By Sunna Furstenau
Losing a long-time friend, faithful teammate, and dedicated genealogist of the Icelandic Roots Team is really tough. With this post, we honor one of our own who has recently passed away.
George Freeman, IR #I19672876, has a wonderful biography on his page in the database. I encourage you to go read all his short stories. He tells these lively, funny, and sometimes serious stories about his life. I just reread them and I hear his voice and his wonderful, hearty laugh. I cry tears of sorrow for missing my friend and tears of joy that I had the pleasure to know him. George and I began working together in 2003 at The Deuce of August Genealogy Center. Here is a link to the story, “Icelandic Cousins Across the Ocean Project – The Beginning.”
Since that time, our IR team has grown and grown. We now have almost sixty volunteers who live across Canada, Iceland, the United States, Australia, and Brazil. Many of the IR Team and many of our supporting IR members have received genealogy assistance and information from George. He was an important part of our team. He worked on emails in our shared support inbox, the “Cousins Across the Ocean” forms, entered biographies, obituaries, and stories about people and places into the database, and worked on genealogy research to make the database better.
George began working on genealogy in 1993. He printed over 200 family history books, mostly as a volunteer. He compiled and published the three-volume set “Pembina County Pioneer Daughter Biographies.” In 2014, he and his sister published their mother’s recipes in a book named, “Fed With Love.” He was working on the “Mouse River Saga” and the “Vidalin Cemetery” compilation. He was active in the Icelandic National League of North America and was a proud Founding Member of the new Icelandic National League of The United States in 2019. He was an important part of the Icelandic Communities Association of Mountain, ND serving many years on the Board of Directors and founding the Genealogy Center in 2003 which continues to be a highlight of the annual summer celebration.
The North Dakota National Guard had George as their unit commander from 1969-1971 of the Support and Maintenance platoon, 188th Mobile Assault Bridge Co., 231st Engr Bn, 164th Group. He graduated from the Engineer Officer Branch Qualification School at Fort Belvoir, VA, and was attending War College when he decided to retire. He was a member of the ND National Guard for seven years and commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant. George said, “The Army chose to put me in an Army Officer Pool in St Louis, MO. As far as I know, I am still there. I will have to check that out because I have never received a discharge!”
In the 2002 Minnkota Power Cooperative Newsletter, they write the following. “George Freeman is calling it quits after 31 ½ years working at Minnkota Power. George was very instrumental in getting a lot of great things going in the Transmission Engineering Department. His best work was the creation of a database of information for every line and structure in our system. This comprehensive database is the envy of many of our neighboring utilities. This work will certainly be George’s long-lasting legacy….”
George loved working with the Icelandic Roots team. Each year, we were even included in his Christmas letter! He always would say:
“I find joy not in the end result but in the journey. It is such a pleasure to be on this dedicated and expert team. I consider you all to be a part of my family.”
The Icelandic Roots family will miss George at our weekly Wednesday meetings. Cathy, the IR Genealogist, and Membership Director reminded me of one important task George had with IR. Each week, he would report to the team if there were any birth date discrepancies in the database using a module test set up by the IT guys. Sometimes it was a missing space between the month and year or a misspelled month. George checked the dates every week. Most of the time, he would say, “There were not any mistakes this week. You guys are all getting pretty good!” Or he would say, “Well, there was just one this time. It was one of my own.” And he would chuckle and give us a big grin. He would quietly fix new editor’s mistakes but this weekly reminder helped us all.
Elin is an IR Teammate from Australia. She is the genealogist mainly working on entering information on midwives and postmen. She writes wonderful blog stories for IR and is a member of the Social Media Team. She says:
“I was so lucky to get into contact with George Freeman from IR who gave me answers about my American immigrant ancestor. He helped put me in touch with American cousins, who I still keep in touch with today. Someday, I will travel to America with my young family and show them the places where our ancestors lived in America.”
Dave is an IR Teammate from Colorado. He is the IT Director and an IR Board of Directors. He writes about George the following:
“My journey with genealogy started after my retirement in 2013. I received some hints to new information for my Icelandic ancestors from George Freeman’s online genealogy tree. George soon introduced me to the extensive information in the IR Database.”
The IR team is lucky that Dave came on because he has rewritten the modules, made important IT modifications with special features, security, speed, and capabilities that would never be possible without him and his co-IT-partner, Butch.
Ferne is an IR Teammate who works as the weekly meeting secretary, genealogy researcher, and Social Media teammate from Saskatchewan. She writes:
“George was a friendly, kind, gentle person that shared our IR meetings by the computer each week. I had only met him twice in person over the years but he truly was a great genealogist. I thoroughly enjoyed our interactions and respected his work especially in North Dakota’s history. He inspired so many of us with his enthusiasm and documentation of our shared Icelandic ancestry. He helped to find so many of our current Cousins Across the Ocean. He will be missed by so many.”
Jonena is a coach, business leader, and marketing teammate who lives in California. She says:
“Oh, this news took my breath away! I feel honored to have volunteered with George Freeman at Icelandic Roots. He was always so helpful and I enjoyed learning more about him over the past three years. Rest in Peace, Dear Friend.”
Gwen and Russ Lanoway, genealogists from Winnipeg, also give credit to George as well as Cathy and Halfdan Helgason for assisting them with their genealogical journey. They said in their IR bio, “Without them, the journey would have been much more difficult.” Last August, Russ passed away and we continue to greatly miss him and Gwen on our team.
George and I had many personal visits. We were honest and open about our feelings and could tell each other anything. I will miss that so very much. The months of February and March were difficult for both George and I as we dealt with pain and illness. It was difficult for the IR Team, too. Their workload continued but without two of the main team members. The IR Team is the best. It will not be the same without George, for sure. But whenever one of our members is ill or unable to work, the rest of the team instantly and capably step up. New people come along and join our team. Life goes on.
Icelandic Roots will live forever as a nonprofit organization. Our team today, and in the future, will continue to help people with their genealogy research, to teach about Iceland’s history, and to connect us all through the “Cousins Across the Ocean” project.
This organization, these projects, and much more are George’s Lasting Legacy. We will continue to honor him and his dedicated genealogical research and keep his memory alive through Icelandic Roots.
Rest in Peace, dear friend. Góða nott, elskan.