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Heir hunters spend their lives tracking down the families of people who died without leaving a will.
They hand over thousands of pounds to long-lost relatives
who had no idea they were in line for a windfall.
Could they be knocking at your door?
On today's programme, the team find themselves
up to their armpits in heirs.
With the amount of people that are involved and the size of the tree,
people will be lucky if they get tuppence ha'penny at this rate.
And there's a surprise in store for one heir who believed her family were poor.
This was a complete surprise to me.
My family had no money at all. Nothing.
Plus the unclaimed estates sitting dormant at the Treasury,
are you about to inherit a fortune?
Every year in Britain, over two thirds of people die without leaving a will,
and when no heir can be found, their money goes to the Government.
Last year, the Treasury made a colossal £18 million from unclaimed estates,
while only £6.5 million was ever claimed back by heirs.
Hoping to gain a commission, more than 30 probate research companies
race against one another to track down and sign up long lost relatives entitled to inherit.
Hello. Sheila Kingsland?
Fraser & Fraser is one of the oldest firms of heir hunters in Britain,
and is run by Andrew, Neil and Charles Fraser.
One of the areas I enjoy is the sort of mystery element of it.
Each family is different from the previous one that we've looked at,
and it's totally different from the next one that we look at.
In its 30 year history, the company has clawed back over £100 million
from the Government and handed it back to more than 50,000 fortunate heirs.
It's 11am, and the team are having an extraordinarily busy morning.
They're overrun with the names of people who died without leaving a will,
but they only have the place and date they died
with no way of knowing how valuable the estates are.
All right, I've done one, two and 12. Any more?
The team do a search on each name
to find out if they owned a house and are therefore likely to have the highest value.
-Well, there's nothing coming up as her owning the property.
They have to be pretty sure which cases are financially viable.
-Well, the ground floor flat.
-I believe was the deceased's.
The point is, she did live there, right?
So, we've got to get that death before we know where we're going,
so we know which birth's right, so we might as well go down to Paul.
-Either way, there's a flat there with money on it. There was money in it at some point.
-Yeah, it's a possibility.
Widow Hilda Bentley Watkinson died in Poole, Dorset, in 2008.
Known to friends as Babs,
she at one time owned a High Street flat with her late husband,
opposite Peter Mallory's second hand furniture shop.
Well, I'd known Babs for a few years.
She was a bubbly,
fun loving lady.
She was very friendly with people,
and if she could help you in any way, she would.
I hadn't realised that she had died last year and I know that,
from my point of view, she's going to be sadly missed.
The team believe that Hilda sold her flat in 2006 for £120,000,
but have no subsequent address for her.
They need to get a researcher on the road to find out more.
Right, listen, mate, we've got a shed load of jobs out here.
-'There's something down in Poole in Dorset.'
-'Could you pop down there?'
-Pop down to Poole? Okey-doke.
Frasers employ a team of travelling heir hunters based all over the country
who await the call to be sent wherever the search takes them.
They follow up leads and hunches and glean as much information
-as they can about the deceased by knocking on doors and collecting certificates.
-Thanks very much.
Hoping to track down an heir before the competition beats them to it.
Looking for Hilda's last place of residence,
senior researcher Bob Barrett
is at Poole Register Office collecting her death certificate.
Right, I've got the death certificate for Hilda Watkinson.
It tells you that she died in a nursing home in Branscombe,
which I don't think is too far away.
Now the team know that Hilda
spent the last two years of her life in a nursing home.
This has huge financial implications.
Although her flat sold for £120,000 in 2006,
her care fees will have made a hefty impact on her finances.
Value wise on this, our feeling at the moment is that,
although she didn't own the property where she's passed away,
and she possibly owned the property prior to moving into this residential care environment,
so it's a bit hard to say what the value is,
but we think there's going to be something there, it's not, however, going to be huge.
Probably between 50,000 and 100,000, maybe.
It's quite a drop from their initial calculations.
Nursing homes can make a significant dent in people's savings,
as Elizabeth Feltoe from Help The Aged explains.
By far the most popular place to retire in the UK
is along the south coast somewhere.
The statistics show us that in the south west of England
and the south east of England,
there is a very large proportion of older people in those areas.
If you live in the south of England, you're a female and you're over 85,
you have a one in five chance of living in a care home towards the end of your life.
