Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A New Perspective on Heir Research

A lot of the family history research I do is heir research -- looking for people who are eligible for some sort of inheritance.  This might be because they are direct heirs of someone who died without a will, or because they are descendants of someone who was left a bequest in a will.  Until recently, my part in this has been to do the research, find documents, connect the dots, and look for contact information for these people, then give the results to my client.  He then contacts the potential heirs, explains the circumstances, and follows through with whatever legal requirements there may be.

The age of mobile phones, however, has put a kink in this process.  Many people nowadays have given up landlines and have only mobile phones, which are not listed routinely in directories.  So more and more often I can find an address for a person I believe to be an heir, but I cannot find a telephone number.  The primary client for whom I do heir research strongly prefers a personal contact, usually by telephone, before he mails information.

I have been working on a project recently that had this situation come up.  I had tracked two of the three heirs, but I had only addresses.  I had exhausted the resources available to me and simply couldn't find any phone numbers.  One of the people lives an hour away from me.  So my client asked me to drive down and speak to her in person!

Considering how publicized inheritance scams are these days, I wasn't sure what type of reception I was going to get.  When I rang the doorbell, dogs started barking very loudly and rushed to the door.  Soon a man opened the door just a crack and asked what I wanted.  I told him who I was looking for, giving her maiden name and married name, and said it was about a possible inheritance.  He looked very suspicious but let me in.  The dogs immediately swarmed me, but I discovered quickly they were more bark than bite, and I love dogs anyway.  I think the fact that they obviously liked me helped a little.

The man went to get his wife, and I gave her a quick explanation of the family connections and inheritances that had led me to contact her.  She was amazed that she could be inheriting anything but confirmed that all of the research was accurate.  Then she was curious about how I had actually managed to find her.  I told her a little of the process and how one piece of information led to another and eventually to her home address.  I gave her contact information for my client and let her know what information he needed, and soon left.

As a contract researcher, I work on the periphery of these cases.  I primarily deal with computers and paperwork, and then funnel the information I find to someone else.  It is easy to forget that what I do relates to living people.  It was enjoyable to step outside of my normal role for once and be able to put a face on my research.


  1. Hi Ms. Janice. I've thought about getting involved in doing research like this, but wasn't sure if I should move forward. Definitely have questions about this. I'll ask you today :)

  2. It's an interesting field, and as with all specialties has its own quirks. One common aspect is an emphasis on finding solutions as quickly as possible. I'll be happy to talk to you about it.


All comments on this blog will be previewed by the author to prevent spammers and unkind visitors to the site. The blog is open to everyone, particularly those interested in family history and genealogy.