Cemeteries in January in Minnesota

The combination in the title is not one I’d recommend, but this is a strange January in Minnesota, and while there was too much snow to make it easy to trudge around cemeteries today and see every stone (some had icy snow on them), it definitely wasn’t a complete hindrance.

Today was my last day of a 10-day stint off from work, and my parents and I drove about 45 minutes to Chisago County, which is where one-half of my dad’s Swedish immigrant ancestors landed in the 1850s (one family emigrated in 1853, but we don’t know for sure where they were between then and 1857, when land was purchased in Chisago County; one story has them in Iowa for a time) and 1887.

We hadn’t called ahead to see if we could access the historical society, but had a few cemeteries to look at (mostly for my benefit because my parents have been to them, but I hadn’t). First, however, we headed to the Recorder’s Office in the Chisago County Government Center to see if we could access old vital records that aren’t available at the state level.

Access was pretty easy, as long as we wanted records more than 100 years old (this isn’t quite the policy at the state level, but was sufficient for what we wanted today). They have tall tables where you can stand and view the books, so we requested the book that included the marriage record for my great-great-grandparents Frank Strum and Minnie Tolberg, and the book that contains the marriage record for Minnie’s parents, Alfred Tolberg and Mary Peterson. The book with Alfred and Mary also included the marriage record for Alfred’s sister Sophia and Julius Johnson.

The only hitch? They don’t allow digital photography, even without the flash. So, today I was able to utilize the transcription skills I learned during the earliest part of the BU genealogical studies certificate program. However, there are lots more records we’d like to obtain, so it might end up being a few trips to get them all, with the writing and standing. Now I just need to get the ones from today typed up.

Mr & Mrs Strum -- Almelund Cemetery

Most of the cemetery visits today were for my familiarity of where they are, but there’s one where I recently found a “Mr. and Mrs. Strum” listed with no first names or dates (the county historical society has done great work documenting the many county cemeteries), so we thought we’d see if we could find the stone(s) to see if they might be Frank’s parents, Carl and Stina, whose graves have so far not been located, but their death certificates indicate they were likely buried at this cemetery. We found where Mr. and Mrs. Strum are buried, but there are no stones for them. In the photo, they’re between the Bengtson stone and one behind it.

My mom and I found someone in the office of the church that manages the cemetery, and it turns out he serves on the cemetery committee. We wrote down the info for the graves we’re interested in and who we think might be in them along with their vital info, and he agreed to look into their records to see if there’s more information about who is buried there. Even records of when the burials occurred would help confirm their identity. It would be great to have found Carl and Stina, and then we can look into adding markers for their graves.

Finding Alfred Tolberg

My mom’s side of the family is a mix of nationalities, but my dad’s is entirely Swedish. Three of my four great-grandparents on that side were born in Sweden and immigrated to the United States between 1887 and 1912 or so. The fourth family arrived earlier, in time for my second-great-grandfather Alfred Tolberg to fight in the Civil War. His service might be a great topic for another post sometime, but today I’m concentrating on one of the few mysteries my dad wanted solved, which was finding where Alfred was buried. He survived the Civil War (good thing, since he didn’t get married until a good ten years after he came back home), and died in Minneapolis in 1913. Dad wanted to ensure that his grave marker indicates his Civil War service. He’d also like to locate Alfred’s wife’s grave (she died 11 years before Alfred), but that mystery is yet to be solved.

Trying to locate Alfred’s burial site, my parents had visited various cemeteries in Chisago County, Minnesota, because it was generally assumed he and his wife were buried in the area in which they lived. Things weren’t looking good for finding Alfred or his wife, Mary. Unfortunately, some records have been lost from at least one church that I’m aware of, which complicates matters.

A couple of summers ago, I was going through some information my parents had compiled about my dad’s side of the family in preparation for a reunion. This side of my family doesn’t get together very often, so I’m sure my mom had found lots of new things to share with them, and I was proofreading something my dad had written up . I was also looking through some of the documents, including Alfred’s death certificate, which my mom had received in 2004. Under burial it just said “Layman’s.” At this point I had only a mild interest in genealogy, but I can’t resist a good mystery, fictitious or otherwise.

If my mom had been around that morning (I was at their house, but they were outside doing yardwork or some such thing) I might have asked her what Layman’s meant, and she probably would have told me what her working assumption had been to that point, which was that it was a funeral home. That thought occurred to me as well, and I started a Google search to see if I could find any funeral home with that name that would have been around in 1913. I didn’t find that, but it didn’t take long until my search revealed an article from a local paper called¬†“Buried History” (a recommended read if you’re interested in cemetery history or the history of Minneapolis; it’s pretty fascinating), the story of Layman’s Cemetery in Minneapolis. The cemetery is now known as the Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery.

Plaque from Layman's Cemetery

Plaque from Layman's Cemetery

I was astounded that it might be as simple as that. Could Alfred really be buried so close (my parents and I live in suburban Twin Cities), in a cemetery in the city in which he died rather than being taken back home?

Though I’ve lived in the Twin Cities area pretty much my entire life, I don’t know as much as I should about the area’s history. I had no idea this cemetery existed, but even if I did, I might not have put it together with its original name. And then, even if Alfred had been buried there originally, many bodies were moved after the cemetery was no longer maintained properly in the 1910s. The cemetery was taken over by the city of Minneapolis and is now maintained by the Park Board.

I also found a website that day for the cemetery, where you can search to see if someone is or was buried there. However, the index is incomplete, and I was unable to find Alfred that way. So the next day my parents and I went to the cemetery to see if we could find him in their records. Unfortunately, the on-site building was locked up with no one to help in sight. We wandered around a bit to see if we happened upon his grave, but the cemetery is quite large (20,000 are still buried of the nearly 30,000 total).

My mom went back later in the week and found someone available to help her, and was able to find the card for Alfred.

Layman's record for Alfred Tolberg

Layman's record for Alfred Tolberg

And with that, verification of Alfred’s location. His grave is unmarked, so our next step is to get that taken care of, perhaps by Memorial Day next year, or at least by the 100th anniversary of his death, which is only a couple years away.

Site of Alfred Tolberg's Grave

Site of Alfred Tolberg's Grave