Brainerd retiree learned of a ‘second dad’ in 1994... then DNA revealed another surprise
By Jennie Zeitler
Norm Miller of Brainerd grew up in Richfield. Until he was 54 years old, he thought Archie Miller, the man who raised him, was his father.
“He was a good dad,” Norm remembered. “He was a Boy Scout leader and a gun safety instructor. He spent time with me and my brother, Bruce.”
The first shocking family revelation Norm received, when he was in his 20s, happened when a young woman called and introduced herself as his sister.
“Judy called and told me that Archie had married her mother in Waite Park during World War II,” said Norm. “I had a sister who was seven months older.”
It’s a story with several twists and turns, and all the adults who were involved are now gone. Archie had been honorably discharged from the Army sometime after marrying Judy’s mother, but around the time of his discharge, he started dating Norm’s mother, Gertrude, in Willmar. He then spent some time in prison in St. Cloud for abandonment. Then he was released from prison in order to enlist in the Army again, this time attending cooking school.
“But he went AWOL and got a ‘less than honorable’ discharge that time,” said Norm.
Gertrude died in 1987, when Norm was 47. In 1994, Gertrude’s brother died. The remaining sister in their family travelled from Arizona to attend the funeral. She sat down with Norm and broke an even bigger family shock.
“She said, ‘Before I die, there is something you need to know.’ Then she said that my real dad was Axel Thorson,” Norm said.
Axel Thorson was Gertrude’s first cousin. Very soon after that, Norm talked to Axel over the phone.
“He told me that it was a secret that should have been told 50 years ago,” said Norm. “When I met him, he pulled out of his billfold a picture of himself and my mother. He had carried it all those years.”
Norm and Axel had six years together, making up for lost time. Axel never had other children, and he was delighted to spend time with Norm. He visited Norm’s home and met Norm’s wife, Marlene, and their children. Just about every Saturday during those years, Norm drove from his home in Elk River to Willmar. He and Axel enjoyed having lunch together.
“He changed his will, and he left me his house,” Norm said.
After Norm’s uncle had died in 1994, and the big revelation about Axel Thorson was made, Norm obtained his mother and Archie’s marriage certificate.
“She had always told me that they were married in 1939. They were actually married in 1945,” he said.
By that time, Norm knew that Archie was not his father. But this new revelation meant that Archie was not the biological father of Norm’s brother, Bruce, either.
As the years went by, Norm continued doing genealogy research, a long-time passion of his. In 2020, he decided to have his DNA tested through Ancestry.com. He had traced some of his family’s bloodlines back to the 11th century and was curious to see if a DNA test would take that back even further.
But he was gobsmacked by what he learned. It was yet another life-changing family revelation.
“The results came back saying I had siblings,” he said. “I had always wanted a sister! But my next thought was to wonder, ‘How can that be?’”
Although his results showed siblings, he could not see any further information about them, because it was marked private. That meant they were still living.
About a month or two later, a young woman called who turned out to be Norm’s niece, Mandy – his “new” sister’s daughter. Her uncle had recently had his DNA tested and there was a connection between him and Norm. Mandy was able to see Norm’s name on Ancestry, and one day when they were both signed in at the same time, she was able to contact him.
After talking about the possibilities, they determined that Norm was the older brother of Mandy’s mother and her two uncles. Just like that, Norm discovered his brother, Duane Ramberg, who is one year younger. His brother Charles Ramberg is three years younger. Then came his sister, Patty Ottenstroer.
“They are wonderful people! They have all been here to visit,” said Norm. “I have 45 new cousins, too.”
The father of these four people was Nils “Fred” Ramberg, who had died in 2003. He was born in Harris, Minn., and died in Minneapolis.
“My brothers said that he was quite a ladies’ man and that he probably went to a lot of dance halls back then,” said Norm. “He probably met my mother there.”
Norm speculates that his mother probably didn’t know exactly who his father was.
“My mother was a wonderful woman, but I’m just disappointed that she didn’t tell me all of this herself,” said Norm.
Charles Ramberg wrote a short history of the Ramberg family for Norm and put together a photo album for him, filled with older photos and new pictures too. Norm considers himself a very fortunate man to have found so many new family members.
Continuing his passion for family research, Norm has traced the Rambergs back to Orevo, Sweden. He feels content now, knowing what his true heritage is. At one time, he thought he had German heritage and a few other things. Now he knows that his heritage is half Norwegian and half Swedish.
Norm has taken the many family revelations that have happened throughout his life in stride.
“Archie is still my dad – he raised me. I have wonderful memories of my dads, Archie and Axel,” said Norm. “Being a genealogist, I’m glad I found out about Fred. It’s all very interesting.”