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A lasting life

DCN Correspondent

Section M, block two, lot 23. A grave site seems inert by its definition and geographic description, but to uncover the story of whoever lies below it is a process that proves anything but a lifeless being buried below the ground.

“Flora E. Birkhofer 1905-1997� is the only information inscribed on the gravestone, yet these bare details pilot a life lasting 92 years.

The staff at Forest Hill Cemetery, where she was buried, was able to provide me with the complete birth and death date of Flora E. Birkhofer. She was born on July 23, 1905, and died on Oct. 26, 1997.

Solely from this information, I was able to narrow down the days that her obituary could have been printed in the newspaper. Birkhofer’s obituary appeared in the Duluth News Tribune on Oct. 27, 1997, the day after she died. A portion of the obituary was available on the Duluth News Tribune Web site in the archives.

I found the complete obituary on microfilm in the University of Minnesota Duluth Library. The obituary was brief, listing the following information: Flora Ellen Birkhofer was born to Henry and Ada Longaker in Hiteman, Iowa. She moved to Duluth in 1947 and worked as a school teacher in Hibbing, Minn. She was preceded in death by her husband, Conrad C. in 1989, and survived by two sons, Conrad J. and David H. Flora was a member of St. Michael’s church in Duluth.

The details from this obituary exhilarated my search. I looked at the Minnesota Historical Project Web site to find Birkhofer’s state death certificate identification. Included in the details on her death certificate was the information that Flora attended four years of college.

After finding her death certificate, I was able to call volunteers at the St. Louis County courthouse for further information.

Federal censuses accessed by genealogy volunteers at the St. Louis County Courthouse show that between 1910 and 1915, when Birkhofer was a child, her family lived in Albia, Iowa, and Guilford, Iowa, both in Guilford County. The federal census also showed that Flora had a brother, Harry Longaker.

Census data at the St. Louis County Courthouse shows that Birkhofer gave birth to two sons, Conrad J. Birkhofer on Jan. 7, 1935, and David Henry Birkhofer, on Feb. 4, 1942. Both sons were born in Douglas County in Minnesota. Flora’s husband, Conrad C. Birkhofer, was born in Alexandria, Minn., also part of Douglas County. Thus, the couple may have resided in or near Conrad’s hometown for some time before moving to Duluth.

I assume that Flora and her husband were married before they had children, although no marriage license was found for St. Louis County. It’s likely that they got married in either Douglas County in Minnesota or Guilford County in Iowa.

I was curious about Birkhofer’s career as a teacher, keeping in mind her obituary stated that she taught in Hibbing and her death certificate stated that she was a grade school teacher.

To uncover additional information, I met with Pat Maus from the UMD Library. She led me to Duluth city directories. Conrad C. Birkhofer started appearing in Duluth city directories in 1950. Flora Birkhofer did not appear in the Duluth city directory until 1951. From that year on she is listed only in parentheses after her husband’s name. No occupation is listed.

Social security records accessed by the St. Louis County Courthouse, show that Flora Birkhofer was issued a social security number in 1952. It is possible that she began teaching around this time. I could not find the exact dates of when she was employed as a teacher.

City directories show that Birkhofer lived with her family at 5115 Oneida St. almost the entire time that she resided in Duluth. She was eventually moved to Chris Jensen Nursing Home in Duluth, where she died of lung cancer—as stated on her death certificate. Other significant conditions contributing to her death were chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and a urinary tract infection, according to her death certificate.

Strangely, Flora Birkhofer’s death certificate lists her as a U.S. Veteran. However, she would have been too young to serve in World War I and she had small children during World War II.

A volunteer at the St. Louis County Courthouse looked through a military database for me and found no record of Flora E. Birkhofer in the U.S. Military. Additionally, cemeteries usually keep a record of which graves are those of U.S. Veterans; Forest Hill had no indication that Birkhofer was a U.S. Veteran. The courthouse suspected that this was a typographical error on her death certificate.

“Flora E. Birkhofer 1905-1997� is the only information inscribed on the gravestone, yet these bare details pilot a life lasting 92 years.

This biographical sketch was written for the Research for Reporters class at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Each student in the class went to a cemetery in Duluth, got a name from a grave marker, and then used a variety of primary and secondary sources to find out as much as possible about the person.


It is interesting the information you were able to come up with based on public record. Everything you have found seems correct. Thank you for your information.