Private investigators can be called to assist estate attorneys, real estate agents, or estranged family members, in tracking down descendants of an estate when the beneficiaries of a will were not clearly identified.
In a recent case, Maldem Investigations were tasked to locate descendants of a landowner who died in 1898 and left their estate to “their descendants and the descendants of their descendants” as per the last notarized document that served as the will for the deceased.
The case came to light after a local entrepreneur wanted to purchase an empty plot of land that had a potential to become a very lucrative location for a real estate development project, and inquired a real estate agent to find out if they could identify current the owners and make them a purchase offer.
Using the location of the property, the real estate agent conducted a land registry search and was surprised to find that there were no results listed in the system. The plot number existed on the land map but there was no registry for that specific location; which he found to be unusual and extremely unlikely since every land parcel has to belong to either an individual or a municipality or a governing authority and thus had to be registered accordingly.
To expedite research efforts, the real estate agent hired Maldem Investigation to conduct an inquiry into the matter and find the contact information of the current owners of the property in question.
After verifying that the plot number and location on the parcel map were correct, and after confirming that no individual owner was listed on the land registry, our investigator contacted the municipality where the land was located in order to confirm that the land belonged to the city; which was the only other remaining possibility.
To their surprise, after discussions with numerous departments, the municipality could not confirm that the land belonged to them either. They once again verified that the plot number and its map location were accurate but they had no records indicating that the land belonged to the city nor did they have any records that any individual owner was paying taxes for this property.
The land appeared to belong to no one. A true “no man’s” land.
To find a possible lead into the ownership of the plot, the investigator decided to examine the properties that surrounded the “no man’s” land. Working backward from the current owners that were identified on the registry, it was possible to follow the history of all the transactions associated with those plots. They all belonged to a number of different owners over the years but, thanks to digitized records of old notarized documents that were scanned and uploaded for public access, it was possible to track down the original owner of the whole block.
It was uncovered that the entire surrounding block of five plots was originally purchased by the same individual in 1892. Furthermore, the original parcel map indicated that the “no man’s” land was part of one of the five plots purchased by the individual.
The investigator now had the original owner, but the information was dated from over 120 years ago and that there was still no explanation as to why or how the “no man’s” land came to exist.
Examination of sale records and parcel maps indicated that all the surrounding properties that were eventually sold never included the “no man’s” part of the land in the sales transaction; meaning that that particular plot of land was at some point, subdivided from one of the five original plots purchased by the original owner, but never sold to anyone.
It was also noted that those five plots were all put up for sale in 1898 by three different individuals who all shared the same last name with the original owner. Which indicated to the investigator that there was possibly a family relation to the owner and that they most likely sold the properties after the owner’s death.
As it turned out, after additional long hours searching 120-year-old handwritten records and jumping from one notary reference book to another, it was identified that the original owner named their three brothers (and their descendants) as their successors in the event of their death which occurred in 1898.
This confirmed the investigator’s theory.
However, as the sales records and associated maps confirmed, the properties that were sold by the brothers of the deceased did not include the subdivided “no man’s” land which appeared to have fallen through the cracks as between 1892 and 1898 no records indicated that this portion of the land was sold or transferred to anyone; which could mean that this part of the land likely still possibly belonged to the original owner or rather their descendants (since no one else appeared to have claimed the plot in question).
At this point, the file became all about locating the descendants of the original owner and thus even more grueling records search begun.
How do you locate the descendants of someone who died over 120 years ago?
With detailed records searches, fieldwork, and a lot of patience.
After long hours behind the screen looking at:
And some fieldwork that involved:
It was possible to track down a descendant of one of the three brothers. The family history took the file all over Canada, with marriages, deaths, births in different provinces until it was possible to identify a name and a previous address of a living person who was related to the original owner of the land.
The file then became a normal “skip trace” type of investigation which, thanks to the current records and technology, and the fact that the person wasn’t purposefully trying to hide, was relatively easy and uneventful. Database searches and social media analysis revealed the current address of the person which allowed the attorney (who was consulted for this file and retained by the client) to make contact and make appropriate arrangements with the individual.
Whether it’s due to the trustee’s obligation to track down successors in order to execute a will; or due to a need to identify current owners of an inherited property for a business transaction; or simply out of interest of locating relatives; a Private Investigator trained in research techniques and knowledge of available resources, can help uncover the required information.