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Rochester woman shares decades-long journey into her family’s past

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ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC)   Catherine Eleanor Kuisle was married in 1945. Her death in a Winona train accident 30 years later left her daughter Barbara Virnig yearning to learn more about the generations before her. Virnig reflects, “I knew that she was Irish. I knew some things about her family, not much about my father’s family.”

That was then. Today, Barb has located the records of more than 70,000 people in her family tree. Virnig says, “There were large, large families. In my father’s family, I can go back to the earliest settlers of French Canada.”

Virnig adds, “You can spend your life doing this. It’s very addictive. Especially if you find something, then you get real excited – like finding the information about my ancestors who were Native American. That was a big find.” She’s talking about Susan, daughter of the war chief of the Menominee Tribe during the War of 1812.  Virnig points to a picture board, “This is her son. This is my nephew. The two look so much alike genetically. They look like brothers almost and there’s 180 years between them.”

Barb Virnig has 9 siblings. They have a different view of the world because of her research. Barb’s sister Ronnie Ives-Virnig says, “It give you a sense of place, that time is really a continuum. We leave our stories, too. That’s a gift that we can give to the next generation about the life you can have.”

Barb says when it comes down to it, we’re all one big family. “Most everybody, except of 1/64th of my generation that were Native American to begin with were immigrants. The rest of my family were immigrants. It’s important that we realize we were built on and became a melting point for a lot of people who were looking for a better future.”

Barb pulls out a large family tree chart and laughs, “Some people ask me, are you finally done? I say no because I start looking at the names. This folds out to 15 generations of people I have looked at. There are still empty slots.”

If you would like to start researching your family history, Barb recommends reaching out to the Olmsted County Genealogical Society. She and others are willing to help you get started.

Jess Abrahamson

Jess Abrahamson

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