).  With this new date in mind the fact that he lived in that same log house until he died appeared much more likely.   I then checked the church’s website and noticed that they had a detailed description of the history of the church and construction of their building.  Harold Person’s name was cited numerous times, up to 1913.   Beginning in 1916 John Person’s name was cited and Harold Person’s name was no longer mentioned.   That was interesting.  I then looked at one image I took of the general location of the Person family markers and zoomed in close to be able to read each one.   There it was, John Person, 1883-1960.   The Alberta Registry had picked up Harold Person’s birth date but John Person’s date of death.

I contacted the Alberta Registry of Historic Places and promptly received a response from Rebecca.   She said that based on my findings she researched Harold Person a little more and found in a local history book called, “Each Step Left its Mark, a History of Hay Lakes and Surrounding Area”‘ where it said that he lived in that log cabin until he died in it in 1936.   His son Johan (wife Amanda) lived in a house about 30 meters away and he died in 1960.   Rebecca said that the Provincial Record will be updated to correct this information by showing that Harold Person died in 1936 and not 1960.   I hope maybe this helps Harold Person rest easier.    For those of you who like Halloween stories, it was on October 31st that I learned that Harold Person not only lived in that log cabin until he died, but also that he died in that log cabin.

The Harold Person Log Cabin, homestead 1910
This is John Person’s house which is about 30 meters from the log cabin. 
Less than a kilometre from the log cabin is this view of the church that benefited 
from the services of Harold and John Person.  Wilhelmina Lutheran Church, 1908 and still in active use
You can see here that Harold Person lived from 1865 to 1936. His son’s marker is nearby but not one of those in the background.
One last image of the Lutheran Church. Most of the Person family markers are behind the
spruce trees to the right.  

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