08 March 2011

The Probate Debate

There are many reasons why people want to trace their family history, some of which involve ethical considerations.  Are you researching your ancestry for a particular reason?  Could that reason have anything to do with the possibility of receiving an inheritance?
If you are a professional genealogist, you may have been asked to assist in finding an heir to a deceased estate.  You may also have been asked by a client to trace a line of their ancestry to find a family connection to a possibly wealthy forebear.  Should the motives behind the research have a bearing on taking on the task of doing it?

Genealogists find unknown and missing heirs

Five family history scams to avoid

Are there also some researchers who make unscrupulous claims about people's possible (though more likely improbable) royal or noble ancestry?

A story I heard many years ago on my father's side of the family was that our Belgian ancestors had links to the Dutch House of Orange.   I have found no evidence while doing my own research, and no-one has yet been able to tell me where that story came from.

Another story, from my mother's side of the family, relates to a cousin of my grandfather, Harry.  My grandfather said his cousin had a degree in chemistry and had a career at ICI.   I cannot remember the name of the man, and nor can my mother, but we know the surname of most of my grandfather's cousins, and it is not the same as that man's surname.

There was even a vague reference, somewhere in the family history, that Harry's cousin had won a Nobel Prize.  From my own research, however, it may have been that the cousin worked at Nobel Industries, which became part of ICI in 1926.

Nobel Prize - Chemistry Laureates
(The list contains no-one with any surname known in my family history)

Whether any members of my family had won Nobel Prizes or been a powerful part of European history is not really very important to me.  Nor is the very remote possibility that I might be an heir to a long-lost fortune, especially if I am first asked to part with a fortune to find out if it is true (or, more likely, false).

A post about inheritance - On my Continual Journeys blog 

I am especially concerned that there are people who part with quite substantial sums of money when wishing to trace their family history.  Many have been unfortunate to receive little in the way of unique and interesting knowledge in return.  Some of those people have merely received a dubious certificate stating the origins and heraldry of a family name, and perhaps even a plaque with a plastic version of a coat of arms.

There are also people who have paid out money to receive lists of people with the same suname, with little or no evidence that the people named in the listings have any place in a particular family tree.

Perhaps I am fortunate to be a social scientist by training, rather than a professional genealogist or novice investigator.  I have the ability to question the reliability of sources of information, and to examine the usefulness of data when trying to solve a particular mystery.

Which genealogical mysteries are you still trying to solve?  And what are the skills necessarily to find the correct answers?

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I especially appreciate historical insights.