It's a big proportion of people.
The south coast is without doubt the care home capital of the UK.
Poole has an enormous proportion of homes for the elderly.
Enticed by the clement weather, coastal air and sandy beaches,
it's a popular choice for people wishing
to retire by the seaside, but care can cost as much as £1,000 a week.
If you're paying for a care home out of your own wealth, and it's on average about £25,000 a year,
you can imagine in three or four years you've eaten up, basically, £100,000,
and that's as an average.
It could be a lot more than that.
So, it really does reduce the value of people's capital in a really big way.
Nice to meet you, anyway. Thanks a lot. Bye-bye.
Bob is hoping the nursing home will hold records on Hilda,
and someone may remember details of family and friends who visited her.
The staff wouldn't give me any information at all
until they had spoken to their manager,
who's not back till Monday.
OK, well, to be quite honest with you at the moment there's nothing else.
They're all from the Croydon area.
Yeah, I see she was born in Mitcham.
You're probably in the wrong part of the country.
OK. Well, I'll start heading back towards Surrey, then, and wait to hear.
Bob heads back to the area Hilda was born in.
To move this case forward, they need to know who Hilda's parents and siblings were,
etching in the blanks of her family tree, generation by generation,
until they find her heirs.
We've pretty much decided now there isn't any near kin on this,
which means we're certainly going back.
It means we're researching cousins.
Looking firstly for the uncles and aunts of the deceased,
so the brothers and sisters of the parents of the deceased,
and from there we're going to find their descendants and come down.
Hilda Bentley Watkinson and her husband, Ronald,
are believed to have had no children,
so there are no descendants to trace from their marriage.
Moving up the tree, Hilda had a brother, Stanley,
but he died as a baby.
So, the team will begin their search by tracing her parents,
Richard Elmes and Beatrice Pocock.
Case manager Dave Slee is starting enquiries.
So far... You've caught me just at the early stages.
We've been able to find the father's birth in 1890 in West Ham,
and he was the son of Richard Thomas Elmes
and Mary Anne, we don't know her maiden name yet,
and we've picked them up from the 1901 census.
In fact, today's our first opportunity
to run with the 1911 census,
which is now just online for the first time,
which has been really helpful.
The census is taken every 10 years and lists all households and people in the country.
It includes details of age, marital status, number of children and type of work.
The information is released to the public after 100 years.
But after pressure from people keen to trace their own ancestors,
the 1911 census became available online three years early, a huge boon to the team.
The 1911 census gives far more information because they actually ask on the census, for the first time,
how many children did you have from your marriage.
So our aim now is to look to find aunts and uncles of her father's family,
the paternal family, and aunts and uncles of the maternal family, the Pococks.
Can you also, then...
You're now doing Roberts, as well.
The office is snowed under with work this morning,
and Hilda Watkinson's case gets delegated to another member of the team.
Fran is now leading Hilda's case.
The issues search from the marriage has been done.
There's their dates. No probates, we don't think, but I'm going to check those in a minute.
While Dave gets sent to the Probate Registry Office to look for wills.
They usually contain vital family links,
and the Principal Probate Registry in London retains copies of all wills in England and Wales
since 1858. What's more, it's only minutes from Frasers' office.
Fran has to pick up where Dave left off.
The team often have to work on several cases at once,
and need to be able to swap jobs at a moment's notice.
I haven't got a Henry who was born in '74.
At the moment, we're still identifying the births
of the aunts and uncles of the deceased on the maternal side of the family.
As he finds them, Alan's calling them out and I'm writing them down on the tree.
The new census has proved a triumph in tracking down Hilda's mother's family but,
astonishingly, it tells them she is one of 10 children.
We're just trying to identify birth records,
find death records and try and get the family together that way.
Fran is keeping her cool, but she knows that from those 10 children,
there are bound to be dozens and dozens of descendants
and she needs to account for every last one of them.
Everyone is poring over one scribbled tree.
Jesse, who died up in Congleton, she's left a probate.
But every time Fran tries to get it copied,
more and more information gets tacked on the end.
See if you can find him dead on the machines or alive before you do a marriage.
The maternal line is exploding with descendants that could lead to an heir.
Would you be so kind, while I start to make up this damn tree,
could you give Bernard a ring?
