The details of family relationships are often complex; people become estranged, divisions occur, and unknown family members unfold. These complications increase the need for genealogical research, as more missing beneficiaries need to be identified and more family trees reconstructed to identify rightful heirs. As a provider of genealogical research services, we often find that historical events can play a significant part in the make-up of a family. This blog post looks at a few of the fascinating family histories we’ve uncovered whilst conducting genealogical research.
Case one: The unintentional bigamist
Our Solicitor-client instructed us to locate the next of kin on intestacy for a Polish gentleman named Mr S, who served in the Polish Home Army during World War II and subsequently settled in Huddersfield, UK. He then married an English woman who had sadly predeceased; they did not have children together. Our client expected us to search for Mr S’s siblings, starting in Poland.
After the facts were reviewed, it was confirmed that Mr S was born in the Polish town of Plock, where our overseas researcher commenced their work at the local Polish records office. The initial findings revealed that Mr S was already married in Plock before the war, and his wife was still alive in Poland. However, she had subsequently married again, twice.
As there was no legal divorce on record, this individual was Mr S’s surviving spouse and his next of kin. His later marriage in England was technically invalid. We located the individual concerned and interviewed her about her life history. It turned out that because Mr S never returned to Poland following the war, he was presumed dead, and she therefore remarried. Now very elderly, she took the news that her first husband had survived well, and she became the sole beneficiary to his £250,000 estate.
Case two: Tracing a Holocaust survivor through overseas records
Our client asked us to reconstruct the family tree of a woman who died intestate in England. She was a widow without issue, parent, grandparent, or surviving siblings (or their issue). Due to this, we proceeded with investigating the class of whole blood uncles and aunts (and their issue).
The Deceased was born in eastern Poland; her family was of the Jewish faith. Religion is not usually something we need to take into account when researching a UK-based family, as UK records are no longer organised in accordance with religious beliefs and haven’t been organised this way since civil registration started in 1837. However, when we carry out this type of research in Europe, the civil registration system is not as advanced, so we need to consult religious records more frequently. Therefore, knowing the family’s religious beliefs can be very useful.
When we began investigating the family, we found that some lines of the family had completely disappeared without a trace. Even once they had been identified, we could not find any records relating to some of the first cousins – for example, we could not find any marriage or emigration records. Whilst investigating, we occasionally found records which showed that some members of the family had perished at Auschwitz.
The atrocities committed against Jewish people across Europe during World War Two often present themselves when we’re carrying out research, as shown in this case. Over the last fifty years, the worldwide Jewish community has preserved testimony from the now dwindling number of Holocaust survivors - much of this is readily available online and can assist with genealogical research.
In this case, some of the family lines did escape and research was ultimately required around the world. We located only seven potential heirs to this estate, much less than we would expect from a family of this size. For the lines where documentary evidence was not available, we arranged for insurance to be put in place. An interesting final point comes from two heirs we found in the United States. They, along with approximately 850 others, avoided transport to Auschwitz Concentration Camp with the help of Oskar Schindler, whose story is told in the 1993 film Schindler's List.
Title Research provides trusted genealogical research and asset repatriation services for legal professionals during estate administration. We're committed to proving entitlement, locating missing or unknown beneficiaries, and verifying or reconstructing family trees to help accelerate the estate administration process. If you would like to discuss how Title Research can help, call our Client Services Team on 0345 87 27 600 or fill in the form below.