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The immigration experiences of the Onhauser and Town families (Austrian/German and Scottish immigrants)

The Museum reviews and accepts donated personal or family memories and histories into its collection. As a learning institution, the accounts help us understand how individuals recollect, interpret, or construct meaning from lived experiences. The stories are not modified by Museum staff. The point of view expressed is that of the author and not that of the Museum.

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An Immigrant's daughter
My mother's family came from somewhere in Austria/Germany. My grandmother's maiden name was Anna Busch and she married Adolph Onhauser. The young couple immigrated to Canada - but the date is somewhat obscure. Some members of the family say the oldest child {Florence} was born in the old country, while the others were born in Canada. Others say all the eight children were born in Canada.

My mother remembers that during WWI, her brother John Onhauser (my Uncle Jack) enlisted in the Canadian army, and was killed during the early years of the war.

During the war years, anti-German feeling ran high, and the Onhauser children were cautioned never to speak German outside the home. And they were discouraged from speaking it even in the home. Interestingly enough, many years later, when I was in high school, I took German as my language elective, thinking my mother would be able to help me with it. This turned out not to be so. She told me she had been so thoroughly trained NOT to speak German, that even when she wanted to learn it, or re-learn it, she was unable to. And, despite my questioning, she was never able to relate any of the family stories or history from their time in Germany or Austria. It was all a closed book.

The family was ambitious. In the early years, they lived in Brandon Manitoba. Later, they moved to Winnipeg and the four oldest children, including a daughter (my Aunt Claire Magdalene Onhauser Seale) all attended the University of Manitoba and became doctors during the 1920's. My grandfather must have died around this time, because the family fortunes seem to have changed abruptly and there was no money for the four younger siblings to attend university. My mother became a nurse - probably a practical nurse, as she never mentioned going to nursing school, or had any credentials regarding nursing. Sometime after this, Mom moved to Vancouver.

Mom, Alice Dorothea Katherine Onhauser married my dad, John Ronald Gray around 1930. I arrived in July, 1932, and my brother, Ronald, arrived in December 1933.

My father was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, the youngest child in the family. He was six months old when they moved from Scotland to Canada. My paternal grandmother's maiden surname was Ronald. I do not know what her first name was. My grandfather's name was William Ronald. The young couple lived in Jewel Cottages in Edinburgh. To me, a cottage is a small house, but Jewel Cottages turned out to be row housing built from stone. They were a couple of hundred years old at the time my grandparents lived there. On a visit to Scotland in the 1980's, my husband and I spent a day looking for Jewel Cottages - and found them. One of the cottagers (yes, the cottages were still in use) invited us in and we were surprised at how small the rooms were - and how low the ceilings were.

It was a Scottish custom to give a child its mother's maiden name as a middle name, which sometimes had surprising results. My father's name was John Ronald Gray, his brothers were William Ronald Gray and Alex Ronald Gray. Which sounded perfectly reasonable. But my aunts were Helen Ronald Gray, Mary Ronald Gray and Jean Ronald Gray. I was surprised to learn that they had a boy's name for their middle name, and it was years before I discovered Ronald, in this case, was not a boy's name, but a surname.

My Dad carried on the tradition, and my brother was christened Ronald Onhauser Gray.

I wish I knew more about my family history, but my parents seemed determined to focus on their lives in Canada, and now there are no family members left who can help me fill in the blanks.