A family history book found by the owners of a Minnesota thrift store was returned to the family thanks to the detective work of a stranger.
Kim Firkus said she and her husband, Dana, were going through boxes of merchandise destined for the shelves of at their thrift store, Castoff’s Secondhand Store in Pequot Lakes, when they found a homemade tome labeled, The Nelson Family Tree.
“We buy estates. We’ve probably had it in storage for a couple of years,” Firkus told the Brainerd Dispatch. “So Dana brings in product in tubs and stuff for me to mark, and I was going through the tub a couple weeks ago and came across the book.”
The book chronicled the history of the Nelson family from 1859, when an ancestor named Thor immigrated to the United States from Norway, until 1990, when the book was assembled by Jay Eric Nelson of Altamonte Springs, Fla.
“I wasn’t going to put it out for sale, because who would buy a family history book?” Firkus said. “So I thought I’d throw it on my Castoff Facebook page. And if someone wants it, they can come get it.”
The Facebook post came to the attention of Sandra McMillion of Brainerd, whose sleuthing skills once helped reunite an old German Bible with the family who once owned it.
“I’m really big into genealogy,” McMillion said. “I know the importance of old family records and that sort of thing, so if I come across old photos that aren’t my family, old Bibles or like this book of family history, what I do is go on Ancestry and plug in names and look them up. Then I start sending messages to these people.”
McMillion said she used Ancestry.com to look up the family members in the book and was soon able to identify Dylan Nelson of Laguna Niguel, Calif., as the great-great-great-great-grandson of one of the family members mentioned in the book.
McMillion send Nelson a message, but she said she was unsure about whether she would get a response.
“I know the messages sound weird,” McMillion said. “And they sound like scams. I ask them to please send me their email address and I will send pictures of whatever I have.”
Nelson admitted he was initially skeptical.
“I thought it was a scam, to be honest,” Nelson said. “People aren’t that nice in today’s world. She said she’d ship it out if I wanted to pay her, and I took a risk because it’s family history. Then she sent me photos, so I knew it had to be legitimate.”
One of the photos McMillion sent to Nelson showed his grandfather and father, confirming it was an artifact of his family.
Nelson said he is planning to update the book and put all of its information online for his entire family to enjoy.
“I’m seeing photos of my grandfather from when he was a kid, and I’ve never been particularly close with him,” Nelson said. “So to be able to see some of his history, and I’ve never met his sibling, but there’s photos of his siblings. I’m excited to be able to update it a little bit because it hasn’t been updated since 1990. My father’s had a couple kids since then, so I can add them to the history record that way. I’m looking forward to being able to continue it.”
Nelson said he is grateful to Firkus and McMillion for returning the book to the family.
“It all goes back to a secondhand store that instead of throwing it away made a post about it. It’s crazy how it can go across the country to get connected with someone,” he said.
Firkus celebrated the “happy ending” with a post on the store’s Facebook page.