Out on a Limb: Charting generosity

By David A. Fryxell Premium

When we started planning this issue’s cover package on charting your family tree, with its beautiful save-and-frame chart, my own family tree was missing a few lower branches. Even just recording five generations, as our “gatefold” cover chart makes it easy and attractive to do, I had a big blank on my father’s side: I knew about my great-grandmother, Mary Eckstrom, but her parents were a mystery. What were their names? Did they come to America with their daughter or stay in Sweden? No clue.

Hoping to get lucky, I posted a query on GenForum <>, a bulletin board for exchanging genealogical info (we reviewed another such site, the newly combined Ancestry/Roots Web boards at <>, in our last issue). Maybe I’d connect with some distant Eckstrom kin, I thought. I never dreamed how lucky I’d get.

It’s amazing what genealogists will do for each other — even for fellow family historians they’ve never met. Soon after my posting, I got an email from a Mike Pancrazio who lives near my father’s hometown of Moline, I11. Though Mike wasn’t even a distant cousin, he’d taken the time to hunt for my ancestors’ obituaries in the local library, transcribed what he’d found and e-mailed it to me.

Over the next few weeks, Mike would not only return to the library for me, but visit the cemetery where my ancestors are buried, call the cemetery office and mail me a map of the cemetery and printouts of still more obituaries. All this for a total stranger, hundreds of miles away.

Mike also had a happy accident on my behalf. The family genealogy I’d been handed down had Mary Eckstrom’s death date off by two years. In searching for my Mary Eckstrom — who actually would have been Mary Lundeen, her married name, by the time she died — Mike came across an obituary for a Mary Eckstrom who’d indeed died in March 1916. That, of course, turned out to be Mary’s mother — my mystery great-great-grandmother.

Though I still didn’t know this elder Mary’s maiden name, I now knew her first name, the fact that she and her husband (who’d died “several years before,” I learned) had emigrated from Sweden, the church she attended and the names of their other children. Thanks to these clues, I found a Mary Eckstrom and one of her children, together at the same address, in an old city directory; here she was parenthetically and fortuitously identified as “widow of Olof.”

Because of Mike, the blanks in my family tree had suddenly begun to fill in: Olof Eckstrom, born in Sweden, probably died before 1885; Mary (unknown), born in Sweden Jan. 18, 1836, died in Moline March 13, 1916. Now I’m searching census records for more clues and researching those hitherto unknown great-great-uncles and aunts. My daughter, who was home from college the weekend Mike’s first e-mail arrived, has caught the “bug” and wants to plan a father-daughter genealogy field trip to Moline. And I’m eagerly awaiting copies of both Marys’ death certificates, which I hope will have more answers.

When I do complete these branches of my family tree chart, I’ll be saying thanks to Mike for genealogical service above and beyond the call of duty. I like to think I’d do the same for somebody else someday. So if you have the chance — via the Internet or a local genealogy society — to help a fellow family historian fill in a family tree, please make the extra effort. You never know what may grow out of your random act of genealogical kindness.

From the June 2002 issue of Family Tree Magazine