Finding Family And Family Finding You

Researching family history is interesting in many ways. Aside from understanding more about where you come from, you can connect with present-day relatives that you might not even have known existed.

This has happened to me on a few occasions since I started researching and writing about my geneaology findings, and is also a big part of why I choose to share parts of my research here. I think that everything that I can find out is part of a shared history and background. Thus, it’s great to see that other interested relatives find this blog. Together, we can pass our findings, memories and family stories on to the following generations.

A revealing week
This has been such a week for me, as I had three cousins of my late father come over for a visit. One of his cousins moved to the Netherlands about 50 years ago and had planned a visit to Sweden with her Dutch husband, to meet with her brother and sister. They just recently found out this blog existed and with it a relative (me) they hadn’t met :-). When they asked if we could meet up, I was more than happy to ask them all over for a “fika” (coffee and cake) at my place.

Thus, we met for the first time this week, somehow immediately connecting and recognizing our family traits. Lots of humour, stories, books and photographs passed between us during a few hours of a Wednesday afternoon, that added a great sense of belonging to a big, generous and spiritual family.

Swen, me, Birgitta, Carin and Jan meeting together for the first time.

The wedding photo
For those of you who have followed this blog for some time, the photograph below is old news, but to me it’s another piece of the puzzle in the story of my great grandparents. My father’s cousin Birgitta brought the photograph from the Netherlands and I was intrigued to see it. Not only was it now an original photo I held in my hands – a photo nearly 130 years old – but it came in the style of an old cabinet card. The difference being, the photograph was glued on to a stiff piece of cardboard, but not showing the “integrated” finish of western cabinet cards.

(Here, I would very much appreciate the expert opinion of Brad at Tokens of companionship. A great site for those of you who want to dive into cabinet cards and cartes de visite from the 19th-20th century!)

It seems the photographer called Hang Chang, was based in Tientsin. It’s interesting how the photographer presents himself both in Chinese and in English. I can of course not make out what it says in Chinese, but I presume it’s the name of the photographer and the studio. Perhaps this photographer was often called upon by foreigners.

Today, Tientsin goes under the name Tianjin, and is a city close to the coast in northern China. This was were Robert and Dagny went on a small honeymoon, after having tied the knot in Shanghai on the 6th of June,1895. Having married Robert, Dagny left the Norweigan missionary society she had been part of and transferred to the Swedish Mission in China.

Reconnecting with the love story of our ancestors
My newly found relatives told me the story of how Dagny and Robert almost did not marry. Having heard it a long time ago from my grandmother, I was happy to be reintroduced to it – I could feel how the story had been passed down through the generations, and though some details differed, the story was intact. But before getting to that part, I want to share some of Robert’s own records of how they met.

Dagny and Robert first saw each other when the were both in training to become missionaries. They were in London at the same time in 1892 and both lived at the China Inland Mission in London. In a letter Robert later sent to the mission, he reveals exactly how they met:

He writes:
“The thing I want to adress is my engagement to Dagny Aass, missionary in the Norweigan China Mission. Perhaps you are interested in hearing one thing or another about how we got to know each other and got engaged. We first met in September 1892, in Miss Paton’s home in London. We were both invited for dinner. Dagny had just arrived in London together with a few others from the same mission. Like me, she was housed at C.I.M – but in the home for female missionaries – and she came there to prepare for the mission in China by studying English etc. We were both invited several times to Miss Paton and also attended prayer meetings and farewell meetings for China candidates together, so that we – before we left London – had gotten the opportunity to get to know each other fairly well.”

And with the following sentence, I find Robert says what I have been wondering about – was it love at first sight?

At least from Robert’s point of view, it seems to have been. He writes:
“Our mutual interest for each other can be dated from this time, even from our first encounter.”

He continues to describe that at first, he didn’t want to believe his feelings, but they didn’t go away and before he knew it, he sensed that he was no longer “his own” but “belonged to another.” For some time, Robert had to bear these feelings alone, not knowing if Dagny had feelings for him as well.

Dagny finally arrived in Shanghai in march 1893. When Robert came there, they happened to run into eachother. “And not only that,” he writes, “I was also, in violation of the C.I.M’s rules (being an unmarried man), asked to escort Dagny and four married sisters to Chin-Kiang.”

