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Featured Provider: ccbreland

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Family mystery: How did ccbreland’s ancestor’s body end up by the railroad tracks?

Washington provider ccbreland has an MLS degree and a paralegal certificate. She specializes in offline record searches—wills and probate, deeds, guardianship, and land records—with a focus on Washington, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, North Carolina, England, Scotland, and Ireland. Her memberships include the Association of Professional Genealogists, the Genealogical Speakers Guild, and the National Genealogical Society.

How did you get started doing genealogy research?

My mother introduced me to historical fiction by way of Dawn’s Early Light, the first book in the Williamsburg series by Elswyth Thane, when I was 13. They all had family tree charts, which I found fascinating.

When I was just out of high school (almost 40 years ago!) my paternal grandfather died, and my father brought home a stack of papers – scribbled family trees, typed family stories, newspaper clippings, and a church letter of transfer dated 1817. I was hooked, immediately.

The first vital record I sent for was my maternal grandmother’s death record. She died when my mother was 5 months old, and my mother never knew her cause of death.

Way back then most of my research was done by mail, requesting vital records, ordering census records from the National Archives, and corresponding with libraries. When I was in college in Florida, I took every chance I could to drive to Michigan in order to visit cemeteries, research in courthouses, and interview older relatives.

How have you developed your research skills?

Nothing develops skill more than experience – the more I research, the more I learn. I value all the online educational opportunities that are online now, and I keep up with genealogy news by way of social media such as Twitter and Facebook. Whenever I hear of a new website or record collection, I go check it out.

Do you have a genealogy superpower?

If so, what is it? After all these years of researching, I’ve developed an “instinct” for knowing when I’ve found the person/family I’m looking for. I’ve honed my skills in using indirect or negative (rather than direct) evidence to link names, dates and relationships. And I’m always questioning my conclusions: “How do I KNOW that?”

Describe a challenging research problem you’re proud of having solved.

I’ve helped two clients prove their descent from a Revolutionary War ancestor so that they could join the DAR, and I’ve introduced several distant cousins to our common heritage, giving them the benefit of my years of research.

Just this week I proved a case of 19th century identity theft, the first time I’ve found concrete evidence that a client’s ancestor actually assumed someone else’s identity!

Tell us a favorite story about one of your ancestors.

My favorite story is a real mystery – my great great grandmother was bedridden at the age of 53, and could hardly make it from her bed to the bathroom. One night she went missing, and her husband and son searched the house. The next morning she was found, dead of a skull fracture, next to the railroad tracks half a mile away. The inquest decided that she committed suicide, even though her stockings (she wasn’t wearing shoes) were not soiled, and there was no blood found on any of the trains passing by that night. Oh, for a time machine!

What’s the most unique record source that you access for research?

I love looking at records that are not online or on microfilm. I had the opportunity to examine the Washington State Archives collection of Professional Licensing Complaints against doctors, chiropractors, nurses, dentists and barbers in Washington State. They were a fascinating picture of the charges (trumped-up or real) against people in these professions decades ago.

What’s the one must-visit repository visitors doing research in your area?

The Puget Sound Regional Archives (on the campus of Bellevue College) has extensive records from King, Kitsap and Pierce counties, including registers of voters, property records, birth and death registers, medical registers, and wills and probate. I’ve looked at paperwork committing people to local insane asylums, and I had the opportunity to examine the Last Will and Testament of Arthur Denny, who was instrumental in helping Seattle grow in the 1890’s.

What tools do you use to create the reports/images that you provide to clients?

I love Irfanview for saving and manipulating images. In my report-writing I generally use Word and Excel, and I also use Adobe Acrobat Pro. I use Cloud storage extensively (SkyDrive, DropBox and My Cubby) to store and share client files. My genealogy software is Legacy Family Tree, and I love the free webinars they provide!

What advice would you give to someone who is trying to break through a
brick wall?

I have found (over and over again) that it helps if you leave it alone for a while. Go work on something else, and in several months you can come back to it and look at it with new eyes, and perhaps some additional experience or education. There are new collections coming online regularly now, and perhaps something has surfaced that will help solve your problem!

What hobbies do you pursue when you’re not at the archives doing research?
I keep up with my kids on Facebook, and I’m currently organizing my years of genealogy and scanning lots of paperwork to keep on the computer. My husband and I are downsizing in preparation for moving to a smaller house. And I love to read – especially genealogical or historical mysteries!

Anything else you’d like to share?

I’ll be doing research for the rest of my life – there is ALWAYS something more to find!

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