And in the midst of the mayhem, there's a call from Dave Slee.
He's struck gold.
He's just picked up the probate for Edward Pocock,
paternal uncle of the deceased.
Excellent news, because it mentions that he had four daughters,
and there's also mention of a grandson, Cliff Conden.
Edward Pocock was Hilda's maternal uncle.
He had a whopping seven children, Doris, Florence, Louisa,
Laura, Rosie and two more who died as infants.
Florence had just one child,
Clifford, Hilda's cousin once removed,
and the team's first heir.
With Clifford lined up
for an appointment,
Bob Barrett is sent to sign him up.
-When's he born?
But by the looks of the tree, Clifford is just the tip of the iceberg.
-This Bernard is alive and well and on the phone.
-I need to get somebody down to Southampton.
If they're going to stay one step ahead of the competition and scoop up all these heirs,
they'll have to have more people on the job.
With several beneficiaries in Southampton, they need another traveller on the road quickly.
Right, I am...
somewhere between Portsmouth and the M25.
Can you go to Southampton, please?
-Yes, I can, of course I can.
-Have you got your overnight bag?
-'It's not going to be an overnight, is it?'
hopefully not, but there's a whole branch down in the Southampton area,
so kind of get yourself to Southampton and give me a ring.
All right, then.
Cheers, then. Bye, bye.
There are now two travellers on this case and around 10 office staff.
The 11 page family tree is spilling off the desk
and the number of heirs has reached 15.
I can see us running out of men on the ground very quickly. I can see us having to bring someone else in.
The question is, have they got the manpower to get all the heirs,
or will Hilda's huge family get the better of them?
Heir hunters don't just come in the form of large city firms.
All over the country are freelance probate researchers,
helping people trace lost inheritances
and missing family members.
Cat Whiteaway has been a probate researcher since 1997
and has solved over 100 cases.
She started slowly, taking work on behalf of solicitors
and fitting the research in around her full time job as an academic.
But Cat's passion for family history and genealogy
has gradually taken over,
and she now solves about 30 cases a year
through the small heir hunting company she runs with her sister in Australia.
We work on cases together, so when we get stuck we can bounce ideas off each other,
mostly through the email system, but, I mean, we do talk regularly,
especially about cases and more to do with cases than to do with our own personal lives, actually.
Cat claims she can find almost anything,
and will track down missing assets,
reunite family members and locate heirs to unclaimed estates.
It's always quite nice to just keep going,
keep attacking a case until you find somebody, and most times I do.
One of her recent cases was that of Bertha Clark,
a widow who died in an alms house in Colchester
leaving an estate of over £21,000, but no next of kin.
Bertha's case was advertised in 2001.
Well, I start with the death certificate, really,
and work backwards from there searching for blood relatives.
It may not look like it at first,
but the death certificate holds an incredible amount of detail about Bertha's life.
It tells me that she was born in 1914 in London.
It also tells me that she was married,
so it says that she was the widow of a Mr Clark,
who was a soldier, a retired soldier,
who happened to live in Military Road, actually.
And from the death certificate I can order the birth certificate,
and on this it says her mother was Louisa Elizabeth Crossland and she was a domestic servant.
And the places where father's name would have been are left blank, so definitely illegitimate.
An illegitimate birth means there's no way of tracing or proving paternal relatives.
To be honest, I mean, my heart usually sinks when I see an illegitimacy
because that means I've got 50% less chance of actually finding relatives
because I lose the whole paternal bloodline to follow
and I've only got the maternal line.
Although it's difficult with one less parent,
it's actually quite intriguing to me to work out, you know,
or to try and find out, why they...
Or how they were brought up and who brought them up and what their circumstances were.
And with Bertha it's no different at all.
Cat wanted to find out more about Bertha's background.
Through the informant on her death certificate,
she tracked down Hyacinth Headland Smith,
a voluntary advocate who took care of Bertha
and her affairs in the years before she died.
I remember Bertha with fondness because she had a funny side,
a gentle side, a loving side
and also a little bit, you know, against authority.
Bertha was somebody that I will always keep in my memory
because she was such a nice person.
She liked people, and people...
If there was anything that happened, she would always think,
you know, she should be there to help.
And that's one thing about what Bertha was like.
She was very caring.
