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One More Name

Amanda needed information on one name. That’s all. That’s what brought her to the house on Ivy Street. A six-foot high chain link fence barricaded a lawn of patchy dirt and dead grass.  Her fingers fumbled at the gate latch and finally worked it open.

There was no reason to be nervous, she chided herself. She was here to spend her own money. No harm in that.

Before she could knock at the screen, the interior door opened.  A thin man with caramel skin stared through the tattered screen.

“Can I help you, ma’am?” he asked with a voice like James Earl Jones.

She licked her lips. “Ah, yes. Are you Bryan Morrison?”

His face was impassive. “Who told you to come here?”

“Lilith Charnetsky.”

“Did she tell you my rates?”

Amanda nodded. His down payment alone exceeded her monthly grocery bill, but it’d be worth it.

The screen door rattled as he undid the latch.  “Come in,” he said.

She entered a cozy cavern of wood-paneled walls and books. Books, everywhere. The hallway was lined with them, as was a tight front room. He led her onward. A glance of the kitchen showed books filled the high space above the cabinets. Mr. Morrison motioned her into yet another room with a rainbow of bindings, and she sat in a plush chair before a computer desk.

“So what is your situation, ma’am?” he said as he sat by the monitor.

“I brought papers. Lilith said to. I’m trying to find out about a John Schmidt or Smith. He’s in the 1840 Census in Tennessee.” She skimmed through a packet as thick as a finger. “He came over from Germany — ”

His lips thinned.  “Yes, and if you look at ship manifests for John Schmidt in that time period, there are a million of them.”

“He changed his name to Smith later, but I don’t know how early it happened.”

“How long have you been stuck on Mr. Smith?” he asked, leaning back with his broad hands clasped over his narrow gut.

“Three years.” The words were a whisper. “He became a roadblock just as I was starting out. He’s on my paternal grandparents’ side. I’ve researched all of the other lines. John Schmidt is the problem. If I can get past him, I can take it from there.”

“Who else have you gone to about this dilemma?” he asked. “The Mormons?”

“Of course I’ve been to the Mormons! Every Wednesday morning at 8:30. That’s where I met Lilith. I even went to their regional library once.”



Mr. Morrison studied her over his wire-rim glasses. “I have resources beyond what the Latter Day Saints or any website can offer. I have my own library here, as you see. Most of these books haven’t been digitized, and likely won’t be. I was in the Army. I know people who can get me what I need, all over the world.”

“Lilith said you traced your own family back to the 16th century.” Amanda’s voice softened with awe.

Mr. Morrison granted her a prim smile. “Yes, I did. And tackling slave records was good training for other cases, such as yours.”  He tugged the packet of papers closer and adjusted his glasses to skim the first sheets.  “You’re married.”

“Yes. Um, my husband…”

“I am the figure of discretion. I know most husbands don’t understand the importance of genealogy, especially when the rates might seem exorbitant.”  He leaned forward.  “I’ll do everything I can to research this name. That means time and manpower.”

“I understand. I can pay it.” Amanda’s fingers twitched on her purse strap. She couldn’t even count the hours she had spent, stumped, scouring websites and microfiche and old books for this John, or J., or Jonathon. She craved that triumphant high that came with knowing more about a man who was part of her very DNA, yet lost to time.

“I accept the down payment now. If I have any questions, do you have a number or email where I can contact you?”

“Yes.” She pulled the envelope from her purse. “It’s written on here, just like Lilith told me.”

“Good. I don’t ask for any more money unless I see results. Let me make it clear what you’re buying. I find this one man. His name, his origins. I see the birthday is approximately 1819, Germany, and that’s all you have.”

“How will I know you have the right man?”

His brows lowered in a scowl. “I will present every bit of evidence to back that up. If you don’t believe me.” He shrugged.

“I understand,” she whispered.

Mr. Morrison stood, holding out a hand to accept the envelope. “Very well, ma’am. Let me walk you to the door.”


A month later, Amanda sat in that chair again.

“Johann Schmidt, baptized on February 1st, 1819, in Bremen, Germany. Catholic.”  Mr. Morrison handed her stack of photocopies in trade for a white envelope. “Here are the church records on him. There is a museum there that holds letters that Johann wrote to an aunt who stayed in Germany after he crossed to America in 1838.”

“Dated 1849 from Franklin, Tennessee.” Amanda almost squealed. “That’s him. It has to be him. What about his parents?”

“His mother is Maria Schmidt. Schmidt being her maiden name. His father…” He held up his hand and shrugged.

Her mouth went dry.  “You mean, he was born out of wedlock? No father…” Her brain processed that. It meant a dead-end, but a delightful, scandalous dead-end. “What else do you know about the mother?”

“One name. That’s what you paid for.”

Amanda’s hands dug inside her purse.  The checkbook was in there somewhere. “And there have to be a million Maria Schmidts in Bremen. I’ll give you another down payment. I need to know more.”

Mr. Morrison smiled and tipped forward in his chair. “I will do my best, ma’am.”


Beth Cato is an associate member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. Her recent publications include Daily Science Fiction and a story in MOUNTAIN MAGIC: SPELLBINDING TALES OF APPALACHIA from Woodland Press. Her novels are represented by Rebecca Strauss at the McIntosh & Otis Literary Agency.


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