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pioneer profile

story and photos by Melody Banks

A Penchant for the Past Amateur genealogist Nancy Thompson volunteers at the History Center in Nisswa.



Nancy’s ancestor, Franz Anton Renz, was a German immigrant who came to the U.S. with nothing and later became the treasurer of St. Paul and Ramsey County.

Nisswa History Center and Pioneer Village Mr. Lee Anderson deeded the land for the History Center and Pioneer Village to the city of Nisswa in 2010. There is no charge for visiting the History Center, a minimal fee is charged to go through the village. Those interested in learning more about the Crow Wing County Historical Society, volunteering or making a donation should contact Leann Carlson at (218) 9632432. Genealogical Surprises, an informal group of amateur genealogists, meet during at the History Center on the third Monday of each month, call Nancy at 568-8824.


SUMMER 2012 | her voice

Nancy Thompson has been interested in history for as long as she can remember. The amateur genealogist and archivist has a long past in Nisswa and has her own place in its history. Nancy worked as the deputy clerk for the city of Nisswa for 25 years. Serving the municipal position provided the opportunity to meet numerous area families and become involved with many of the policies and procedures that helped shape the quaint little village. She retired in 2004. “The week I retired,” she says, “I stopped into the history center and I have been there ever since.” Nancy was born in 1938. Her family lived near the state fair grounds in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, but she spent much of her time growing up in Nisswa. Her grandparents bought property on Gull Lake in 1916. She was only a year old when she made her first visit to the area and then spent time nearly every summer at their home. Nancy first met her husband, Harold, when she was just 5. “My uncle used to build water skis. Harold was one of several young boys who would come over to my grandparents to visit my uncle,” she recalls. “The funny thing is, he never showed interest in me until I was 18 and he started attending Dunwoody academy in the Cities. Then we finally started dating.” Their union lasted over 52 years. Harold passed away from complications of heart surgery in December of 2010. “Harold wasn’t interested in genealogy,” Thompson says. But he was supportive of her research. “He’d be watching television and I would come out of the back room grinning. He’d take one look at me and ask, ‘What’d you find this time?’ He walked through many a cemetery

with me looking for tombstones of ancestors.” Nancy credits her father for peaking her interest in genealogy. He began researching his family history and sharing what he found with her. Nancy’s search for ancestors began in earnest in the 1970s. “We didn’t have the Internet,” she says. Research done then took a lot of travel time, legwork and phone calls to counties and areas where family had lived. “Now online services like Rootsweb and with databases and records have made finding information a lot more accessible.” One of the most interesting discoveries Nancy made was in a cemetery in Canada. She was looking for information for her father’s ancestors. She found the gravesite of a child, John Scott, age 7, and his sister Mary, age 3. The tombstone indicated they died just days apart. It was a great find. “My dad knew of the family but he was unaware of the children. They would have been his uncle and aunt,” Nancy explains. While checking further into the cemetery records, she discovered that the children’s maternal grandmother was interred on the site with the children but her grave was unmarked. Nancy’s latest effort is writing an account of Franz Anton Renz. Renz was an ancestor on her mother’s side. She has a copy of a narrative chronicled by him entitled “The Widow’s Youngest Son.” “It appears he wrote the story in response to the question of whether he would amount to much due to the challenges he faced,” Nancy speculates. Renz must have been a determined individual. “He emigrated from Germany with nothing in 1848,” Nancy says. “The only person he knew in the U.S. was a brother who had come earlier and was living in New York.”

Her Voice - Summer 2012  

• Sandy’s Country Roots - Here’s a nursery east of Brainerd whose owner re-creates her “country roots.” • Reliving History, One Bead At A Ti...

Her Voice - Summer 2012  

• Sandy’s Country Roots - Here’s a nursery east of Brainerd whose owner re-creates her “country roots.” • Reliving History, One Bead At A Ti...