Juli Claussen

History Detective: Genealogist looks to the past to find missing loved ones now

 Original Article:

While barely a teenager, Juli Claussen began investigating the colorful tales of her frontier forebears.

The family history whispered of adventurers who pushed West, including an ancestor who cashed in on the gold rush, another who allegedly rode for the Pony Express, another who tangled with Native Americans, and another who refused to work all together.

“He only wanted to play the fiddle,” Claussen said with a laugh.

Claussen was most fascinated by her great-great-great-grandmother, Sarah, a Southern Illinoisan who shared the same fair features as Claussen.

After the death of her husband during a cholera epidemic that swept through the region in 1849, Sarah raised six children and managed the family farm on her own, earning the respect of all who knew her.

“She was obviously very much loved by the family,” Claussen said. “They spoke of her with such warmth.”

Tracing the life of the powerful pioneer woman became a journey of self-discovery for the modern woman.

“I felt a connection with her,” Claussen said. “Learning about people like Sarah impressed me that as I went through the hard times I would be able to persevere. It gave me a feeling that I had some strength I inherited.”

That strength helped Claussen deal with the harsh realities she encountered as a social worker in Carbondale, her first career.

For many years, she kept genealogy as a hobby, drawing up family histories for interested parties through Web sites and word of mouth.

Claussen quickly discovered the skills she used to flesh out the past could help solve the mysteries of the present. Genealogical research is sometimes the only way to track down missing persons, particularly when the method of prying into the present fails.

That was the case for an oil drilling company who contacted Claussen in hopes of finding a missing heir, Harriet Freeman, to purchase land unknowingly owned by her.

“The private detective could find no trace of her since 1985,” said Claussen, now a professional genealogist and owner of Search and Genealogy Services in Murphysboro.

Claussen found Freeman mainly through drawing up her family tree, identifying other living relatives and contacting them.

While Claussen’s work has commercial applications, she is often called on to find missing loved ones such as those who have been adopted.

“Because Illinois is a closed-adoption state, a lot of people think there is no way to find them, but really there are a variety of ways that are perfectly legal to discover information,” Claussen said.

One case had her search for a woman adopted during the depression, for which some public records are scant.

“We didn’t even know what her first name was,” said Ann Rhinesmith, who helped her 77-year-old father, Jerrold McElfresh, find his long-lost adopted sister. “He fell and broke his hip a few years ago, and we decided to try to find her. He just wanted to meet her.”

The family, now living in North Carolina, heard the adoption took place in Illinois, so Rhinesmith contacted Claussen.

After months of researching family history and public records, and cold-calling, Claussen found McElfresh’s sister, 83-year-old Margaret, who was overjoyed to connect with her baby brother. McElfresh flew to Morro Bay, Calif., where his sister now lives, to meet her.

“It was exciting,” Rhinesmith said. “They prepared a little booklet of pictures for him of when she was growing up. There was a picture of their mother and a picture of him when he was only 2 or 3 days old.”

Claussen said such successes motivate her to keep trying when cases seem to dead-end.

“It takes a lot of persistence,” Claussen said. “You have to be pretty detail-oriented. You really have to search for a lot of clues and be very patient, and you go on a lot of gut instincts.”

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I start?  Provide me with all the information you have and I will give you a consultation at no charge. I may have suggestions for gathering further information before initiating a search.

How much will it cost?  Most of the search cases require many hours of research time and involve expenses for documents and other resources. I keep this in mind when I set my fees. If I accept your case on a No Find-No fee basis, there is no financial risk to you if not found.

Can you promise to find the person I’m seeking? No one can promise you they will find the person you are looking for, but I promise to do my very best for you and to leave no stone unturned.

Why go with a search professional over a confidential intermediary (CI)? Some CI programs are provided at no charge, depending on the state. If a free program is available, this is an option you should consider. However, most charge a fee of $300-$600, regardless whether the person is found, and if found and they do not respond to the CI, then the CI is prohibited by law from giving you any information at all. When you hire a search professional, if the individual you seek doesn’t respond or doesn’t want contact, you will still receive a detailed report on that individual.

Why go with a search professional over a search angel? You may wish to have a search angel work on your case first because there will be no charge and there is usually no harm in going that route. However, be sure to use one who has lots of experience and references because well intentioned volunteers sometimes mishandle the first contact and it could ruin your only chance to communicate with that person you’ve been searching for. Also, there are a very few but dangerous individuals who present themselves as search angels but have other motives, so proceed with caution.  If the search angel is unsuccessful, go then to a professional who is likely to succeed when a search angel fails.  However, if you are in a hurry, you may wish to skip the search angel and go straight to a professional.

What happens after I agree to a search? We collect all available information from you regarding who you are searching for, either a birth parent or an adopted person, and conduct a search using all resources at our disposal. We may then contact the searched party to verify the relationship and assess their willingness to be contacted by the client, after which we convey all of the information we have collected.

What if I am rejected by the person I am seeking? In my experience, most searches conclude on a positive note. Most of the time, the person is pleased to have been found. Occasionally this is not the case, and no communication is desired. This is always disappointing, but sometimes, even in these cases, the person who is found is willing to provide some information through me, such as medical history. When no contact is desired, at least there can often be a sense of closure, and sometimes family members of the individual will be willing to connect.

What if the back story turns out to be tragic or shocking?  I will not reinvent, hide, or gloss over information my research has brought to light. I will be truthful and non-judgmental. I will help you come to terms with difficult information.

Testimonials: Anne Rhinesmith

From the daughter of an elderly adoptee, whose biological sister was located despite a very challenging search: “We are very grateful that you had the knowledge and skill needed to access the right resources and quickly locate Dad’s sister. Otherwise our search would have taken years instead of a few months, and she may never have been found.”

-Anne Rhinesmith

Cook County, Illinois Adoption Searches

For Cook County, Illinois (Chicago area) Adoption Searches

for Birth Parents

Search by child’s birth name and identify the adoptive parents!

This is a one-of-a-kind, accurate & legal method of obtaining this crucial information. Nearly EVERY Cook County adoption had a ‘legal notice of adoption’ and ‘petition to adopt’ in this publication.

Birthparents, Biological family membersIdentify the adoptive parents of the child who was given up for adoption.  From there it’s usually easy to identify your biological child’s name.

Adoptions 1934 through 1963:  Immediate lookups in computer database with a photo image of the actual ‘petition to adopt’ sent to you. If yours is not found, there’s no charge, so no risk.

My late colleague, Edward “Mike” Egan, searched out, photographed and compiled every ‘petition to adopt’ from the Chicago legal newspaper for a 29 year period in order to create this database. The project took him many years and was quite costly.  He assisted countless people with it in his work as an adoption searcher.

1971 through present:  Some dates are searchable immediately in a database. However, most require a rather time-consuming search in the archives.  Contact me for more information including instructions to do it yourself if you prefer.