History detective: Brainerd woman returns lost heirlooms to their rightful place

Flipping through the pages of history is like taking a step back in time.

"I collect just all kinds of stuff," said Sandy McMillion of Brainerd.

For years, McMillion has been fascinated with documenting her ancestral roots, filling up scrapbooks for each branch of her family tree, in an effort to make sure even her most distant relatives know they share common ground.

"It basically tells me who I am, where I came from, and what made me, me," said McMillion.

McMillion is also sort of a "history detective" by searching garage sales and second-hand stores to find timeless treasures, like old yearbooks and photos.

She then tries to identify the people in them and track down their descendants to return them to a family that wants them.

"It's incredible. It's just incredible. You can't put it into words how it makes you feel. I have all these old family pictures and I know how important they are, and how much they mean to me. And when I come across something like that, it's like someone else is going to enjoy that as much as I enjoy what I've got and it just wouldn't be right to walk away from it," said McMillion.

Recently McMillion came across death and Purple Heart certificates for Sgt. Myron Kusske, who was killed in World War II, and got them to the Carver County Historical Society, which already had Kusske's uniform on display.

A few years ago, McMillion found a family bible from Stearns County written in old German with names dating back to the 1850s.

She went on Ancestry.com and connected with the family the bible used to belong to and eventually met with them to return it, which brought one of the family members to tears.

"Very emotional, very emotional, I think for almost everybody. She was pretty much some of the last of her line. So that was really a pretty huge thing to have," said Mary Hofman of her mother-in-law's reaction to getting the bible back.

Then there was the time a second-hand store in Pequot Lakes came across a 100-page book tracing a Florida man's family history back to 1859 when his ancestor named Thor emigrated from Norway to the United States to take part in the California gold rush by covered wagon.

McMillion helped the store find a great-great-great-great-grandson of one of the people in the book, Dylan Nelson, and sent it to him, which included a picture of Nelson's grandfather as a young boy, which he had never seen before.

"This allowed me to really connect the history and to learn about where I came from and where my people came from. Without her sending this to me, I never would have known any of this family history. My kids would have never known their family history," said Nelson.

McMillion says it brings her joy to find pieces from the past. And give them to people who will care for them into the future.

"I love doing it. I'll continue to do it. I'm always kind of on the lookout," said McMillion.