(Jennifer Priest Mitchell is a freelance writer in Beaverton. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

Ever wonder if a long-lost aunt or third cousin may pass away and leave you part of their fortune? Local genealogist Leslie Lawson researches heirs to estates and often reports to lost relatives on such news. Unfortunately, though, as Lawson explained, 'Most of the time, there is not a fortune to be inherited.'

She mainly works for attorneys and said that if someone died and did not have a will or list of heirs, she must take what information the attorney has on the person and look for living relatives.

'I've done this professionally since 2000,' Lawson said. 'Before that, I dabbled in (genealogy) as I had time. I took some classes and it was a fun hobby.'

Lawson is a bit modest about her training. There are two primary national genealogy conferences annually, and her education includes such training.

'I try to make it to one or the other of them each year. They take place in different locations each time,' she said.

While Lawson can do research in any of the 50 states, she explained that she does not do adoption research.

'I can refer people in that area,' she said. 'I can refer them to someone else. It's just that I do not do that sort of work.'

She has worked with families, as well as attorneys from all over the country, and she said some states are easier than others as far as accessing records. She said certain agencies are starting to close records for fear of identity theft. Lawson smiled as she said, 'I live in front of the computer when I am doing this.'

When asked how her interest in genealogy and the past began, Lawson confessed, 'My grandmother inflicted it on me. As a child, I was taken to every cemetery where family members of ours were buried. We would tend to their headstones. The idea was that one day I would be able to do the job and I would know where to go.' She added proudly, ' … and every couple of years, I make it to all of them.'

Five generations of Lawson's family lived in the Shasta, Calif., area, and that is where she goes when she carries out her grandmother's wishes.

Lawson and her husband moved to Oregon 22 years ago, and she worked as an accountant until a few years ago.

'I worked full-time, and that got my kids through college,' she said.

Now, however, she has a webpage and is hired by attorneys as well as by individuals to find missing family members.

Of her current work, Lawson said, 'I never know the value of an estate when I set out to do the research. It is funny how people let their imaginations run wild once I find them and tell them what I am doing. Sometimes it turns out that the entire estate is worth less than $10,000 and the living heir I've found only gets $100.'

Lawson said that her kids loved growing up in this area, and that she loves the greenery of the Pacific Northwest.

'It is a great place to live. The weather is so much nicer than the high desert of Nevada' where Lawson lived before.

Fore more information on Lawson's genealogical research services, visit her on the web at

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