“In January, I was contacted by Esther Larson Johnson through my Ancestry.com account, and she said our DNA results show us to be first cousins,” Robin Larson Jensen wrote. As it turned out, a long-held family secret had kept them apart.
Robin’s grandfather, Erick Gunnar Larson (pictured, left), emigrated in 1922 from Sweden to Tacoma, Washington, where his brother, Axel Larson, lived. There, Karl met and married Mary Alice Merrill in 1926. When she was pregnant with their son, Richard Riley Larson Sr. in 1927, the couple fought, and Mary Alice went home to her parents. They divorced, and Erick only saw his son a few times. (Richard is pictured, right, with his wife, Cora. More family photos at bit.ly/KLarson)
“Erick” disappeared in 1929 by moving to Astoria. He became a U.S. citizen and changed his name to Karl E. Larson. No one in Tacoma knew his location or new name; no one in Astoria knew about his old name or life. (Side note: Karl shocked Axel — who thought Karl was dead — with a visit to Tacoma in 1954, but Karl did not try to see his son Richard while he was there.)
In Astoria, Karl and his new wife, Florence E. Brace, had two sons, Allen Leroy Larson and Robin’s father, Dale Edward Larson (1934-2018, bit.ly/delarson). Every now and then Karl would tell Dale (pictured, inset) he needed to find his “Tacoma brother,” but did not explain what he meant.
Other hints of Karl’s secret popped up occasionally. Robin remembers going to Sea-Tac International Airport to see him off on a trip to Sweden in 1996. Axel’s daughter Janet Larson was also there, and asked Karl about the “woman troubles” that caused him to abruptly leave Tacoma. “I don’t want to talk about that!” he replied, which left Robin wondering.
By the time Esther contacted Robin with the truth this year, it was too late for Allen and Dale, who both died this spring, to meet their half brother, who died in 2008.
Now that the secret is out, both of Karl Larson’s families had a reunion recently. “It was an amazing surprise to find out my dad has a half brother,” Robin noted, “and even better to meet his wife and daughter in person, so now we look forward to meeting more of our new-found relatives.”