If you’re familiar with the daytime programme, Heir Hunters, you’ll have an idea of what we do, writes Danny Curran, founder and managing director of Finders International.
Heir Hunters—Series 12 came out earlier this year on BBC 1 and you can see more about it here—tracks the progress of some of the cases we work on. Our ‘Sunday’ name is probate genealogists, but heir hunting explains it just as well. If someone dies and they don’t appear to have any immediate, surviving family or a valid will, we look for the rightful heirs to their estate.
We have had close working relations with numerous legal firms and Local Authorities for over 20 years and they often refer cases to us, as do Care Homes, Coroners, Hospitals and private individuals.
Sometimes heir hunting is straightforward; other times it can be complex. Take families with Welsh names for instance. Surnames in Wales came in later than England—you only need surnames once a population grows a certain size and when rulers decide they want taxes! This means there isn’t such a wide variety of Welsh surnames, and some are very common.
Other issues that often come up are different recordings of names—surnames, first names and middle names can all have varied spelling and used in a different order, or not at all where a person prefers to use their nickname. It makes matching up the right records with the right person tricky.
But tracing a person’s life and working your way back through their ancestors is thrilling too. We study numerous records, census results, newspapers and other archives. They’ll reveal tantalising details, often recording connections to people who played crucial roles in events in our nation’s history.
Another rewarding aspect of our work is that we often reunite branches of a family. Thanks to 20th century migratory patterns, families scatter far and wide. Because we have an international reach, we can bring together family members from opposite ends of the world. Other times, they might live only miles away but have never met, until we arrive on the scene.
We’ve told people about relatives they didn’t know about, encouraged further interest in family trees and been part of family reunions. It’s intensely gratifying.
As well as finding the heirs to an estate, Finders International offers services such as finding wills, probate property sales, insurance options to protect against claims on an estate, missing asset and overseas bankruptcy searches.
We generate income through a variety of methods, but we never take money up front or directly from heirs. When working on a contingency fee basis, beneficiaries only pay for our services based on a percentage commission fee, but only if and when they receive their money and it turns out they are correctly related to the deceased. If the estate ends up insolvent, or the family dies out, we write off our fees.
Partly because of programmes like Heir Hunters, there’s been growth in the probate genealogy industry. Unfortunately, inexperienced and unregulated businesses and individuals, who may not be transparent about their services and fees, have appeared too. But the professional market has found a way of marginalising these.
Finders International has always championed standards and regulation in the industry. We work to a Professional Conduct & Ethics Code which clarifies the standards we’ve set for the how our business and staff work. Our mission is to provide the highest standards of service and raise standards within the industry.
We’re also the founder members of the International Association of Professional Probate Researchers, the association of elite, highly-experienced, professional companies that provide reassurance for anyone using such services, a forum for industry advice and media consultation.