Genealogy Society connects families to county’s past

Recording memories – Blue Hills Genealogical Society volunteer Carol Gehler records information from a grave at Bethany Lutheran Cemetery, located about five miles north of Almena, on Monday, Aug. 10, 2020.

Photo by Bob Zientara

Small, rural cemeteries don’t usually get a lot of visitors.

But about a dozen people were parked at the Bethany Lutheran Church Cemetery, north of Almena, on a weekday afternoon in August.

Moving up and down the rows of graves, they carried note pads, cameras, brushes, scrapers and other gear, as they inspected the stones, copied down information and photographed the stones.

The Blue Hills Genealogical Society, based in Barron, is gathering information from Bethany (also known as Neby) and other small cemeteries throughout the county, as it adds to its trove of information about Barron County’s pioneer families.

The information will enable the society to connect Barron County with its ancestral past, preserve information about the immigrants who settled the county in the 19th and early 20th centuries, develop a better understanding of who they were and why they came, teach others to appreciate those traditions, and help others research their Barron County roots.

According to Brad Nyhus, caretaker for Bethany/Neby, the place was originally known as Norwegian Lutheran Cemetery, and may predate its namesake church, which began in 1903.

“There is no Bethany (Lutheran) Church now,” he said Monday, Sept. 14. “It dissolved in 1967.”

What was left of the Bethany congregation joined the Cumberland First Lutheran Church, Nyhus added.

But he said that the grounds continue to be maintained, thanks to the efforts of a cemetery association that includes a five-member board of directors – four of whom are descendants of people who are buried there.

“My parents and my father’s parents are there,” Nyhus said.

He then described one recent experience that emphasizes the power that family history continues to exert on the descendants.

“I got a letter from a man in Norway, asking about this place,” Nyhus said. “Later, he came here to visit the cemetery. That really surprised me.”

The stop at Bethany/Neby was one of several such visits that the Blue Hills Genealogical Society has been conducting during the summer of 2020.

Volunteers wear work clothes and shoes, and are asked to bring a pen or pencil, camera, plastic scraper and/or brush for cleaning gravestones.

The work usually goes on a little over an hour.

The society maintains a resource library at 410 E. La Salle, Barron, open to the public by appointment.

For more about the society, visit www.bhgsbc.org.