Bertha and Hyacinth became firm friends,
but Bertha was also a popular local character.
I think a lot of people liked her in Colchester, because you couldn't not know Bertha.
I think Marks & Spencer and other shops would accommodate her.
You know, she used to go and chat to the ladies
and then some of them would probably give her a chair to sit on
because she'll have the entire afternoon she probably spent in Marks & Spencer.
As Bertha's advocate, Hyacinth tried to persuade Bertha to make a will.
She didn't speak much of her family.
Like I'd say to her, you need to make a will, "No, no, my dear, I'll do it later.
"And, I've got money to give to the day centre," because the ladies who worked there,
they looked after her well and she said, "Oh, I'll leave all my money to them,"
you know, and things like that.
But I used to say to her, but you can't do that, they won't accept...
You've got to make a will. She'd say, "Oh, yes, yes."
And it would be another day go by, another month or whatever.
Hyacinth went out of her way to organise a memorial service for Bertha when she died,
and the number of people who attended is a testament to how popular she was.
I thought it would be a great tribute to her
for the people who didn't come to the funeral who wanted to mark respect for her,
that they'll come along.
And there was quite a lot of people, even though it was a winter's Saturday morning,
a lot of people turned up and said all what they thought of her.
And I thought that was a very good tribute to her and her days when they knew her and liked her
and was very fond of her.
Hyacinth makes a point of visiting Bertha's grave twice a year,
at Christmas and on her birthday, to lay some flowers.
As Bertha's closest companion,
Hyacinth kept hold of a few of Bertha's photos and treasured letters
in the hope that one day someone would come forward and claim them.
Now Cat has the opportunity to see them and find out about Bertha's life.
I'm really pleased that you can give me some information about Bertha because, I mean,
I know she was illegitimate, but I don't know who brought her up or anything at all about her.
She did speak about never really having much to do with her mother.
Her birth mother?
Her birth mother. But her mother did work in services,
so Bertha was brought up in service, and I think her birth mother must have moved on.
I don't really know about that.
And then Bertha found love very late in her life, didn't she?
Yes, she did. I think she got married when she was 39 and I think he was in the Army.
-But you didn't meet him?
-No, I didn't.
He died before I met her.
And what else do you know?
I mean, like I said, I don't usually get this chance, actually.
I've got some correspondence that Bertha had,
from, you know, people all over the world.
For instance, this from the White House.
I know. It was a card from Gerald Ford and Betty Ford, you can have a look at that.
Wow! Why on earth...?
I think she used to write to a lot of people.
If somebody died, she'd write sending her sympathy to them.
If somebody got married, she'd write and congratulate them.
And, as you can see, all through those letters and with the correspondence she had,
she was a very kind person.
-Do you keep them as part of your job, is that, you know...
-Well, she was special.
Because all the other people that I have been partners with, they've either had people who...
They have relatives, but with Bertha because she didn't have a family,
I took it on myself to work and do everything for her.
So, when we found all these things in her house, I kept them, that should one day somebody wanted...
you know, found that she had relatives they could pass them to them.
Hyacinth was able to pass on photos and personal treasures
Cat simply wouldn't have found through any other source.
But on locating who they should be passed on to,
what would the heir to Bertha's legacy make of the windfall?
This was a complete surprise to me.
We thought it was a scam.
For every case that is solved, there are still thousands that stubbornly remain a mystery.
Currently, over 3,000 names drawn from across the country are on the Treasury's unsolved case list.
Their assets will be kept up to 30 years in the hope that eventually
someone will remember and come forward to claim their inheritance.
With estates valued at anything from 5,000 to millions of pounds,
the rightful heirs are out there somewhere.
John Edward Horton died in Holt Park, Leeds, in 2006.
His estate is still waiting to be claimed,
and if no relatives can be found, his money will go to the Government,
but could it be meant for you?
Etemongha Ayebinimigha died in 2006 in Muswell Hill, London.
Does this name stir any memories?
Are you a missing and entitled relative?
With hundreds of estates laying unclaimed every year,
your information could help this money reach its rightful heirs.
In the London office of Fraser & Fraser,
the team are working on the case of Hilda Watkinson.
She died in the affluent area of Poole in Dorset,
but spent the last two years of her life in a home.