Robert writes that he “kept his peace” but that he understood Dagny had feelings too – he had noticed her becoming sadder as they approached the end of their journey to Chin-Kiang.

Robert then went back to his station and thought about his feelings for a while, after which he was totally sure this was the woman he wanted to marry. And here comes the part of the story the family has told through the generations.

An important letter
Robert had decided to ask Dagny to marry him and as they were in different parts of the country he had to write a letter. He sent it via a colleague, who was to visit the missionary station where Dagny was stationed. Robert waited and waited, but recieved no answer to his question and started to doubt that Dagny felt anything for him. After about 6 months of silence, he was pretty sure there would be no wedding.

But then, the person who was responsible for delivering the important letter happened to feel through his pockets one day (perhaps it was time for the seasonal clothes change?) and found the letter!

He immediately saw to it that the letter was delivered and Dagny hurried to accept the offer, hoping Robert had not given up on her after all this time.

Thus, wedding plans were made and the search for a priest started. Noone was to be found close by, why the couple had to take the long an perilious journey all the way to Shanghai in order to get married in the English Cathedral.

In fact, as we sat there exchanging family stories, we realized how such a small thing as a letter being found in someone’s pocket could have been the deciding factor in anyone of us being here today. We all spring from this relationship between Dagny and Robert, and had she never gotten the letter… well, who knows 🙂

On a side note: both Dagny and Robert had met the pioneer and founder of the China Inland Mission – Hudson Taylor – on several occassions. They had become friends, and Hudson Taylor is also mentioned as the one who wed the couple in Shanghai. I am thinking they might have had one wedding in the English Chathedral and a follow-up wedding that Hudson Taylor officiated – but this is something I will research further.

As Robert wrote the above letter to the mission in 1894, he also mentioned the fact that Hudson Taylor had arrived in Taiyuan, where Robert was at the time:

Perhaps that was when they discussed the details of the wedding and Hudson offered to attend…

One thing is certain, Robert and Dagny made the right choice. They stayed together for 35 years and seem to have been a happy couple. They had eight children (two died when they were little) and several of their children also became missionaries. They named one son after Hudson Taylor, but he sadly passed only two years old.

15 comments

    • Thanks Brad! It does look like she deliberately shows her wedding band 😀! Thanks for pointing that out!
      Have you by chance encountered cabinet cards from China before? It would be interesting to know if they made them in another fashion in China compared to the US or Europe?

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      • It looks like a standard cabinet card to me. I’ve seen a few from Hong Kong, but they must have been rarer in other parts of the country. They may have been marketed to foreigners, although I would expect Chinese people to have been interested in portraits as well. Photos of any kind are rare in China in the 19th century compared to Europe, North America, India or Australia. Around the beginning of the 20th century, photography became more widespread in China. I think the same was true in Japan.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Thanks for this really interesting information, Brad! I was thinking this photographer might have made some business with foreigners as he had English text on the back of the card. Fantastic, that this photo is still in the family 😀.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Good point! Looking at old photos, I often think about how names are missing. One thinks one will always remember, but that really isn’t the case 😉. And just the big job you are doing with all those amazing photos on your blog – what if they all would have had names on them!

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      • You and your cousins will remember, but your children or grandchildren may not. Probably 9 out of 10 photos I see for sale are unidentified. That’s sad, because every person’s life is interesting if you can learn something about it. Thank you for the kind words!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. ✨ Love reading about your discoveries and connections! How wonderful you met up with family and found that the photo you have is a 130 year old original photo! What a beautiful love story of Robert and Dagny, too! (Makes me realize how in a way we take love for granted in the modern world with our technology, etc) How wonderful several of their children became missionaries, too! ✨

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your lovely and insightful comment 💛! Yes, it was very nice to get to meet such warm and friendly relatives, discovering many likenesses and also having this mutual interest in our great grandparents and their stories. The photo sure is a gem, and I’m happy they take such good care of it. And so true, today we expect quick answers and availability. Nobody would wait 6 months for an answer… Let alone write a letter! Times and our expectations really have changed a lot. Perhaps we do need to think about that sometimes and not rush things quite as much 🙃

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