Sunday, January 15, 2012

Heir Hunters - 15 March 1924 - Genealogy as a Gold Mine

During the war people were too busy to worry about unclaimed fortunes or money in Chancery in which they might possibly have an interest. But now hardly a week passes without mention of some claim of the kind coming before the courts. The courts, needless to say, demand definite proofs of descent before any such claim is even considered, and it is in obtaining, or trying to obtain such proofs that the professional genealogist gets his living. You find him prowling about the country investigating parish registers, while Somerset House is also his hunting ground.

Pedigree hunting demands a degree of patience which few possess, for it often happens that after months of methodical research, and just when success appears to be within- sight, one link is found to be definitely missing, and all the-work is thereby rendered useless. And since payment for this sort of work is largely by result, the disappointments are proportionately bitter.

On the other hand, the profession has its rewards, and in this it resembles gold mining. Just as the miner may spend years delving in barren claims, and then at last strike rich pay dust, so the genealogist may suddenly get upon the track of some great sum of money which has been lying unclaimed for years, and discover that he can put his lingers upon the rightful heirs. In such a case his reward is certain.

The most successful man in the pedigree-hunting business is Frenchman, who keeps a couple of tame genealogists to whom he pays a regular salary. He has other agents who forward to him particulars of the estates of all persons who die intestate, and he makes it his business to discover the rightful heirs. If he finds such heirs before they have become aware of their own luck he suggests to them a commission of twenty per cent, upon all he can recover for them—and very often gets it.

To day the best customer of the professional genealogist is the new-rich American who desires to trace his English ancestry. The sums paid for securing a satisfactory family tree, and perhaps a coat of arms into the bargain wealthy Vermonter was sued by an Englishwoman for a sum of £2500 due for work done in finding him a family tree. She gave evidence that she had spent more than three years on the task and the American had engaged to pay her £12 a week for the work in which she had been engaged.

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