Out on a Limb: Hitting the Bricks

By David A. Fryxell Premium

I’d hit the proverbial “brick wall” in my quest for my Eckstrom ancestors, despite extraordinary long-distance assistance by a researcher not even related to me (as I chronicled in our June issue): Where in Sweden did this branch of my family come from?

I envied those with Ellis Island immigrant ancestors, who can use the online passenger-lists database at <>. In this month’s cover story, contributing editor Sharon DeBartolo Carmack shows how to find your Ellis Island ancestors even when they don’t seem to be in the database.

But my Eckstroms arrived too early, before Ellis Island opened its “golden door” in 1892.

I’d already tried tip number three from Carmack’s other feature in this issue, “Super Secrets of Successful Genealogists” — “Expand research to relatives and neighbors” — chasing Eckstroms all over Illinois. But nowhere could I find any record of their origin more specific than “Sweden.”

Everybody hits a brick wall like that sooner or later, Carmack says. She shares a dozen techniques that professional genealogists use to evade these research dead ends.

Almost by accident, I tried her secret number six: “Look for alternative sources.” I’d gotten in touch with a cousin, Pat Busse, and began peppering her with genealogy questions. Finally, Pat allowed that it would probably be simpler just to send me the family Bible.

After half an hour of running around the house telling everyone — my wife, the cats, the dog — “There’s a family Bible!!,” I calmed down enough to answer Pat’s e-mail without drooling on the keyboard. Sure, I replied as nonchalantly as I could muster, that might be best. Then I ran to camp by the mailbox.

When the Bible finally arrived, it wasn’t the sort of modest black model I used to tote to Sunday school. It was huge, almost a foot thick. Somehow, my great-grandfather lugged this all the way from the old country! The ornately carved cover gave way to equally ornate pages — all in Swedish. Armed with a Swedish genealogical word list from <> and a gazetteer, I deciphered what seemed to be a reference to my great-grandmother being born (födde) in a place called Hakvard? Harkvad? Hackvad?

A Swedish genealogist, Elisabeth Thorsell < Thorsell>, helped pin this down as Hackvad and found emigration records for my Ekstroms (the Swedish spelling). Perhaps we need a 13th secret: Get extraordinary assistance from total strangers.

Now I’m cranking through microfilm, and have already found the birth record for my great-grandmother and the marriage record for her parents (awkwardly, after her birth — but genealogy is full of family secrets, too!).

So don’t despair about your brick walls. Try Sharon’s 12 secrets. Explore this issue’s resources for ancestors from the mid-Atlantic states and African-American roots. Maybe you’ll even find an “alternative source” in an old scrapbook, much as I discovered the family Bible.

Remember, it’s only a brick wall because you haven’t found the doorway yet.

From the December 2002 issue of Family Tree Magazine