Jon Smith kicked the door shut behind himself, dropped his keys on the small table, put the brown paper bag on the kitchenette counter. He fished the mail out of the bag and threw it on the table, then busied himself putting food away in pantry and fridge.
Grabbing a beer from the fridge, he sat down at the table, began sorting the mail, dropping most of it in the wastebasket. About half-way through the pile, he glanced at one envelope, then at the hand-written return address, let out a whoop, ripped it open, quickly scanned the one-sheet letter inside.
Disappointment washed over his features. He smoothed out the sheet, grabbed a stapler and stapled the envelope to the back of it, then used a 3-hole punch on it, finally got up, grabbed a binder from the top shelf of the closet, put the letter inside, and closed the binder and returned it to its place.
Another dead end. Another "J. Norman" in California who had written back, saying that he was never in New England, and didn't have any relatives there.
One more crossed off the list, he thought.
He finished with the mail, wrote a check for one bill, sealed and stamped the envelope, set it to one side for later.
There was some leftover tuna salad in the fridge....he made himself a quick sandwich, wolfed it down, then pulled out his pocket watch, glanced at it....if he hurried, he could make it to Salamanca before the records office closed, with an hour or two to spare.
The secretary at the records office glanced up, recognized him, nodded, exchanged niceties with him, before holding the small wooden gate open for him, admitting him into the back area. He pulled a piece of paper out of a pouch, checked it, scanned the book spines, selected one, pulled it from the shelf.
The record books were huge, perhaps eighteen inches wide, twenty-four inches tall, and two or three inches thick. He laid the book down on a table, carefully lifted the cover, and began leafing through it.
He preferred the records office at Salamanca. There were more records in Paragon, but it was all standardized, computerized, sanitized. You went to an office with an open window, like a doctor's reception area. You filled out a form in triplicate, and paid your $8. Then, you sat and waited. Maybe an hour, maybe several hours, later, you either got a photocopy of the record you were asking for, or a notation that it wasn't found. And there went your $8, either way.
You could do the same thing through the mail, of course, but that took weeks.
In Salamanca, many of the records had never been computerized, or microfilmed. The only records were the big books themselves, the handwriting of the original recorder still preserved in paper and ink. They, too, would ask you to fill out forms, and would attempt to look up the record. However, he had spent so much time there, and asked for so many records, that eventually they had simply invited him into the back, and let him put his hands on the books himself.
It saved the busy clerks a lot of time. And it wasn't as if he was going to slip one of those books into a pocket and walk out with it.
He liked having the actual book in his hands, the yellowing paper, the brown ink, the aged smell of the cover. Sometimes, he didn't find what he was looking for, but found something else entirely, in the same location, something that a clerk looking at a form wouldn't notice.
Jon had scrounged his library in Galaxy City for books about "finding missing persons". There were five....he read them all, cover to cover, and applied them like a cookbook. The process of searching for missing persons was a simple one, much simpler than he had thought. All it involved was looking up records: birth certificates, marriage certificates, death certificates, divorce decrees. Then you read over the record you had found, looking for further clues, that would lead you on to the next document.
It was rather like trying to solve a murder mystery.
Speculation was part of the process. If you didn't have proof, or hard evidence, you guessed, and then you looked up the evidence to see if your guess taught you anything new.
Recent information was restricted. Apparently, from what he read in the newspapers, there were people who had found ways of committing crimes by creating new identities for themselves, and they did that by adopting the identity of a real person who had been born, but then died at a young age. Because of that, the records offices now required that you show some relationship to the person you were looking up.
But the older records were still open to anyone for geneological research, especially in the smaller county and town record offices.
Jon flipped the pages of the marriages book for the "No-" surnames, looking for "Norman". They were not in alphabetical order, they were in date order....the date they had been hand-written in the book, although similar name beginnings were grouped together. So he sat, and read, carefully, scanning the pages, one after another, for the name Norman.
The first he found was Abraham Norman, the second, Franklin. He checked the entry anyway, carefully, looking for any name he recognized, any possible nickname, any instances where initials had been used instead of a full name, any connection, any link, to a name that he knew.
He had been doing the same thing every evening that he could manage to get to Salamanca before the courthouse closed.
The windows darkened in the background, as he scoured the musty pages.
And then he saw it.
spouse: McCown, Alice Carol
He stared at the entry, then picked up a pen to jot on his piece of paper.
One more document to ask for.
One step closer to finding out his past.
Copyright terraforming.com, November 26, 2012