More family mysteries solved!

Last fall I spent a couple days in my mother’s hometown of Madison, Minnesota trying to find answers to two persistent family mysteries. I’ve written several posts about her grandfather, John M. Femrite, and his financial woes in the early part of the 20th century. My research at the Lac Qui Parle History Museum showed me that he lost his farms and his livestock due to having large amounts of debt at the same time that the bottom dropped out of the agriculture market following the end of World War I. In addition, a freak thunderstorm in 1919 wiped out much of the crop that year for John and his neighbors. He couldn’t catch a break despite monumental efforts. Just like that, the mystery of my great-grandfather’s misfortunes had been solved! I was saddened by exposing the size of his losses, but satisfied that there didn’t appear to be any sign of wrong-doing on his part.

The other goal of my “Day at the Museum” was to find out what happened to Madlyn G. Lindseth, first cousin of my grandmother, Josie Tryggeseth Femrite. I mentioned this mystery in a 2018 post titled “Killed by gunshot from landlord”. The post contained a litany of peculiar family tragedies in the 18th and 19th centuries, but the one in the title refers to Madlyn’s 1929 death as recorded in a genealogical chart belonging to my mother. There were no other details or cross references that I could use to explain the strange note. My mother never mentioned this occurrence to me and I was left to ponder the possibilities. Jilted lover? Suspected burglar or home invasion? Accident?

With the help of the museum staff, I located an article from the August 2, 1929 issue of The Western Guard, Madison’s weekly newspaper. The piece is titled “Madlyn Lindseth Dies From Shot After Fight to Save Life.” In the article we learn that the person who shot her was not only her landlord , but her employer as well ” . . . when he mistook her for a prowler.”

The bullet tore into her abdomen and she apparently lost a lot of blood because she underwent a blood transfusion as a last resort to keep her alive. She died a little more than 24 hours after being shot.

Apparently, Madlyn was living in the man’s house and was his housekeeper. Maybe it was an honest mistake, but it seems to me that it should have been an avoidable one. Madlyn was only 19 at the time of her death. My grandfather Hiram was one of the pallbearers at her funeral.

A secondary twist in this strange story was the passing of Madlyn’s father, Halvor (Henry) Lindseth, in October 1929, just three months after her death. Was the grief too strong for him to continue living? Did he have a medical condition of which I wasn’t aware?

Henry and Esther Lindseth, Madlyn’s parents

Once again, my good friend at the museum, Barb Redepenning, found Henry’s obituary in the Western Guard dated November 1, 1929 with the headline, “Henry Lindseth Dies After 5-year Illness“. The piece doesn’t identify the illness, but I think it’s possible it was heart-related since the manner of death was sudden heart failure. This sentence in the article stands out, “Following the tragic death of his daughter Madlyn in Minneapolis last summer Mr. Lindseth began to fail noticeably, and this shock no doubt hastened the end.”

I felt pretty good about my time in Madison as an amateur investigator. I was 2-0 in the “Solved Mysteries” box score for the week! However, before I let it go to my head, I visited Faith Lutheran Cemetery in Madison where Madlyn is buried and immediately uncovered a new mystery.

Faith Lutheran Cemetery/ Madison, Minnesota

Henry and Madlyn Lindseth are buried next to each other in the family plot. Father and daughter and no one else. Why isn’t Henry’s wife, Esther Collins Lindseth, buried there as well or either of their two sons? Esther was Madlyn’s mother after all! After Henry died did she remarry and ask to be buried with her second husband? Did she ask to be buried near one of her two sons?

The quest continued at home this week with a visit to my online family tree “Bergesons in America.” Turns out Esther died in 1932 in Duluth, Minnesota. It took me the better part of an hour to figure out that she moved to Duluth with her son Raymond after Henry died. A listing in the local directory shows them living with one Clarence Lindseth and his wife Susan. I had to locate Clarence in another branch of the Lindseth clan with which I was less familiar.

Clarence was Henry’s second cousin. Their grandfathers were brothers and their fathers both bought farmland in the same township after emigrating to the United States from Norway. Henry and Clarence clearly knew each other from childhood days and likely remained friends as adults. Esther was born in Eveleth, Minnesota and before she and Henry were married in 1909 she was living in Duluth and working as a housekeeper. It makes sense that she chose to move from the prairie back to the north country after her husband passed.

My only remaining problem is that I can’t locate a record of Esther’s burial so I can’t say definitely where she was laid to rest. Raymond died in 1955 and is buried in Oneota Cemetery in Duluth. I think there’s better than an even chance that’s where Esther is also. Next time I’m in Duluth I’m going to see if I’m right!

Oneota Cemetery/Duluth, Minnesota (photo credit


There is one additional part of this story that I find intriguing. Before she died in 1932, Esther filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Hennepin County against Leroy Cady, the man who killed her daughter Madlyn. She sought $7,500 in damages. A newspaper account tells us that in 1930, a year after Madlyn’s death, a grand jury indicted Mr. Cady with manslaughter. However, the County Attorney, Floyd B. Olson, dismissed the charges in December of that year before the case came to trial. No word as to why. It’s interesting to note that the month before he made the ruling, Mr. Olson was elected as the 22nd governor of the state of Minnesota! He took office the next month.

I’m still trying to find out if Esther won her civil case.

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