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Can you help return a century-old Estevan marriage certificate?

What can be the beginning of an amazing story started a few years ago when someone found a very large marriage certificate issued in Estevan in 1909 in an abandoned house in Divide County.

ESTEVAN - A large marriage certificate issued in what was the Town of Estevan in 1909 and found in Divide County, N.D., in the 21st century is looking to be reunited with the family.

What can be the beginning of an amazing story started a few years ago when someone found a very large marriage certificate in an abandoned house in Divide County.

The certificate was recently brought to the attention of Alexa Althoff, publisher of The Fortuna Oracle, a newspaper serving Divide, Burke and Williams Counties.

"I use a lot of digital archives of old newspaper records for Divide County, but I don't have access to anything in Estevan," said Althoff in the interview with the Mercury.

The marriage certificate dated April 9, 1909, was issued to testify the union between Robert Sherman Gilbough and Lizzie Fries, both of the Town of Estevan. A large document is two feet tall and one and a half feet wide, and Althoff said she's never seen anything that big, as the American marriage certificates and other documents of the same era were much smaller.

It was found in an abandoned house some years ago and ended up at The Fortuna Oracle this July.

"This last week was a big weekend for us [July 15-17]. We had the Divide County Threshing Bee. And a lot of folks from the 780th Air Force here in Fortuna came back for a reunion," Althoff shared. "And one gentleman who no longer lives in the State had kept this marriage certificate that he had found for a number of years. So he reached out to me and wanted help finding any surviving owners."

Fortuna used to have a big air force base with a large radar station. It was closed in 1979 as a radar station and remained as a long-range radar facility until 1984. Althoff said that people who were involved with the station have come back every year since the base was decommissioned.

"Even though some of them don't live here anymore, they do have a lot of respect for local history and people here. I guess that's why he kept [the marriage certificate] and saved it so it wouldn't get ruined," Althoff said.

The Divide County newspaper’s archives are all digitized and searchable and go back to 1909 and earlier, but none of them had any mentions of Robert Shuman Gilbough and Lizzie Fries or people that could have been related to them. So, Althoff reached out to the Mercury in an effort to find any remaining family, since the certificate was issued in Estevan, assuming that people mentioned in it only briefly lived in Divide and then returned to their potential hometown.

The man who found the certificate said it was behind a religious print in a frame and he was hoping to eventually return it to any living family. (The Mercury wasn't able to get a hold of him at this time.)

The certificate is in excellent shape, and Althoff said that to come across well-preserved historic pieces is something common in their area.

"Some of these non-lived-in houses are just little time capsules of history … That's pretty common around here. People are starting to get rid of old houses that are falling down. But Divide County itself has about 2,000 people. That's a very, very small population," Althoff said, explaining that with such a small population their neighbourhood crime watch system works really well.

She added that back in the early 1900s there was a lot of flow back and forth between the Estevan area and Divide County, so she thought that word of mouth in Estevan may help locate some of the relatives.

"Back then a lot of people would visit from Estevan down here, even to little Fortuna. Back in that day, the neighbours that were across the border were really, truly neighbours, people would come down all the time. And it was an interconnected group, and a lot of people would immigrate either way, depending on who they married," Althoff said.

The traffic flows significantly changed in the contemporary world and especially over the past few years, but the hope is that there are still a lot of people that stayed in the area who might be able to help return the marriage certificate to the family.

If you have any information about Robert Sherman Gilbough and Lizzie Fries or any tips on how we could find the relatives, please call Mercury at 306-634-2654, reporter Ana Bykhovskaia at 204-215-0313 or email us at