Posted in Case Histories, For Relatives, For Solicitors

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One of our promises to our clients is that we will always act ethically and lawfully. Among other things, this means that we never charge for birth, marriage and death certificates. It also means that, as a matter of policy, we check and double check our research results to make sure that estates pass to the correct beneficiaries. At Anglia Research, arriving at a legally sound outcome takes precedence over our own financial interests. In this article, Philip Turvey discusses a case that illustrates this principle.


Philip TurveyRecently we investigated the unclaimed estate of Gertrude Cannington, which had been advertised by the Government Legal Department (GLD) as being bona vacantia.

It quickly became evident that there was no immediate family entitled to inherit, so we expanded our search to identify aunts and uncles of the deceased, or their issue.

Having established that there were no entitled maternal cousins, we focused on the paternal side, as this represented the last chance to locate relatives who would be entitled to share in the inheritance.

We obtained the death certificate for Gertrude’s father, which revealed that he had been born in London in 1904. A matching birth certificate was identified and obtained. Once we had this certificate, we could investigate the full extent of the paternal family and we were then able to locate a number of individuals whom we believed were Gertrude’s cousins and cousins once removed.

Some chose to retain our services when we contacted them with the news that they may be related to Gertrude Cannington. 

Gertrude had owned her own home, which suggested that the estate was potentially valuable. We were therefore not the only probate researchers working on the case. In fact, an heir hunter submitted a claim to the GLD on behalf of other cousins in the same family group, backed up by a family tree and certificates.

The GLD accepted their claim and one of the heir hunter’s clients started the process of estate administration.

A case of identity theft?

It is always our policy to check and double-check our research. In doing so, one of our experienced genealogists noticed something unusual about this case – a potential infant death entry for the very individual who was believed to be Gertrude’s father.

We obtained the death certificate and the details were exactly in line with those given on the birth certificate: name, address, age at death, father’s name and occupation – they all matched. Clearly, this individual had died in infancy, and could not be Gertrude’s father. Whoever Gertrude’s father was, he must have taken steps to acquire this alternative identity, decades before Frederick Forsyth used the same idea as part of the plot in The Day of the Jackal.

We immediately informed our clients that unfortunately they (and all their cousins) were not entitled to the inheritance they were hoping for. Had we kept quiet about our discovery, perhaps no-one would ever have been any the wiser, but that was never an option.

We also informed the GLD that they had accepted a flawed claim from the heir hunter and we explained in full how it had happened. We understand that they are now taking steps to recover the estate funds from the heir hunter’s client.

It's a disappointing outcome, for ourselves and for Gertrude's supposed relatives, but diligence and probity, combined with expert research, form the basis of our reputation and we would never put it in jeopardy.

If Gertrude’s father’s true identity can ever be established, his relatives still have nearly twelve years in which to claim their inheritance. We suspect, though, that the truth will never emerge.

(For reasons of confidentiality, names and other identifying features have been altered.)


Useful reading: A question of identity, All in a name, Problem heir hunters prey on unsuspecting beneficiaries.


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