News Release

Curiosity about his ancestry evolved into a book-writing journey when Trinity theology professor Don Sinnema discovered letters written by Dutch immigrants near the beginning of the 20th century.

While tracing his family's roots back to their North American origins in New Jersey, Montana, and Canada, Sinnema found letters by Dutch pioneers published in community newspapers in Holland, Michigan, and Orange City, Iowa, during the early 1900s. After coming across dozens more letters, he incorporated them in a book, The First Dutch Settlement in Alberta: Letters from the Pioneer Years 1903-1914.

"These letters were written during the homesteading era, when the Canadian government granted free land that was to be used for farming," said Sinnema. "Immigrating families moved into Canada for homesteading, and my great-grandfather was one of the original homesteaders.

"Most of the letters describe the immigration and homesteading experience: coming to a new land, not speaking the native language, and learning a new culture. Although the first few years of the settlement were times of great struggle, there is a rapid progression from pioneer life to a developed rural community between 1903 and 1914. That was a radical transformation."

Nearly all of the letters in the 400-page book originated from the Granum-Monarch-Nobleford district, approximately 80 miles south of Calgary. Sinnema, who grew up in southern Alberta, was determined not to overshadow the letters with his personal commentary. He translated them into English and provided some annotations.

"I basically wrote a historical introduction and allowed the letters tell the story," he said. "As I collected and read more of them, I realized it was better to let the letters speak for themselves."

Sinnema's book will be published by the University of Calgary Press, "a prestigious academic press in Canada and local to the setting of the letters." The publication date is set for summer 2005.

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