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A search for life in a death

DCN Correspondent

My search for names in the graveyard brought me to a headstone bearing the names of a couple: Per Eric Okerlund, born Jan. 25, 1852, died Nov. 6, 1906; and Eva, wife, born Dec. 26— or perhaps it was 28, I couldn’t quite tell which it was on the stone—died Jan. 3, 1943.

The next stop for me was online at the GenWeb site for St. Louis County, where I searched the death records index. I found both of their certificate numbers, death dates and names, and I learned that “Per Eric? was recorded as “Peter E.? on the St Louis County Death Records Index. This showed me I had to be open minded as to how Mr. Okerlund’s name might be recorded in different sources.

I also searched on the Minnesota Historical Society Web site and found that “Peter Erick Okerlund,? who died in St. Louis County on Nov. 6, 1906, was born in Sweden. That's all I could accomplish with the St. Louis County GenWeb site, so I moved on.

With the information I had gathered thus far in hand, I visited Pat Maus at the Northeast Minnesota Historical Center in the University of Minnesota Duluth library. She and I looked through the Polk City Directories from the Okerlunds’ lifetimes, and we found that Per Erick was listed as being a shoemaker in 1905, and Eva was never listed as having an occupation.

According to the 1942 directory, Mr. and Mrs. Okerlund had lived at 723 E. 5th St. in Duluth, and sometime after Per Eric’s death, Eva was living at 4114 Colorado in Lakeside and then moved back to 723 E 5th St. before she went to St. Anne’s Home for the Aged located at 2002 W 3rd St. in 1942.

From those directories, we also learned that Olaf M. Falk, who was married to Emma E., and Bernhard S. Ottoson, married to Hilda, were all living at the 723 address when Eva was at the 4114 Colorado address.


Thinking that these were perhaps their children, I looked through some public schools’ yearbooks from the early 1900s. Finding no proof of relation, I moved on.

Pat Maus pointed me in the direction of the courthouse: Joanne Sher, Thursdays 1-4:30 p.m., Room 101, 726-2559, ext. 4647. So, I made plans.

First I decided to go to the cemetery to look at the death index cards. Eva’s card told me her date of death, location in the cemetery, address, age at death, name, and record number. None of this was new or helpful. Mr. Okerlund's card gave me “Per Erick Okerlund? and didn’t even supply a death date. With some concern, I finally went to the court house.

There I found a wealth of information from a helpful woman named Sher. Through Ancestry.com, she found census data from 1895: Peter E. and Eva Okerlund came from Sweden, and Per Erick was a shoemaker at this time.

In the 1920 census, Eva, 72 years old, was listed as living with Olaf M. Galk and Emma Galk; these are recorded with last names of “Falk? in the next census, 1930, and Eva is always listed as a widow—here was my connection to the residents living at Eva's old 723 address while she was living in Lakeside.

It also said that Falks are both from Sweden, and that Eva’s relation to the head of the household, Olaf, is as a mother-in-law, meaning that Emma E. must be Eva’s daughter. I now had proof that it was, indeed, their daughter and her husband living at their old 723 address after Peter died.

Sher also pulled up on microfilm the Duluth Deaths Records for St. Louis Co., Minn., for “Peter Erick Okerlund,? “Mrs. Eva Okerlund? and “Emma Eleanora Falk,? along with the Ottoson couple. The records showed that Peter Erick Okerlund was 53 at his death, was a shoemaker, was born in Sweden, and lived at 723 E. 5th St.

His father was Olaf Okerlund, and his mother’s maiden name was not listed. Length of residence in town was 20 years, and his cause of death was tuberculosis of the lung and intestines.

Eva’s death certificate told more. Her place of death was in St Louis County at “St. Ann’s Home,? where she had stayed for a year and three months, though she had lived in the community for 55 years, or since about 1888.

Her cause of death on Jan. 3, 1943, was described as “broncho. pneumonia.? Her birth date and place were listed as Dec. 28, 1848, in “Saldahl Floda Sodenialand, Sweden,? and her father was Anders Anderson, who was also born in Sweden. Nothing was noted about her mother. The informant on the death certificate was none other than Mrs. O.M. Falk, Per Erick and Eva’s daughter.

Emma's death certificate said was born on Oct. 16, 1876, living a long life and dying on May 19, 1976, at the age of 99. Like Eva, she outlived her husband, who died Jan. 11, 1959. Since her mother was recorded as living in Duluth since 1888, I would guess that Emma came to America from Sweden at age 12 with her parents and any siblings (who I couldn’t find if they ever existed), and then Emma married Olaf Falk, also from Sweden, in America. However, she could have stayed in Sweden, married, and come over to America post-marriage.

I was unable to find any records of marriage for Emma. Emma’s death record also showed that she died from “cerebral arteriosclerosis with multiple CVA’s? and had this condition since about two years prior to her death. Emma was living at 4002 London Road, and was institutionalized at Lakeshore Lutheran Home before her death. She was buried at Sunrise Memorial Park in Duluth.

Having solved the mystery of Emma and Olaf, I was still curious about this Ottoson couple that was living with them. The death certificates from the Ottosons revealed no immediate family connection, but they did have a connection to Sweden. They could have been extended family or simply other Swedes living in the building, which might have been a duplex and allowed for more than one unrelated family to live at the location.

In the Federal Naturalization Index at the St. Louis Co. courthouse, Sher also found that Per Erick Okerlund applied for citizenship through the federal level and was fully naturalized in October 1897, thus causing Eva to become naturalized by default through her husband.

My final step was to find the actual obituaries. Sher was able to give me the Duluth News Tribune (DNT) death notice for Per Erick, but that told me nothing new. She pointed me back to the UMD Library to find obituaries of Eva, Emma and Olaf on the DNT microfilm.

From the obituaries, I learned that at Eva’s death in 1943, she was living with her daughter, O.M. Falk, and that two grandchildren and two great grandchildren were still living. Emma, then, must have had children and grandchildren. At the time of Eva's death, Emma was 67 years old. Emma’s husband would die 16 years later in 1959, and Emma would follow in ’76.

Olaf’s obituary spelled his name as “Olof,? and revealed that he was 84 when he died. He was born in Sweden and was a Duluth resident for 55 years. Olaf was part of the Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, “and was a city inspector for 29 years, retiring in 1940.?

Still living at the time of his death were his wife, a brother named John in Manistee, Mich., and “several nieces and nephews.? Because no children or grandchildren of Olaf’s are listed as surviving at this point, either he and Emma had no children—in which case, Eva must have had another child who bore children and died before Eva—or Olaf and Emma's children and grandchildren died before Olaf.

And who are the nieces and nephews? If Eva did have a child besides Emma who bore children, it could be those children, or it could be Olaf's brother John's children—I still don't know for certain.

Emma’s obituary in 1976 told me little more: She lived at 4002 E. Superior St., died in her home, was born in Sweden, and was a Duluth resident for 88 years—which confirmed that she came over from Sweden with her parents at age 11 or 12 as I suspected. She was also a member of the Lutheran Church and the Royal Neighbors of America. At this point, her living legacy consists of two nieces and a nephew, but no more information is given about her relations.

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.