THERE WAS A TIME when I stayed away from cemeteries. Walking among tombstones, atop burial sites, creeped me out.
But I’ve since matured, realized that a cemetery holds history and art, life stories and loss, and serves as a place to grieve, to honor and to remember loved ones.
My most recent cemetery tour took me to North Grove Church and Cemetery just north of Faribault along Minnesota Highway 3. I’ve passed this site hundreds of times in 30-plus years, never once stopping to investigate.
Here I discovered a quaint church, long closed.
Peering through curtained windows, I glimpsed pews and wished I could get inside the locked building.
On a quick perusal of grave markers, where the name “Ole” is chiseled in stone many times, I determined that Norwegian immigrants built this house of worship and established this cemetery.
John Dalby of Faribault, who runs the Dalby Database along with wife, Jan, confirmed the ethnicity of North Grove Church. The Norwegian church was started in 1869 and likely closed in 1931, when First English Lutheran Church in Faribault formed, Dalby says.
Wander this burial grounds and you begin to understand the losses and grief endured by early Minnesota settlers. Babies dead. Wives and husbands gone too young. Immigrants who left Norway for a new, but not always better, life in America.
Then scroll through obituaries on the Dalby Database, which includes 2.5 million records from cemeteries, birth and death certificates and more, and names morph into people. Ole Christiansen is no longer simply a Norwegian name inscribed on a tombstone, but a man who was born in Alerude Odemark, Norway. Husband of Sophia. Then Caroline.
June Carver-Zillgitt lived in a jailhouse with her husband-sheriff and cooked for inmates.
Audrey Saufferrer had five grandchildren.
Grocer O.A. Brekke was termed a man of “sterling character.”
Mathilda Lund was a pioneer resident of the North Grove community.
Those buried at North Grove are 326 individuals who lived and loved and labored, although some were dead at birth, or lived too few days or months or years.
I knew none of them. But, after walking among their gravestones, I am reminded that a cemetery holds life stories, if only we pause to read them.
FYI: Click here to access the Dalby Database, a great resource for anyone doing family history research in Minnesota.
FYI: Janice Uggen Johnson recently published a book, Faith of our Fathers: History of Markers Norwegian Lutheran Church and North Grove Church and Cemetery, Faribault, Rice County, Minnesota (2014). She is an associate member of the Norwegian-American Historical Association. I have not seen or read the book.
The Norwegian-American Historical Association, based at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, is “a private membership organization dedicated to locating, collecting, preserving and interpreting the Norwegian-American experience with accuracy, integrity and liveliness.” It was founded in 1925.
Check back for a close-up look at a memorial in the North Grove Cemetery honoring a young Faribault woman.
© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling