When relatives have to be found
We work with local authorities and other public bodies, finding the missing relatives of those who die intestate within their boundaries. We also act as tracing agents, locating property owners or their heirs in order to bring empty homes back into use.
Our probate genealogy services are provided free of charge to the public sector. We earn our fees through reaching commission agreements with any heirs we locate.
At Anglia Research, integrity comes first – and nowhere is this more important than when private and public sectors meet. The documents on our Fairness Campaign page provide a detailed explanation of why we oppose exclusive relationships between heir hunters and local authorities. In particular, we welcome your comments on our draft consultation document – Local Authorities and Heir Hunters: myths, misunderstandings and unintended consequences.
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Mary Torrance died, intestate and with no known relatives, in 2013. However, I was able to establish that she had a daughter, Amy, who sadly predeceased her, and two granddaughters, Susan and Helen Smith.
It’s fair to say that no genealogist cheers when they come across the country’s most widespread surname. But while it’s hard tracing someone’s family tree when the name Smith is involved, actually locating a particular living Smith amongst all the Smiths in the country can be even trickier.
The local authority was in a bind with this case. They couldn’t pass it to the Bona Vacantia Division, because there were thought to be surviving relatives – but no one could locate them.
I wrote to Susan and Helen several times, using the address on their mother’s death certificate, but received no reply.
I also contacted a number of government agencies that might have dealt with the granddaughters and tried various specialist address-finding services, but all without success. Even scouring the electoral roll for more recent addresses was to no avail.
At this point I shifted my focus from the granddaughters to their father, George Smith. I was able to track him through time using the electoral roll – and educated guesswork – as he moved from one small village to another. On a couple of occasions, he had one or both of his daughters registered to vote at the same address.
Once I could pinpoint exactly what part of the country Susan and Helen had moved to following their mother’s death, I was no longer looking for a needle in a haystack and was able to make contact with them.
The council recouped the funeral expenses and the two granddaughters each received their share of their grandmother’s estate.
Patricia Goody died intestate in 2016 with no known next of kin.
When I started researching this case, Patricia’s closest living relatives appeared to be cousins and cousins once removed on her mother’s side. However, when I spoke with one of the cousins, she mentioned that Patricia’s mother had abandoned her when she was very young, moved up north and remarried.
Obviously, that had to be investigated.
It’s a fundamental rule of probate research: no matter how methodically and accurately you have trawled through the genealogical record, it’s always possible that you’ve missed something. To arrive at the truth, you’ve got to talk to people, ask questions, and be ready to start work all over again.
As it turned out, Patricia’s mother had five further children. Apart from one, who had died without issue, we traced them all. The council recouped their funeral costs and the estate has now been distributed between Patricia’s closest living relatives, her half-blood brothers and sisters.
Gerald had died intestate with no known relatives. As always with local authority cases, we had no idea of the size of his estate, all we knew was that he lived in social housing, so it was likely to be small or non-existent.
Typically, if the deceased had no children or siblings, and you track back to their parents’ generation when families were much larger, you are looking at a great deal of research. This is because every stem has to be investigated if the estate is to be distributed correctly.
In Gerald’s case, his mother’s family tree involved only three stems – three maternal siblings – but there were seven on the paternal tree, which also had to be researched. We managed to establish that most of the ten stems had died out before we tracked down three of Gerald’s paternal cousins.
At this point, there was still one other stem on the paternal family tree that we couldn’t be 100% certain had died out. So, once the council had recouped the funeral expenses, and a personal representative had been appointed, we advised him to take out missing beneficiary indemnity insurance so that he could confidently distribute what turned out to be a £30,000 estate.
(For reasons of confidentiality, names and other identifying features have been altered.)
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