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Duluth man's royal connection is family tree

Vern Nelson of Duluth talks about his relationship to King Harald V of Norway. (Clint Austin /

King Harald V probably won't meet him today, but he has a distant cousin in Duluth.

Vern Nelson, 80, a retired history teacher and coach who's temporarily living in the rehab wing at Essentia Lakeshore, traces connections to much of European royalty through his grandmother, Caroline Dybing Nelson.

"Her uncle was king of England, Edward VII," Vern Nelson said.

Vern Nelson and his wife, Sue, still have work to do on the family tree. They know that Caroline's father was Vladmir Dybing, who became an admiral in the Norwegian navy and later head of parliament. They know her mother was a princess royal of Denmark, but they don't know her name.

Edward VII (1841-1910) was the son of Queen Victoria, the father of King George V and great-grandfather of today's English monarch, Queen Elizabeth II.

That would have made Nelson's grandmother a cousin of royalty throughout Europe. Edward VII was the uncle of Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and Queen Victoria Eugenia of Spain, among others.

Another of Edward's nephews was Christian Frederik Carl Georg Valdemar Axel, the son of King Frederick VII of Denmark. Christian married Maud, one of Edward's daughters, becoming his son-in-law as well as his nephew. Then in 1905, Christian was asked to be king of the newly re-formed nation of Norway.

Christian took the name Haakon VII. He was the father of King Olav and grandfather of King Harald V.

So: Vern Nelson's grandmother's uncle was also the uncle of King Harald's grandfather.

The curious thing is that Caroline Dybing Nelson

didn't become a queen or princess in a European country. She and her husband, Ludwig, from Sweden, moved to Ellsworth, Iowa. And no one knows why.

"I never got clarity on that," Vern Nelson said.

They do know that on Nov. 27, 1987, their daughter, Andrea, had an audience with King Olav when he was visiting St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn. She showed the king the one picture the family has of Ludwig and Caroline. "(She) said, 'Do you know this girl?' " Sue Nelson recounts. "And he looked at it and started to giggle. He says, 'Yes, I know her,' because she used to go over to Norway to play with him when they were kids."

Ludwig and Caroline had five sons. The second oldest, Joseph, was Vern's father. Vern Nelson remembers that his grandparents' home in Iowa was filled with royal mementos. "But they never talked about it," he said.

Joseph moved his family to Northome, Minn. Vern grew up there and as a young man gave a friend a ride to the University of Minnesota Duluth. He decided to stay, graduated, and went on to teach history and coach football in Arnold and Clover Valley.

Sue Nelson and two of their three grown children will be at the royal luncheon today. Vern, who is on dialysis three days a week and carries an oxygen tank, won't be able to attend.