by April Scheinoha
Arlene Huseth made quite the first impression on her distant Norwegian cousin, Dagfinn Otterskred. She told him the Norwegian words that she knew.
“I was so proud I could talk a little Norwegian,” Arlene recalled three-and-a-half years later.
Arlene had said the equivalent of many dirty four-letter words. “I’ll never forget it,” said Arlene’s daughter Charlene “Putzy” Raiter.
Putzy’s sister Renee Fallon recalled Dagfinn saying that Arlene would have been slapped if she had spoken those words in Norway.
Despite that inauspicious, memorable start, the cousins continued to keep in contact. Dagfinn recently returned to the United States to visit his distant cousins. In 2014, he initially traveled to northwest Minnesota to meet them. Neither Dagfinn or his American cousins knew the others existed until 2011.
“After 123 years, it was a special thing to find,” Dagfinn said.
Their family’s story started with Markus Johannesen Otterskred. He and his first wife, Anna, had three children, Olina, Arne (who died at the age of 2), and Johannes. Johannes was Arlene’s grandfather. His half-sister Anna was Dagfinn’s grandmother.
Both Johannes and Olina left Norway for the United States. Olina eventually settled in Duluth and continued to have contact with her half-sister. Johannes, 16, emigrated two years later in 1888. He never contacted his family again.
Dagfinn was interested in learning what had happened to Johannes, who later went by the name John Markuson. He enlisted the help of Ron Matthias, the widower of another distant cousin, Donna (Frettem) Matthias. The Matthiases met Dagfinn while traveling in Norway. The Iowa couple met a man in a store, who introduced them to Dagfinn.
Ron began searching for Johannes. This was before the days of Ancestry.com. He searched census records, Minnesota death records and Pennington County grave records. John’s death record provided the final clue. It featured his father’s name. Ron could be assured that this man was Dagfinn and Donna’s long-lost relative. “That’s when I contacted Dagfinn,” Ron recalled.
Help was also provided by the Thief River Falls Public Library. Ron and Dagfinn learned Johannes’ Americanized name and that John was interred at Ekelund Lutheran Church. Ron wrote to the church. Pastor Bob Dahlen, then serving as the pastor there, shared the letter with John’s descendants. Before Ron could even contact the family, Renee had already emailed him.
Ron and Dagfinn soon learned that John initially settled in the area of Sioux Falls, S.D. John and his wife, Bertina, later moved to rural Goodridge. “John Markuson lived a great life and had 10 kids,” said Renee. “That was shocking to Dagfinn.”
One of John’s 10 kids was Arne, who was presumably named after John’s brother who died before John left Norway. The younger Arne was the father of Arlene Huseth and Ione Johnsrud.
Upon hearing about the number of John’s kids, Dagfinn immediately knew he had a lot more relatives than he ever thought. He and Ron traveled to the Thief River Falls area in 2014 to meet the family. They were among Putzy’s first customers after she took over Johnnie’s Cafe. She hadn’t cooked in a restaurant in 25 years. It would be an understatement to say she was nervous.
The group also visited John’s homestead, which is now owned by Mike and Linda Hanson. They also made time to see John’s burial site. During their most recent trip here, they made another pilgrimage to those sites.
Some of the Minnesota relatives are planning to travel to Vik, Norway, in July 2019. On the agenda will be a visit to the homestead still owned by the family.