Discarded wedding album finds home in OregonThe closest surviving relative of a couple married in Duluth was found in Portland.
By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune
Matt Seppo’s email inbox began to light up after the newspaper story ran Dec. 11 about the old wedding album he had found.
“And people started calling, too,” said Seppo, a St. Louis County property manager. “So many people have tried to help.”
Seppo was trying to find a surviving relative of the couple featured in the 1950s-vintage wedding album that he found gathering dust in a storage room at the Chris Jensen nursing home in Duluth.
The News Tribune ran a story on Dec. 11 about Seppo’s efforts to use genealogy websites and public records on his own time to track down relatives to claim the two other sets of photos he had found at the nursing home.
But Seppo was still looking for someone — anyone — related to Marvin and Shirley Westerlund.
The Westerlunds were married in Duluth on Oct. 3, 1953, according to information in the album. But there didn’t seem to be anyone related to the couple still in the Northland. It wasn’t even clear in what church the wedding had taken place.
Then, Seppo received an email from a woman named Lynn Hitti who had read the newspaper article and did some searching on her own. She tracked down a 2010 obituary in an Oregon newspaper for a man named John Johnson who was survived by his wife, Maydora Westerlund Johnson.
Seppo then called the Temple Baptist Church in Portland, Ore., where the obituary said John Johnson’s funeral was held. He hit the jackpot.
Maydora, now 87, turned out to be Marvin Westerlund’s sister, and the closest relative that either Marvin or Shirley had who was still living.
“It turns out Marvin was from Oregon but was visiting Duluth when he met Shirley. … They eventually got married in Duluth but later moved to Oregon,” Seppo said after getting the back story. “Marvin died quite young of cancer in 1966 and, later, Shirley moved back to Duluth. ... And she died while living at Chris Jensen in 1992.”
Oddly, of the three sets of photos Seppo had found in the nursing home (formerly owned by the county), Shirley was the only one with a direct connection to the place. Her wedding album had sat in the storeroom there for two decades, somehow escaping the garbage can.
Seppo found out that Marvin and Shirley never had children. Shirley was an adopted only child with no known living relatives. That left Marvin’s siblings as the only hope.
“We’re lucky Maydora is still around, and lucky they mentioned her (maiden) name in her husband’s obituary,” said Seppo, an amateur genealogist who noted that obituaries can be a treasure trove of information on family histories.
Even after mailing the wedding album to Maydora on Monday, Seppo continued to get calls and emails offering clues or help — including an email from Janet Carlson of Maple Grove, Minn., who said she saw the story reprinted in a Twin Cities newspaper. She said she was Marvin Westerlund’s cousin (their fathers were brothers), and she added a little more detail to the family history.
Seppo also got a call from a Duluth woman who said her mother attended the Westerlund wedding, and that it was held in Good Shepherd Church in Lakeside, answering yet another question.
“It’s amazing when you get going on something like this how much history there is,” Seppo said. “Everyone has a story.”