With care fees taken into account,
the value of her estate is still in question.
We think there's going to be something there. It's not, however, going to be huge.
Probably between 50,000 and 100,000, maybe.
They need to make something back on this case.
The maternal family tree is 11 pages, the paternal a further three,
and they are using an enormous amount of manpower tracing and signing up heirs to Hilda's estate.
Fran is feeling the strain.
She's been on the case for over five hours without a break,
and she just doesn't have enough people to cover the workload.
At the moment I have Dave Hadley in Southampton with four people to see.
I have Bob Barrett in the Surrey area with potentially two people to see.
With the amount of people that are involved and the size of the tree,
people will be like lucky if they get tuppence ha'penny at this rate.
Bob Barrett now has to convince Clifford, Hilda's first cousin once removed,
that it's worth signing with the company.
Even if it is only for tuppence ha'penny.
Hello, Mr Conden? Bob Barrett from Fraser and Fraser.
I think you were expecting me? I'm a bit early, is that OK?
-Yes, that's fine.
-Thanks very much.
-They've explained at the office what it's all about?
-Distant relatives, that's right.
What we don't know is how much the estate is valued at.
I do know that the person that died, died in a nursing home.
Now, the chances are some of the estate has been used to pay for nursing care,
but I've got no idea what's left.
The person concerned is a distant relative of my grandparents.
In fact, it was a cousin...
..of your mother.
Only the Treasury know the exact amount of Hilda's estate.
There are up to 35 maternal heirs alone at this stage,
all of them first cousins once and twice removed,
and all of them descended from the 10 children of Hilda's grandparents,
Richard Pocock and Eliza Bentley.
Just this Bloom stem here,
it looks like she had nine children and each one of them appears to have three, four,
possibly even five. I know one of them has six children.
We have them up to date, but some of them were born in the '40s, some of them born in the '20s.
They could have passed away and they could have had five children.
You can very quickly see how little each person is actually going to receive on this.
We think the whole estate is probably only £50,000 to £100,000,
and if they are only entitled to a tiny fraction of that, they may only be receiving £10 to £15.
This is a tough case for the heir hunters to make money on, but they have to complete it.
Most of the cases they started this morning have fallen through,
but they need to sign as many of Hilda's heirs as possible in order to get their piece of the pie.
Well, poor Dave Hadley is feeling quite sorry for himself,
because there seem to be quite a number of family members in the Southampton area
and he's figuring he's going to have to find himself a hotel for the night
because I've just given him addresses of four people to go and see,
so he's not getting home tonight.
Resigned to his fate, Dave Hadley begins trying to meet Hilda's heirs.
Well, I've just left a letter there for Mr Bloom.
I've got three more addresses to visit. I've spoken to the neighbour,
and she believes that
the gentleman I wanted to see, Mr Bloom, is on holiday.
Apparently he works abroad and goes away quite frequently,
and she believes he's away at the moment.
Dave leaves without a signed heir, and heads to the next address.
But Southampton is not the only place Fran needs a traveller.
The more heirs they find,
the further afield they spread.
And just when Bob Smith thought he was clocking off for the day...
I'm just about to ruin Bob Smith's day. He thought it was over,
and now I'm going to send him to Colchester, so he's going to love me!
Hello, Bob. How are you?
Well, it depends what you're going to say to me!
The first thing is where are you?
I'm in East London.
Ah! Sort of handy for going to Colchester kind of East London?
-OK, all right.
-'Speak to you in a bit.'
All right, speak to you later.
Bob gets sent to Essex with limited information.
He's got to actually go door-knocking to get in with people
because we haven't got phone numbers.
At 5pm it's late in the day to be chancing it without appointments
but, ever aware of their competitors, they keep working.
Fran's still putting the tree on to the system.
Three travellers are still on the road and they now have a running total of 45 heirs.
A family tree this size, we could easily find 50 beneficiaries.
To get all this stuff together is going to take several weeks, possibly even a month.
But the admin side of things is the last thing on Bob's mind as he arrives in Essex.
He needs to find an heir first.
But things don't look too promising.
I don't believe it!
I've driven all the way over to Colchester this evening
to go and see a lady by the name of Mrs Goddard
who we believe is the first cousin once removed to our deceased.
Unfortunately, it doesn't appear to be her,
at the address I'm given, it doesn't appear to be her usual residence.
