Our efforts to trace our family trees left a lot of mysteries unsolved. One such involved my wife's aunt, Ivy, who was born in 1900. All we knew was that she'd been adopted as an 8-month old baby into the family. We still have the very sad little declaration from the mother, giving up all rights.
Apart from that, no documentary record and next to no anecdotal history, except it was rumoured that Ivy and her husband had been drowned.
Then we got a phone call from a firm of probate researchers. It was a bit guarded... their stock-in-trade is information, and if they freely release too much, bang goes their chance of a cut of the estate. Slowly it emerged that Ivy had lived to be 103, but had no contact with her adoptive family during her long adult life. Her first husband had indeed drowned (later we found the news reports) and many years later she'd married again. No wonder we couldn't find her!
Technically, she'd died intestate (there was a will, but it was a copy, so it didn't count in law). So the probate researchers set out to find surviving 'relatives' who would, in the absence of any other instructions, be entitled to the estate. We're talking about £25K or so here, less the researchers' cut, among at least twenty relatives. They're called the rightful heirs, though it's hard to see what's right about it - as she'd never met us or even known we existed. !
In the end the claim turned out to be a non-starter; there was no such thing as a legal adoption in 1901, so there was no claim. What's more, justice was done - Ivy had led a very full life, with many friends right up to the end. The copy will named them as beneficiaries, and the Treasury eventually gave them discretionary payments to the same value. It's what she would have wanted.
We got a lot out of it too; most of all the answers to the mystery that was Ivy. And some very powerful reminders of the absurdity of the whole, rarely challenged, concept of 'inheritance'; the only decision you can make that only comes into force when you're dead. It perpetuates so much that is divisive and unjust in our society, from one generation to the next.
It gave us another unique experience too. At lunchtime today, in a cafe in Wells, one of the staff came over and said "I hope you don't mind my mentioning it, but didn't I see you both on television this morning ? I love that 'Heir Hunters'... ".
Recognition at last!