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Monday, January 21, 2019

Rest in Peace Karen Vigneault, the woman who made miracles | Long-lost Native American Sisters Reunite

Using her own money, Karen traveled to Iceland late last year to meet Guðrún and the Iceland media covered it. Her wish was to reunite Guðrún with her tribe and relatives. She succeeded.[caption]

Kimberly Linebarger, left, with sister Gudrun Drofn Emilsdottir, in lobby of Seven Clans First Council Casino Hotel, Newkirk, Oklahoma, November 19, 2018.[caption]

Guðrún Emilsdóttir, circa 1967, baby picture

Guðrún Emilsdóttir, adopted shortly after birth, was 28 before she tracked down her birth mother.
Her birth mother gave Emilsdottir her birth certificate, which named her father, Henry Linwood Jackson.

“My nephew started looking for Henry,” she said.

Eventually, he contacted Native American genealogist Karen Vigneault, a member of the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel in California who was profiled in an earlier VOA story.  On Vigneault’s advice, Emilsdottir took a DNA blood test; they uploaded the results onto an online database and waited.

(READ Long-lost Native American Sisters Reunite for a Joyous Thanksgiving)

Emilsdottir has returned to Iceland but is planning to return to Oklahoma in July 2019 for the “Encampment,” a pow wow the Otoe-Missouria tribe has held annually for more than 130 years. It’s an occasion for the tribe to sing, drum, dance and remember their history and traditions. And celebrate family, lost and found.

Henry Linwood Jackson, Otoe-Missouria tribe member, ca. 1965.
BIG READ: Long-lost Native American Sisters Reunite for a Joyous Thanksgiving

The reunion happened because of the tireless methodical work of librarian and tribal genealogist Karen Vigneault (MLIS); she and I have worked together since 2013.

I learned yesterday that Karen has passed away at her home in San Diego. 

She made miracles and reunions for adoptees, like these sisters.

It is impossible to put into words the impact she had on me and the lives of many adoptees she helped. She worked to find adoption records, tribal histories, family genealogy and find relatives that adoptees could contact and meet.

This loss is personal and devastating. Not just to me but to readers of this blog who are still searching and hoping and waiting and wanting to find their families.

I will post more when funeral arrangements are announced.


  1. Hello, I am unable to find any obituary info for Karen. Your blog is all I have found to confirm her passing. I was at Sycuan yesterday and happened to randomly find out about her passing from another Native woman. If there is any obituary info, can you please share it? Also, is she buried in Santa Ysabel? Thank you.

    1. Please see this new post:

  2. We will post when we find out more. No obit was online. As far as we know, she had a traditional funeral.

  3. Thank you so much for responding. I thought it might be a long shot. I met Karen several years ago and we bonded over library stuff. We sort of lost touch, but I was literally just talking about Karen last week with my spouse because we were driving by her old road in Santa Ysabel on our way to Warner Springs and we were remembering spending time at her property and wondering if she still lived there. I guess we got our answer...
    She is a treasure to the Native community and San Diego as a whole. This is such a loss.

  4. My name is jennifer and i was very close to karen for many years and saddened by her death. how did she leave this world?

    1. Hi Jennifer. She was home on her rez and died in her sleep. We are still mourning her.

    2. Karen had been ill. Here is info about her wake:

  5. I too worked with Karen on projects mainly at the Women’s Museum in San Diego. She taught me so much about local indigenous people past and present. She was inducted into the SD County Women’s Hall if Fame and every year gave the blessing at the event. Sad I did not get a chance to be with here one more time. Happy her passing was peaceful and on her much loved res.

    1. Karen touched so many lives. Thank you UNKNOWN for your thoughts.

  6. Just now found out about my friend passing. It was a kick in the gut. Still have her poems she wrote for me. She took care of me when I was serioysly ill. She also took care of my dog while I was unable to...thanks my friend.
    I loved you Always !!!

    1. Please see this new information:

  7. I just found out that Karen had passed away. The world has lost an angel. I'm Elizabeth and her and I dated during her time at grossGros college. We lost touch. But, she was one of a kind. It wasn't until our breakup, that I came full term with my being a lesbian. My need to deny who I am caused our breakup. She was the reason I came out fully to eveyoeveand I never got the chance to say that I am sorry. R.I.P karen.

    1. Elizabeth, please see this new post:


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Detailed discussion of the Bering Strait theory and other scientific theories about the population of the modern-day Americas is beyond the scope of this essay. However, it should be noted that Indian people have expressed suspicion that DNA analysis is a tool that scientists will use to support theories about the origins of tribal people that contradict tribal oral histories and origin stories. Perhaps more important,the alternative origin stories of scientists are seen as intending to weaken tribal land and other legal claims (and even diminish a history of colonialism?) that are supported in U.S. federal and tribal law. As genetic evidence has already been used to resolve land conflicts in Asian and Eastern European countries, this is not an unfounded fear.

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