It's like a holiday home and she's there once a week.
Bob Smith's had a wasted trip to Essex.
Bob Barrett has been from London to Poole and back to London again.
Dave Hadley is still in Southampton and Fran is still in the office.
It's been a tough day all round.
We have done so much research today.
We have an 11 page tree on the maternal side,
three pages on the other side.
We've had appointments to see beneficiaries this afternoon.
We have more people to see this evening, appointments tomorrow.
It's been a good day.
They found a staggering 45 heirs in one day.
The total amount of Hilda Bentley Watkinson's estate remains unknown
until the Treasury accept the claim by her heirs.
Though her heirs never knew her, she'll be remembered with fondness
as a bubbly and vivacious character by her friend and neighbour.
Yeah, you could always have a good laugh with her.
She tried not to sort of...
I think when her husband died she did sort of mellow out a bit,
but she was always quite funny, nice to talk to and,
yeah, she didn't want anything from people, really, you know?
All she wanted I suppose at the end of it was a bit of company.
Back on the case of Bertha Clark, Cat Whiteaway has been researching
her family history, trying to piece her life story together with more than just certificates.
Cat went to meet Bertha's closest companion, Hyacinth, who was able to pass on personal photos of Bertha
and give a little more detail of her life.
-And Bertha found love very late in her life, didn't she?
-Yes, she did.
I think she got married when she was 39 and I think he was in the Army.
But Bertha's early years are still a mystery.
Cat's come to London to locate the address on the birth certificate.
She wants to build a picture of the life Bertha
was born into so she can pass on a more complete portrait to her heir.
This is great because I get the chance to find out where they lived,
which gives me a bit more of a picture about exactly how they were brought up,
what the area was like, what their parents might have done and all sorts of different details.
So, instead of just this piece of paper, I get a feel for the person.
And, if I can, I love to do this.
The address has led her to London's East End and a building that used to be a workhouse and infirmary.
204 Hoxton Street, St Leonards, Shoreditch, offices for the relief of the poor.
If this is where she was born, then I'm just wondering whether it was like a parish relief place, you know?
Where people who didn't have enough money, or perhaps it's a home for unmarried mothers.
Louisa was a 39 year old domestic servant when she had Bertha.
According to East End historian Rachel Kolsky,
this would have been a pretty desperate situation for her.
Bertha was born at 204 Hoxton Street.
That was not an address to aspire to. It was a very,
very sort of dirty and noisy place to live.
The existence would have been very hard.
A workhouse was a workhouse.
If you were given a roof over your head in a workhouse, you had to work
and so even as a new mother you would have had work to do
and it was hard work, it was tedious work, it was dirty work.
People did anything to avoid the workhouse.
You're unmarried, you've been a servant, you're pregnant, you've been turned out.
Louisa didn't have many options open to her at that time.
In this grim situation and having gone to the workhouse to have
her baby, what choice would Louisa have had but to give her baby up?
There are no records of where Bertha spent her childhood.
Well, because Bertha was illegitimate, I mean, it's hard to know who actually brought her up,
but what was really fascinating, later on when I came across
her mother's marriage certificate in 1938...
So, I've got Louisa getting married to Thomas Camp at the age of 63
and one of the witnesses is Bertha herself, so that's fantastic
to know that at 28 she was close enough to her mum to be her witness.
So, Bertha, seen here in her 30s, must have been in contact with
her mother, Louisa, even though Louisa was unable to bring her up.
Cat's next task was to trace Louisa's parents and siblings.
Their descendants would be entitled next of kin.
I mean, even though Bertha didn't have a father,
so we couldn't track down any paternal beneficiaries, her mother, Louisa, is one of five children
so there are four other bloodlines that we can actually follow and out of all of them I've only managed
to track one bloodline, which is Hannah, who was born in 1871,
and Hannah had a daughter called Florence.
So, Florence is Bertha's first cousin.
Florence has a daughter called Joyce
and Joyce is the only beneficiary that I can find to Bertha's estate.
Joyce Vercy is Bertha's cousin once removed and was in the dark about her long lost relation.
I didn't know Bertha.
Never heard of her or never heard of her spoken of at all.
My mother didn't know her at all.
Never spoke of her.
