In the mid-1970’s, Larry Larson was off duty from the Fortuna Air Force Base and cruising the countryside with his new wife, Kimberly.
After spotting a house, they pulled over to tour the building.
“The house appeared abandoned, and being interested in old structures, I entered the building and browsed about,” Larson recalled. “Noticing an old picture with a somewhat ornate frame hanging on a wall, I went to see what it was. It was tilted, dusty, and the glass was cracked but it contained an old picture of Jesus. I felt it was a shame for it to be left like that, so I took it home, figuring nobody wanted it, leaving it there like that.”
Behind that picture of Jesus, they would find a marriage certificate dating back to 1909. It would take nearly 50 years for this document to make it back to the family. With the help of a retired Detective Corporal in charge of computer crimes, this special piece of history was able to be returned.
Larson had recently found the large 2 ½ foot tall document in his closet. Still in pristine condition, he turned it over to The Fortuna Oracle on July 15th in the hope of eventually returning it to one of the family members.
The search wouldn’t take long. This newspaper reached out to the Estevan Mercury after a cursory search of Divide County history archives which yielded no information.
Since the marriage certificate originated in Estevan, it seemed like a logical place to start. The following week, journalist Anastasiia Bykhovskaia wrote an article and requested help from the public in locating surviving relatives.
Shortly after the piece went public, retired Detective Corporal Dean Ross began an inquiry into the family.
“I follow the Mercury and it just popped up on one of my timelines, I think Facebook,” Ross said. “It was kind of interesting because I had relatives in that area. I started researching the certificate myself and realized from past history, that sometimes the information is incorrect with the spelling of the names.”
The initial search was fruitful and Ross began compiling information on the elusive couple. Adding to the remarkable connections which would pop up throughout his investigation, it turned out that Ross’s family would be near neighbors with the couple in question. Fueling his fire to get to the bottom of the mystery, Ross wouldn’t be deterred from seeing it through.
“I found where they had land ownership so I called the local historian for the province, and I just started running names,” Ross said. “Different spellings, everything. I ran into so many dead ends. Then I found they both passed in 1918. I thought that was weird. They passed away the same year and they weren’t that old.”
Speculating the two had passed from the Spanish Flu in 1918, the trail would run cold but Ross could not give up the search. From calling funeral homes in Santa Clara, California, to dialing any number he found associated with possible living relatives, he eventually had a break in the case he was taking little rest from.
“I couldn’t even sleep,” Ross recounted. “11:00 pm I started reading in the US archives. Then my wife looks over at me, like, are you done yet? Sure enough, 4:00 am in the morning I poured a cup of coffee and fired up the computer again. Out of nowhere on Bing [a search engine], 3 pages deep there was an obituary that had a slightly different spelling, and bang, everything popped up, it talked about her parents dying young and having siblings.”
Eventually, this obituary would lead to Jessica Jaeger-Markovich. Markovich’s father, retired physicist Erwin F. Jaeger, is the grandson of the deceased couple. It also just so happened that Markovich had been digging into their family history and knew of her great grandparents who had died tragically young. A voicemail from Ross was immediately returned, and the wheels of fate turned as well.
Since the couple had died young and tragically in 1918, the children were moved to reside with living family members elsewhere in the United States. Markovich noted, “The process of moving these children was probably why the marriage certificate was abandoned and the property was abandoned.”
From 1909 until around 1975, that marriage certificate held on to existence behind a photo of Jesus until Larry Larson came upon the photo and decided to save it. Once it was brought to light again, it was only a matter of days until Ross would use his expertise to find the family. Having worked in computer crimes, Ross used his digital sleuthing skills to make it all happen.
“Not knowing who owned the property, and fearful of asking around due to my “trespassing”, I just kept the items,” Larson recalled. “I felt uncomfortable throwing it away either, as who tosses a picture of Jesus? And the marriage certificate was so beautiful and a piece of history, even it was nothing of my family’s history.”
Now, the document is being mailed to Erwin Jaeger and will undoubtedly remain a piece of treasured family history. Markovich is currently in Georgia visiting her father and is pleased with the happy turn of events. She noted, “It means a lot to me.”
Larson is also happy with the outcome.
“I was overjoyed to learn the story had a happy final chapter,” Larson said.
“A descendant had been located and the items reunited with family.”