To my astonishment, about two weeks ago, I received an email from Richard Burton, up in Prophet River, British Columbia, telling me that he believed he was the great-great-grandson of Abraham Ulrikab. Richard had just been made aware of Abraham’s story by his father Andrew who had heard about the book In the Footsteps of Abraham Ulrikab and the documentary Trapped in a Human Zoo. Abraham’s story resonated with both men. Through their family’s oral history, they had always been told that, when Andrew’s grandfather Jonas was five years old, his parents had departed for Europe, never to be seen again. Jonas had one daughter, Barbara. Andrew is her son, Richard her grandson.
My very first reaction was to forward the email to Professor Hans Rollmann at Memorial University. Hans has been researching Abraham’s family for several years, and was mandated by the Nunatsiavut government to try to identify living descendants. Even though Abraham and his family perished overseas, it is a possibility that there are still living descendants in Labrador. How come? Abraham left children behind: those of his first marriage with a woman named Martha. I was therefore curious to know if one of them was named Jonas and had been born around 1875. For sure, Hans would know the answer. His reply came back saying that there was no trace of any child named Jonas.
I fired off a series of questions to Richard. The new information stated that Jonas’ last name was Nogosik (Noggasak/Nochasak). He was married to Justine and their daughter Barbara Frances had been born in 1908. Jonas would have died in Hopedale in the late 1920s. Richard also added an important detail: “I have always been told that Jonas, and his father who went across the ocean, were the shamans of Labrador”. Well! If his father was a shaman then it couldn’t be Abraham, a devout Christian of the Moravian Church.
So, one possibility we thought we’d look into was if Jonas’ father was the shaman Tigianniak, who travelled as part of Abraham’s group. Jonas being a very Christian name, I wondered if 5-year-old Jonas had been adopted by one of the relatives of Tigianniak who had decided to convert to Christianism. His new parents could have changed his first name from an Inuit one to a Christian one, or Jonas could have converted and taken a Christian name when older. His last name being Noggasak was also intriguing. It seemed plausible that in the 1890s, when Inuit had to choose last name, the young man would have decided to pay tribute to his older sister Nuggasak, who had died in Europe with Tigianniak and Paingu, her parents.
Richard also sent me a photograph of Jonas and his wife Justine.
I did a quick montage with the pictures of Tigianniak and Paingu, and to be honest, I could see some resemblance. What do you think?
I fired off another email to Hans, as well as to Carol Brice-Bennett, who has done a lot of genealogical research for Labrador families. They both came back to me with the same conclusion: the Jonas Nochasak who married Justine and had a daughter Barbara Frances came from a long lineage of Nochasak whose origin is in Hopedale, and who were christianized early on by the Moravians. In short:
- Barbara Frances Nochasak was born on 9 December 1917 in Hopedale. She would have been named after her father’s uncle’s wife or her great-great-grandmother.
- Barbara had an older sister, Sarah (born in 1911), and an older brother, Zacharias (born in 1914)
- Barbara’s parents were Jonas and Justine Nochasak who were married in Hopedale on February 25, 1911.
- Jonas was born on January 8, 1890, in Hopedale, and died in Hopedale on April 8, 1939. Jonas was a well-known chapel servant at the Moravian church in Hopedale.
- Jonas’ wife, Justine, was born around 1879 in Okak. When she married Jonas, she was the widow of a man named Santer (or Sauter?). Justine died in 1938. (Here is a note from Carol: Justine was about 11 years older than Jonas but such marriages were fairly common because eligible girls for marriage were scarce at the time and young men were often compelled to marry widows.)
- Jonas’ parents were Nathaniel & Sarah Nochasak from Hopedale.
- Nathaniel was the son of Jonas and Ida Nochasak, also from Hopedale.
Carol believes that the photos of Jonas and Justine was taken in Hopedale because of the structure of the houses. I did a quick search on the website Labrador Inuit through Moravian eyes and found this image that gives a better idea of what the community looked like. Here is the link to access the original image.
The search also yielded the following photo of a Jonas Nochasak who was an organ player in Hopedale in 1906. It was extracted from a presentation by Professor Tom Gordon from Memorial University. In 1906, Jonas (the father of Barbara) was only 16 years old, so it can’t be him on the photo. Maybe an uncle or his grandfather?
I had the great pleasure of visiting Hopedale in early July. The church and mission house shown on the photo above are still standing. Here is a “postcard” of a few images taken inside the Moravian church where Barbara was baptized, and where Jonas was a chapel servant. The organ you see on the bottom left picture has been in the church since 1847. It is the same one Jonas above would have played on.
It was a bit sad that the records did not confirm any family link with Abraham, Tigianniak, or Paingu, but the possibility that such a link existed was quite exciting, since it would have meant that the request for repatriation could have been issued by living descendants.
Thank you to Richard Burton and his family for coming forward and for answering the many questions I had. The possible link was worth investigating and, it sure was fun! A big thank you goes to Hans Rollmann and Carol Brice-Bennett whose work has allowed descendants of the Nochasak family now living in British Columbia and Ontario to discover their real family lineage in Labrador.
Nakummek! Thank you!