Understandably, Cat's letter stating she was the only heir
left Joyce and her daughter, Corinda, very dubious.
We thought it was a scam
because we'd had one before, two years before, and then we heard from
Cat and so I said, 'oh, it's just one of those letters
'that you get from time to time, we'll ignore it.'
And Corinda said, 'no, I think this may be real.
'We may get something here.'
So, I said, 'well, whatever we get you can have half,' thinking that would be nothing. Half of nothing.
Cat's on her way to meet Joyce, the heir to Bertha's £21,000 estate.
What Hyacinth was able to tell me, you know, means so much and I get a whole image of Bertha.
And Joyce is going to love it too because Joyce is...
She's rare because she's actually interested in Bertha.
I mean, some of my clients, not that interested in the person who died.
-Yes, it is.
-Cat. Cat Whiteaway.
-Lovely to meet you.
-Nice to meet you at last. Thank you.
It's a poignant moment.
Joyce is amazed to find out about her long lost cousin.
Because you didn't know about Bertha at first, did you?
No. I didn't know
anything about her. I didn't know that she existed.
I'm sorry that I didn't know.
I'm sorry that my mother didn't know anything about her.
My mother never mentioned her.
Joyce's mother, Florence, pictured here, was 14 when Bertha was born,
but she probably never knew her baby cousin existed.
Well, I can only imagine that she was spirited away somewhere because she was illegitimate, perhaps.
I don't know that for certain.
But my mother never talked of her.
her mother couldn't have spoken about her, could she?
Her mother couldn't have told my mother.
But, I mean, it's been an incredible journey, all these different things that we've learned
and Hyacinth, the lady who looked after Bertha later in life and sort of became her friend, you know?
She wasn't actually paid to look after Bertha,
but she became her friend and I've met Hyacinth and she's got some photographs of Bertha, as well.
-Would you like to see them?
-I wonder if she looks like my mother.
Let's get the photo, first. This is Bertha.
Can you see Nan in her?
Can you see a likeness?
There's another one, as well, so...
So whether they were slightly younger.
I'm told I look like my mother.
And if she looked like her mother, then she might look like Bertha.
Your mum and Bertha were first cousins, so, you know, there should be some similarity.
Do you think she'd mind me having her money?
-Her mother didn't like me.
She used to tell me I was ugly.
-Yeah. She lived next door to my grandmother.
When my grandmother was looking after me, she used to look over the garden fence, 'you're ugly!'
'You're not worth a bladder of lard!'
I think there's a degree of irony there that you got the money
after her mother said those nasty things to you.
Yes, I feel very guilty about it.
Well, you're legally entitled and I wouldn't feel any guilt.
And what are you going to spend the money on?
I'm not spending it on myself.
Who are you spending it on?
I'm saving it for my grandson.
He's hoping to go to university next year, so I'll put it aside
for him so that he doesn't have to have a debt.
Joyce has come to terms with inheriting Bertha's estate because she's giving it up
for her grandson's education, but coming to terms with never having known her cousin is so much harder.
Well known in Colchester, I think.
Yes. It's made me more sad than ever that we didn't know her.
If possible, we'd like to meet Hyacinth so that we can take her
some flowers and thank her properly for looking after Bertha as she did.
Bertha is no longer the illegitimate relation spirited away in secrecy.
She is a much missed relative and friend and will be remembered by everyone involved in her story.
If you would like advice about building a family tree or making a will, go to bbc.co.uk.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
The heir hunters once again seek out families entitled to inherit the estates of people who have died without a will.
Hilda Watkinson died in 2008. A widow, everyone knew her as Babs. After her husband died she sold their high street flat, and the team at Fraser and Fraser feels that hunting down her heirs could be a lucrative move. Babs was one of ten children, and as the family tree grows rapidly, more potential heirs appear. Does the team have the resources and energy to sign them up before the competition moves in? As the chase hots up the team is stretched to breaking point.
Elsewhere, independent heir hunter Cat Whiteaway is on the case of Bertha Clarke, a widow who died leaving an unclaimed estate of 21,000 pounds. As Cat works her way through the records, she discovers that Bertha may have been an illegitimate child. Soon the investigation leads into the notorious infirmaries and workhouses of London's impoverished East End, where many young mothers were forced to make the most agonising decision of their lives.