An emotional rollercoaster—life as an heir hunter

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No doubt about it—life as an heir hunter (or probate genealogist) takes place on an emotional roller coaster.

There are the highs—heart-warming cases where people are reunited or meet up for the first time—and the lows, where we are tasked with passing on news of the death of family members.

In the main, heir hunters find the rightful heirs to an estate when people die intestate and have no known next of kin. We find those next of kin, no matter how distantly related or far afield they may be. Sometimes, they do not know the deceased. Other times, the person might be a cousin they recall from their childhood and with whom they lost touch.

Fascinating stories

As we spend a lot of our time in archives—census and parish records, old newspapers and more—we often find out a great deal about the deceased’s family, which makes our job fascinating and provides great stories for the BBC show we feature in, Heir Hunters.

Records and newspaper reports often tell sad stories too, though. A couple where their children died in infancy. People emigrating to the New World and never seeing the siblings they grew up with again.

One case we were involved with recently was where we traced the family of the crew members of a Lancaster bomber that was shot down only weeks before the end of the Second World War with the loss of all life.

Niece and nephew found

The plane’s wireless operator, Sergeant Harry Birch, was among the dead. We helped find his niece and nephew, so they were then able to attend a memorial event held to mark the occasion 75 years later.

Speaking about the case, our CEO and founder Danny Curran said: “When we get the chance to help in such rewarding work, we jump at the chance. I’m delighted we were able to find Sergeant Harry Birch’s niece and nephew, so they could attend this deeply moving event.”

More recently, we were saddened to hear of the death of Jimmy O’Donnell, who we’d helped reunite with his brother, Fred.

Older brother

The brothers had never known the other existed and grew up believing they were only children. When Fred’s daughter researched her family tree, she discovered her father had an older brother. Finders spotted the appeal she put out in The Herald newspaper in 2015 and located Jimmy.

The two brothers then met regularly. Tragically, Jimmy contracted coronavirus earlier this year and died.

Danny added: ““It was an absolute pleasure being able to reunite the O’Donnell brothers and I send my condolences to Jimmy’s family and friends – I will never forget the wonderful O’Donnell family.”

See more of our reunion stories here.