Picture Them DeadSome days I weary of chasing down dead people. They can be cunningly elusive. But I’m good at what I do and I usually get my quarry. And anyhow this is the career I chose and I’m never tempted to give it up.

My name is Sophreena McClure and I’m a genealogist. I help people trace their family histories. Some people think this sounds like a big snooze and it can be if names and dates are all you’re after. But I like to dig deeper and find out about the people who bear those names. Which can be an emotional and enlightening series of revelations to our clients. People tell me they understand a lot more about who they are and how they came to be that way after we investigate their lineage.

My business partner, Esme Sabatier, says I get too emotionally involved, and I suppose she’s right. Esme and I are the odd couple of family historians. I’m in my mid-thirties, Caucasian, small in stature, fashion backward and a card-carrying nerd with a degree in research. Esme is 6 foot plus of latte-toned, 50-something woman who carries herself like royalty, is fashion forward and brooks no nonsense. Plus she has something that all my training can’t give me–the gift. The dead occasionally visit her for a chat. This may seem like a sterling quality to possess in our profession, but the truth is that though on rare occasions it gives us an edge mostly it’s so vague it only complicates things. The dead, it would seem, are not all that articulate.

Esme had been trying to get me to throw in the towel on our present job. We’d been hammering at it for weeks trying to find information on a great-grandmother for our client, Claudia Riggs, but we’d met a brick wall at every turn. Claudia’s beloved grandmother, Nadine, was gravely ill and the one thing she held as a regret in her life was that she’d never been able to discover her own mother’s troubled background. Nadine wanted to know what had happened to her mother to help her understand her own life better and face her end with a peaceful heart.

Which explains why I’d spent hours at Nadine’s bedside asking endless questions to try to pick up a lead. Sometimes people know more than they think and if you ask enough questions a tidbit of info may straggle out like a loose thread on a sweater. Pull it and things get revealed. Yesterday, as the sun was slanting between the blinds and the amber hues of twilight were dancing along the walls I found that loose thread when Nadine asked Claudia to wet the tea, a phrase I’d heard in Ireland.

I’d spent the entire night on the computer pulling at virtual strings to unravel the story. Nadine’s mother, Sophia, had been born in Ireland in the early 1900s to a 17-year-old unwed mother. The mother was deemed unfit solely because the child had been born out of wedlock. The baby, Nadine’s future mother, was taken away and sent to one of the infamous Irish orphanages. This practice was not the finest hour for either the church or the government. The orphanages were little more than workhouses and the children grew up in horrendous conditions.

“I’m sorry I don’t have a more uplifting store to share,” I’d told Nadine and Claudia when I’d visited this morning to tell them what I’d found. When I finished the tale Nadine, who’d been quiet throughout the telling, suddenly let out a sound somewhere between a laugh and a cry.

“This explains so much,” she said, her weak voice filled with both sadness and wonder. “And in a way it is uplifting, Sophreena. My mother overcame so much in her life. You know, I don’t think she ever told even my father any of this.

After all these years of finding skeletons in family closets it always strikes me as incomprehensible that people can live together intimately for years and manage to keep secrets from those they love. But it happens in lots of families. And horrible as Nadine’s mother’s secret was, it wasn’t t the worst I’d encountered.

So, though I get weary of chasing dead people sometimes, today had been worth the long hours of tedious research. Esme opines that it says something about me that I count this outcome as a happy ending, but I know, both personally and professionally, how strong the longing to know who you are and where you come from can be. So the next time a client calls on me I’ll be right there to take on the job of chasing down the dead.


You can read more about Sophreena in Picture Them Dead, the third book in the “Family History” mystery series, published by Pocket Books. The first two books in the series are Paging The Dead and Death In Reel Time.

GIVEAWAY: Leave a comment by 12 a.m. eastern on July 3 for the chance to win a copy of Paging The Dead and Death In Reel Time. The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only. Winner will be notified within 48 hours after giveaway closes and you will have three days to respond after being contacted or another winner will be selected.

Meet the author
Brynn Bonner grew up in Alabama and is a long time resident of North Carolina. Both her literary fiction and mysteries reflect the landscapes and the genuine people of her southern heritage. Bonner currently pens the Family History Mystery series for Gallery Books. Writing as Ellen Harris, Bonner wrote six books for the Mysteries of Sparrow Island series published by Guidepost Books. Her short stories have been featured in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Now and Then, Crossroads, and other publications.

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