From the editor's desk: Cemetery hopping

By Sarah Nigbor
Posted 5/15/24

I doubt many people spent their Mother’s Day in a cemetery scouring old gravestones, but that’s what my aunt, my mother, my daughter and I did, and we loved every second of it.

My …

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From the editor's desk: Cemetery hopping


I doubt many people spent their Mother’s Day in a cemetery scouring old gravestones, but that’s what my aunt, my mother, my daughter and I did, and we loved every second of it.

My aunt and I are big into family genealogy, so this was the perfect way to spend the day, which was also her birthday! We combed through five cemeteries looking for the grave of an elusive relative, my maternal grandmother’s grandmother, Kari Torkilsdatter Braaten Larson Lybeck. We have plenty of information and photos of this woman, who ran a farm in Gilman Township after being widowed. But we cannot locate her grave. Our search on Sunday proved fruitless (at least in finding Kari), but we haven’t given up hope. We still need to contact the cemeteries for plot records, etc. Hopefully we can find this feisty, Norwegian relative. It doesn’t help that her husband got sick of getting mixed up with the other two Lars Larsons on the road they lived on, so he chose to change their name at some point to Lybeck, after a small town in Norway. People back then switched last names like we change underwear, it seemed. The same thing happened on my maternal grandfather’s side, where Johnson was replaced with Lundgren. It makes unraveling the gnarled family tree branches a challenge.

Another mystery in the family is where my grandpa’s grandpa, the notorious J. Peter Lundgren is buried. His ex-wife (gasp, he and my great-great grandma Carolina divorced when it wasn’t common) is buried in Lund and there’s an empty plot next to her. We know he remarried after her, but no one alive (we think) knows where he is laid to rest. Another cemetery question for the caretakers, to be sure. Did the family take pity on him and stick him in the ground next to Carolina? Did she roll in her grave if that happened? Or is he off somewhere out West, where he took a trip or two. Stories about him reveal him to be a bit of a scoundrel, and a cryptic remark by my great-aunt Lorraine years ago labeled him a gambler who lost the family fortune. He ran a sawmill, but what was this fortune? How did he lose it? His photos show a mischievous man with a twinkle in his eye.

One reason I’ve always been drawn to family history is because for so long, I didn’t know much of mine. My dad died young and my mom did not keep in touch with his family, so I didn’t meet them again until I was 20. By that time, my grandma had died of encephalitis three years prior. I learned I had a half-brother I’d never met; the opportunity never came. The first time I saw him in person he was lying in a casket at his funeral in 2018. He was 15 years my senior and had lived his life in a group home for disabled people in Chisholm, Minn. He had cerebral palsy. That was a hard pill to swallow, not meeting him, one I’m still not fully over. I connected with his mother shortly after the funeral, and then she died suddenly and unexpectedly before we could meet (which we had plans to). Sometimes I feel like I’ll never find the whole story of my brother. There are so many gaps and unanswered questions.

My aunt and I joke that when we pass, we want an entire family tree published with our obituaries, to make it easier for those coming after us who might also be genealogy nuts. If some future relative wants to get to know me, I’ve written enough columns about my life, so hopefully that gives them some answers. Now if we could only find Kari and Old Pete…stay tuned.

genealogy, cemeteries, ancestors, From the editor's desk, Sarah Nigbor, column