Book with family's 130-year history returned thanks to Minnesota thrift store

The 100-page book, compiled in 1990, has roots in Norway, and branches in Florida and California.

This book was authored by a J. Eric Nelson in Florida but it took a route through Pequot Lakes on its way to California before ending up back with the right family. Contributed / Kim Firkus
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PEQUOT LAKES, Minn. — In 1990, a man named Jay Eric Nelson, of Altamonte Springs, Florida, compiled a more than 100-page book tracing his family history back to 1859, when the family's ancestor, named Thor, immigrated from Norway to the United States.

When Kim Firkus and her husband, Dana, found the book in a box destined for the shelves of their thrift store, Castoff's Secondhand Store in Pequot Lakes, Minnesota, they didn't even know where they bought it.

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"We buy estates. We've probably had it in storage for a couple of years," Kim Firkus said. "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."

Of course, there's no telling how the book got to Pequot Lakes. Regardless, Firkus decided she wanted it to find a proper home with the family in the book.


"I wasn't going to put it out for sale, because who would buy a family history book?" she said. "So I thought I'd throw it on my Castoff Facebook page. And if someone wants it, they can come get it."

The message Kim Firkus posted to the Castoffs Secondhand Facebook page on Oct. 8, 2021. landscape card

The last thing she wanted to do was dispose of the book given how much work went into producing it, which she said was incredibly detailed.

"(It) was nicely done," Firkus said. "He had typed everything out and probably went to the library and researched it."

The book has photos, newspaper articles, addresses of most of the living relatives mentioned in the book and detailed family trees. Firkus hoped the book could somehow get back to the family.

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That's where Sandra McMillion, of Brainerd, came in.

McMillion's son saw Firkus' post on Facebook and shared it with McMillion. The project was right up her alley, because McMillion does this type of thing often with old photos. She once reconnected an ancient German family Bible to its owners.


"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."

A close-up photo of the section tabs showing some of the detail Jay Eric Nelson out into the family book he created. Contributed / Kim Firkus card

McMillion offered to undertake the search for the book's family.

"When I got home with it I was very excited about it," McMillion said. "It was so beautifully done."

It turned out to be a fairly easy hunt.

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"This one happened real fast," McMillion said. "A lot of times it takes a while to get someone who is closely related or interested in that kind of stuff."

She found a great-great-great-great-grandson of one of the people in the book and messaged him, hoping he would respond as she is aware it probably seems sketchy when she contacts people.


"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."

She also offers to send the items to the recipient if they can pay postage. At first, to Dylan Nelson in Laguna Niguel, California, that did seem suspicious.

"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 in the book had none other than Nelson's father and grandfather. Once he knew the book was real, Nelson was immediately excited. He too is into genealogy, so the existence of a book with so much detail and information was perfect for him.

"I've made our family tree, and kind of traced back where we are, where we come from — that sort of thing," Nelson said. "And it's great to go off of other people's family trees, but to be able to have it myself and it has photos and stories. This is a connection to the history I probably never would have gotten otherwise."

He plans to add everything in the book to Ancestry and then update the information and share copies with family.

"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 was happy to learn he has something in common with many of his ancestors.

"We have a lot of educators in the family," Nelson said, "which is interesting to me. I'm pursuing being a professor myself. It was cool to find some back story and relate to them in that way."

The book also lays out the family's trek across country to California to be part of the Gold Rush as well as other details.

"I just want to say thank you to everyone who made it possible to get this here," Nelson said. "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."

Nelson sent personal thank you letters to Kim and Dana Firkus as well as McMillion. They all seem happy that the book is back with its family.

"How can you describe how it makes you feel?" McMillion said. "It's just amazing."

"I didn't really think much of it," Kim Firkus said. "I just thought I didn't want to throw it in the garbage because it was really well done. I thought someone was going to want it. I didn't think it would ever get back to the family, but it ended up with the right person so that was cool."

Travis Grimler began work at the Echo Journal Jan. 2 of 2013 while the publication was still split in two as the Pine River Journal and Lake Country Echo. He is a full time reporter/photographer/videographer for the paper and operates primarily out of the northern stretch of the coverage area (Hackensack to Jenkins).
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