When I headed to Iowa last August, one goal was to escape the Texas heat and another was to find the graves of my paternal great-grandparents, Martin and Petra. Martin was the American-born son of Norwegian immigrants, and Petra emigrated from Norway as a child. In all my on-line searching, their resting places had thus far eluded me, so I tried not to get my hopes up. All I had to go on was a death date for Martin and my father’s firm conviction that Petra was buried in Webster City. He remembered attending her graveside service more than 60 years earlier.
And yet … I had a list of cemeteries and a helpful volunteer researcher unable to locate either Martin or Petra on any list of mapped cemeteries in the county. I’d tried an on-line search and had been unable to reach the cemeteries by phone. I was starting to wonder if they might be buried elsewhere or if their gravestones had somehow faded or disappeared. The researcher suggested trying the county courthouse, assuring me that not all the graves had been mapped and that Martin and Petra might still be there. I called, but they were unable to help me over the phone.
I got myself to Iowa, where a kind uncle joined me on my quest. First we visited a small, peaceful, old, but well maintained cemetery established by a Lutheran Church in the 19th century. It sat along a quiet dirt road, surrounded by lush, green farmland. I knew Petra’s parents were buried there … so I thought maybe … but no … no Petra.
We tried the county courthouse. The clerk was friendly and helpful, handing me a book filled with county death records of which I could make no sense. So she invited me into a room in the back that housed enormous, black notebooks filled with copies of individual death certificates. And it was as simple as that. With just a brief bit of searching, there was Martin … his cause of death and where he was buried. No records for Petra, but I still hoped to find them together. The clerk whipped out a map, drew a path to the cemetery from the courthouse, and handed it to me. It was just down the road.
Off we went to the cemetery, where we found the office, gave the clerk the names of the deceased, then waited a few minutes for him to look through a file drawer. Out came another map, this time to their gravesites, which were not far away. We drove a short distance, walked down a row of graves … and there we found them … Martin and Petra … side by side … under the shade of a tree.
They had been hiding in plain sight in the largest cemetery in Webster City, just like Dad said. I am thrilled with all the on-line records available, but sometimes it helps to step away from the computer.