Marcus Larson / News-Register##Lafayette investigator Rachel Hayward searches for long-lost stories.
Marcus Larson / News-Register##Lafayette investigator Rachel Hayward searches for long-lost stories.
By Tom Henderson • Staff Writer • 

History detective

Rachel Hayward is a private investigator who specializes in finding missing persons.

Hers would be difficult work for any detective. What makes the mysteries the Lafayette resident tackles particularly baffling is this:

She deals with the coldest of cold cases. Her mission is tracking down dead people.

She may be more of an investigate reporter for hire than a private eye. She not only helps her clients find their deceased relatives, she reconstructs stories long buried.

Hayward calls her role, a curious blend of detective and storyteller, “personal historian.”

Clients come to her at Telltales LLC in Lafayette because they want help piecing together genealogies and family narratives. Sometimes, she said, they just want to find stories that were lost when a loved one died.

“When we lose someone, we often don’t just lose the one person,” she said. “We lose many other people, the people who were kept alive through stories, mementos and assorted scraps of memory. I sift through those and hopefully bring some of those stories and people back to life.”

Being a personal historian is more than just digging through old records and tracing people’s family trees, Hayward said.

“I can certainly help people with their genealogy, but I am more interested in filling in those details with stories and recipes and heirlooms,” she said. “By filling out those stories, we find out what kind of people they were and what was happening in the times that they lived.”

Her services include video and audio editing, writing, digital archiving and book production and distribution. In the process, she said, “I am constantly learning about genealogy, history and the art of story.”

Hayward sometimes gets unusual requests.

One client wanted a unique Christmas present and approached her about putting together a deck of cards based on her family history.

“She wanted to use family photos for the faces of the playing cards, placing family lines within suits,” Hayward said. “I found an online company that offered exactly what she was wanting. She supplied me with the photos, and I oversaw the production.”

Hayward, who grew up in Lake Oswego, wanted to be a storyteller when she headed off to the University of Oregon after high school.

“I wanted to be a reporter,” she said. “I thought I couldn’t cut it and switched over to English. However, I never lost my passion for telling stories.”

Many members of Hayward’s family come from Astoria and turned to her for her research skills. That started her down the path to becoming a personal historian.

“I became the family historian guru,” she said. “My friends caught on to what I was doing and asked my help in organizing bits and pieces from their family histories and getting things organized.”

Hayward started Telltales this summer, after joining about a dozen others in getting laid off at Beyond Words, a small publishing company in Hillsboro.

“I took the summer and tried to figure out what I wanted to do,” she said. “I’ve helped so many friends with their family histories and realized this is something I’ve wanted to do for so long.”

She and her husband lived in Newberg until two years ago, when they moved to Lafayette. Her new town intrigues her, she said — so much so that she is eager to delve into its history. “I would really like to help Lafayette and bring its historical significance more to the forefront,” she said.

Hayward found a natural ally in Sheri King, a Lafayette resident who was among the driving forces in getting a historical marker dedicated to 19th-century suffrage leader Abigail Scott Duniway placed in Joel Perkins Park.

“We’ve been blending some research,” she said. “We both have ideas of things we’d like to do to record Lafayette history.”

King and Hayward shatter stereotypes of small-town residents fascinated by local history. Both King and Hayward are both young mothers with children at home.

“We sometimes ask ourselves if we’re a little odd to be this young and obsessed with history,” Hayward said.

“The funny thing is that I used to hate history as a subject when I was in school,” she added. “Now I really love it. I am fascinated by local histories and learning about the land and who we used to be.”

Hayward said she hopes her work connects generations.

“So many people’s kids don’t know who their families were and feel there’s no way to get that back,” she said. She wants people to know that family history is more than names and dates on old documents.

“It’s much bigger than one person,” she said. “It’s a whole life and even beyond that.”

In many ways, Hayward said, she became the journalist she set out to be in college. “I just took a different way, and it took me a little longer.”

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