The recognition he deserves

Woman working to procure a gravestone for her great-great-grandfather, a Civil War veteran

 

Robin Nisswandt is working with the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs to get her great-great-grandfather, Isaac Reese, a Civil War veteran buried in Almelund Cemetery, a gravestone marker. Here, she holds his photo next to his wife’s gravestone in the cemetery. Photo by Derrick Knutson

Robin Nisswandt is working with the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs to get her great-great-grandfather, Isaac Reese, a Civil War veteran buried in Almelund Cemetery, a gravestone marker. Here, she holds his photo next to his wife’s gravestone in the cemetery. Photo by Derrick Knutson

For the past 95 years, Isaac Reese’s body has been in the ground in Almelund Cemetery, unmarked by a gravestone.

The only mention of Reese, a Civil War veteran, is in a phrase on his wife’s marker in the cemetery: “Johanna, wife of Isaac Reese.”

Reese may soon have the recognition he deserves, thanks to a family member generations down the line. Reese is Robin Nisswandt’s great-great-grandfather.

Nisswandt, of Oakdale, is a history buff when it comes to her family.

“I just started doing research, and then I joined ancestry.com in September of 2010 and started working on the family tree,” she said. “I’d been thinking about doing this for a long time, but I never followed through on it.”

Once she started to delve into her family’s history, she found it engrossing.

“Once you get going on it, you’re hooked and you can’t stop,” she said. “I’d be sitting up at night working away on my laptop computer, and I’d look up at the clock and all of a sudden it’s 2 a.m. I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God, I have to be to work at 8 a.m.’”

Eventually, she found information on her great-great-grandfather through the Minnesota History Center and Chisago Lake Lutheran Church.

Nisswandt came across this photo of Reese after connecting with a cousin at a family reunion about two years ago. Nisswandt postulated Reese’s children did not have enough money to afford a gravestone for him when he was buried in Almelund Cemetery in 1918.  Photo courtesy of  Robin Nisswandt

Nisswandt came across this photo of Reese after connecting with a cousin at a family reunion about two years ago. Nisswandt postulated Reese’s children did not have enough money to afford a gravestone for him when he was buried in Almelund Cemetery in 1918.
Photo courtesy of
Robin Nisswandt

A family member told her he was buried in Almelund Cemetery, a graveyard with which she was very familiar.

“I’ve been up here to many funerals because I’ve got a lot of relatives buried (in the Almelund Cemetery), but back when I went to funerals, I never realized he was buried there,” she said.

Even if she had known years ago that Reese was buried in the cemetery, Nisswandt said she might not have taken note of it.

The big push for her to unearth much of her family’s history came in 2009 when her father died.

“I just started thinking that I’d like to find out more about both sides of the family,” she said. “I knew a lot of things about my dad’s side of the family, but my mom’s side, going back further, I didn’t know anything.”

 

A gravestone for her great-great-grandfather

About two years ago, Nisswandt organized a family reunion — a task she admitted was painstaking but rewarding when nearly 200 family members attended.

She’d been searching for a photo of her great-great-grandfather since learning more about him about a year prior, and at the reunion she found what she was looking for.

“I have a cousin who lives up on Lake Superior, up in Schroeder, and she has all of her mother’s photos — my mom’s oldest sister,” she said. “The day of the reunion, she said to me, ‘My mother had one last box of photos that I finally went through.’ I just pulled some out and I picked one up, and on that one my aunt had written, ‘Great grandpa Reese.’”

At the reunion, Nisswandt’s family members told her they’d be willing to chip in for a headstone for Reese, but another family member said they shouldn’t have to because of his service in the Civil War.

So Nisswandt contacted the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs to find out if the VA would provide a headstone.

A representative for the VA told Nisswandt she’d have to track down his service records, but a document Nisswandt already had in her possession sufficed.

Isaac Reese, top right, with his Civil War battalion.  Photo courtesy of Robin Nisswandt

Isaac Reese, top right, with his Civil War battalion.
Photo courtesy of Robin Nisswandt

“I told the gal, ‘I’ve found something in some of my papers, and I’m wondering if this will work.’ It was a paper that I had gotten down at the history center in St. Paul and on here it says, ‘Reese, Isaac, private. Place of birth: New York. Enlisted: 3/16/65. Mustered into federal service: 3/16/65 at St. Paul. Organization: Company B, First Battalion, Minnesota Volunteer Infantry.”

The woman at the VA told Nisswandt they could use that information to make Reese a marker.

Nisswandt said it could take about a month to get Reese a marker, if the government shutdown doesn’t affect the process.

Ideally, she said she’d like to get the marker before it starts to snow.

North Branch American Legion Post 85 and VFW Post 6424, Nisswandt said, are planning to have a ceremony for Reese when the marker is ready to be placed atop his grave.

“I’m just so excited about it,” Nisswandt said. “Here this man has been dead for 95 years and so many people would come up to the cemetery and they’d see the marker for Johanna and they’d say, ‘I wonder where Isaac is buried?’ It just makes me feel good to know that I’ve been able to get him a marker.’”

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