DETROIT LAKES, Minn. – Linda Fagerlie has always known that a piece of her family was missing.
“My mom and dad got divorced when I was little,” said Fagerlie, who was the oldest of four siblings. She was in the second grade.
“That’s when my dad moved to Iowa, met a woman there and had four more children with her.”
Fagerlie only saw her father two more times after he left, and when she was 12 years old, a chapter of her life came to a close.
“He (Fagerlie’s father, George Renny) died of a heart attack at the age of 33,” she said.
Life would continue for Fagerlie, as she would go on to serve Becker County in the corrections department for 35 years, becoming the assistant chief of corrections. She was married and raised a family of six.
Certainly her life was full, but there was always that piece left empty.
What ever happened to those four children in Iowa? She had never met her half-siblings. She didn’t even know their names.
“I knew that they had moved to New Mexico, though,” said Fagerlie.
It was a start.
La Luz, New Mexico
Linda Jamison didn’t know she had an older half-sister, Linda, but she knew she had siblings out there somewhere.
“I saw an old black and white photo of them when they were little,” said Jamison of the Minnesota kids she had never met, “but that’s all I knew.”
Jamison was the youngest of her four siblings and only a year and a half old when her father died, which meant she no longer had ties to his side of the family.
“I think my mother and he were in the process of getting a divorce - he had moved to Chicago for a while, then to Indiana where he passed away,” said Jamison. She, too, went on to raise a family of her own in New Mexico, where she worked as CNA and took care of the elderly in their homes.
But that same void that George Renny’s oldest child, Linda felt in Minnesota is the same that his youngest child, Linda, also felt in New Mexico.
The year 2000 rolled around, and the website Ancestory.com had become well known.
“So my brother, Bob, started putting in some information, and I filled in the blanks that I knew,” said Fagerlie, who turned her years of wondering into action.
Down south, Jamison was on the same mission to find out who the Minnesota kids were in that old, black and white photo.
“I finally found out their names, so I went on Ancestry.com and saw on their forum board a message from Linda that they were looking for us,” said Jamison. “I just screamed.”
Jamison began emailing Fagerlie to see if she thought they were, in fact, sisters.
“When I got her email, I just started hollering, too,” laughed Fagerlie, who rounded up her brothers, Bob and Ed, and headed to New Mexico. It was January of 2002, and several of George Renny’s children, who were in their 40s and 50s by this time, would finally meet each other.
Like two bundles of nerves, the two Lindas said “hello.”
“Nervous? Yes, very,” laughed Jamison. “I cried. I’m still crying. I didn’t know any of my dad’s family; I didn’t know I had cousins and aunts… I was so excited to learn about it all.”
The irony of their names didn’t escape them.
“I guess our dad liked the name ‘Linda,’” laughed Jamison.
Three of the siblings from Minnesota were finally getting to meet two of the siblings from Iowa. One of Jamison’s sisters couldn’t be there, and sadly enough, there was something they had in common right off the bat.
“We both lost a brother,” said Fagerlie, who lost her brother in 1999, while Jamison lost a brother in 1989.
Despite the lost chances, the six remaining children of George Renny would begin making up for lost time.
The visit down in New Mexico turned into a visit up in Detroit Lakes the next year.
Contact through email, phone calls and social media became a regular thing for the siblings, particularly for Fagerlie and Jamison, who have grown much closer than “half” sister would suggest.
“She’s not my half-sister, she’s just my sister,” said Jamison. “I love her to death.”
The two have bonded over their love of family, discovering how similar they are in personality and how they live their lives. But living in completely separate regions of the country, the sisters have a whole new set of experiences to explore as they strengthen their long lost family ties.
“I have never gone ice fishing before,” said Jamison, who came up to Minnesota this month to get a taste of Minnesota winter.
She came prepared with boots and a heavy jacket in the hopes of snowmobiling and winter fun.
The mild weather denied her that, but her sister could still give her that ice fishing experience up north.
Along with two of Fagerlie’s children, the two Lindas spent a couple of days at Lake of the Woods, where they would sit in their vehicle on the ice and watch for a bite.
“Whenever we’d see the flag go up, we’d run out to our ice hole,” said Fagerlie, who said she could tell her sister was a little freaked out by being on the ice.
“But then when she saw how far down the ice auger had to go - about 38 inches - she felt better about it,” Fagerlie said with a laugh.
“Yeah, I loved it,” added Jamison, who loved it even more when she caught a 40-inch Northern Pike.
She didn’t keep it, but Fagerlie kept her 42-inch pike to mount on her wall. It is sure to be a memento of the time spent fishing with her new, little sister. Sitting there fishing gave them a lot of time to not just catch fish, but catch up.
“A lot of talking about family and laughing and eating and just having a good time,” said Jamison, who wrapped up her trip in Minnesota Tuesday.
But the sisters say from now on, they won’t let too much time pass before seeing each other again.
“I’m going to try to make it up here once a year - maybe I’ll even move here to be close to her,” said Jamison, who admitted there were many times when she thought she’d never meet her Minnesota siblings, much less grow close to them.
It’s a reminder of what can be for families previously torn apart.
“Just start looking,” said Jamison. “There’s so much information out there - don’t give up.”