Case studies

No two cases are the same. Every single case is exciting and each of them tells the story of a family whose members are scattered over the world due to all different kinds of events.

To provide an insight into our work, we have compiled a small selection of cases that we have dealt with for your perusal. There are many cases that are particularly important to us from an emotional point of view – but the cases below stand out from the rest.

The Wolverhampton Ring Road Tramp

In 2008, one of our British partners approached us with a case that at first seemed rather strange.

A man, known as the “Wolverhampton Ring Road Tramp”, who had been “living” in the middle of a ring road in the British town of Wolverhampton for almost 40 years, died there at the age of 87. Our concern that the deceased had not left an inheritance were soon dispelled when our British partner discovered that the legator´s pension had been unclaimed for decades, meaning that the inheritance amounted to almost 100,000 GBP.

With the help of our Polish partner firm and in competition with various European heir search companies, we succeeded to find heirs in Germany and Croatia and introduce their claims in Great Britain.

The Brazilian Santos – Santos case

A German partner of ours asked us to find possible descendants of a German who had emigrated to Brazil in 1919, as they were potentially entitled to a piece of land in East Berlin.

With the help of the National Archives of Rio de Janeiro we searched the immigration list and found out that the legator had moved from Germany to the formerly prosperous Brazilian port of Santos in 1919. He had probably left his home country due to the difficult economic situation after the First World War to make a new start in Brazil.
Helped by Mr Rosskamp, our representative in Brazil who searched through all census records of the period in question and sifted through historical correspondence at the Honorary Consul in Santos, we found a telex that the emigrant had sent to his sister in Germany in 1932. He told her that the work on the banana plantations was strenuous and poorly paid, and that he suffered from continuous fever but was looked after by his daughter Maria.

So we then knew that the deceased had had a daughter whose name was Maria. With the help of the local registry office we were able to look into all birth records in Santos and discovered that a daughter of the legator was indeed born in 1925.

We then started to search for marriage documents which we found quite quickly. Unfortunately we were soon to discover that the daughter had taken on the most common name in Brazil – her married name was Maria Santos.

As it seemed that finding this woman would be a mission impossible and since we didn’t even know if she was still alive, we had the idea of searching for a possible death certificate of the deceased at the Protestant cemetery on the outskirts of the town as we presumed that he had not converted to Catholicism even after his emigration to Brazil.

We did indeed find the legator’s death entry. Reference was made to the fact that he had died without means in 1947 and as no relative had been found, it was the city that had paid for the funeral.

Apparently Maria Santos had disappeared and our last hope was to launch a campaign for information in the local media (radio stations, newspapers), but this did not bear fruit.

We finally found the principal of the local poorhouse, who, aged 94, could still remember the deceased who had lived there until his death.

The principal told us about the family’s difficult situation. He knew that the legator had had a daughter called Maria who had worked as a cleaner. Fortunately he remembered the address of Maria’s former employer, whose children we then visited. The employer’s children indeed remembered Maria Santos. They told us that Maria had died approx. 5 years earlier, and pointed out that she had nine children, one of whom worked for the local city council.

The search for this grandchild of the deceased didn’t take long. Once we had found him, the grandchild told us about another aunt who had already died and who had led a hard life on a banana plantation 300 kilometres from the city.

We finally discovered that the two daughters of the legator had a total of 17 children. Further research led us to the conclusion that there were more than 55 legitimate heirs, only a few of whom were able to read and write.

One of the legator ’s daughters had married a born-and-bred native American with whom she had 13 children. We accompanied all of them to the public notary where their signatures – which were actually their fingerprints – were certified.

Although the whole procedure took more than 8 months, we finally managed to provide financial help to the many heirs in Brazil. With the help of the money they received, every one of them is now in a position to buy their own house and a piece of land – before they had been “modern slaves” and dependent on the squire.

A far-scattered family

An Australian partner firm asked us to find possible legitimate heirs of a Greek man who had emigrated to Australia. We knew the legator’s place of origin, a small village on the southern coast of Greece where he had worked as a shepherd until emigrating, as well as his date of birth.

We called the local authorities and soon found out that he had had a brother. According to the mayor, this brother had also emigrated, but nobody knew where he had gone. Approximately one week after our telephone conversation with the mayor we were contacted by a Greek man who had emigrated to Germany and who referred to our discussion with the mayor. This man said that the legator’s brother had moved near to Budapest where he had changed his name.

Thanks to the active support of the Greek Embassy in Hungary we were able to trace the new name of the brother and finally located him without too much trouble in a village near Budapest. The heir hadn’t heard from his brother in 50 years and, despite the sad news about his brother’s death, was happy to find out about the latter’s last whereabouts.

1 million Euros lost

Unfortunately, not every case has a happy ending. We have at times come across legitimate heirs who have not been willing to accept their inheritance, but never before had the rejected inheritance been worth more than 1 million Euros.

A German genealogical office had for years been following the trace of a Polish man who had emigrated to Germany, had later moved to Great Britain and finally to New Zealand. They had written a letter to the man, informing him about his entitlement to inheritance, whereupon he answered that he was not interested.

Our partners assumed that this could be connected to the heir’s possible Jewish descent, which allegedly caused him to regard letters from Germany with great suspicion due to events occurring during the Second World War. That is why they asked us to contact this man, as we have a Jewish colleague who might have been able to convince the heir in a personal conversation that he really was entitled to inheritance.

Moreover, the heir’s wife’s maiden name sounded Italian, and the staff that we had chosen for this case could not only speak Hebrew, but also had an excellent command of Italian.

After a 26-hour flight from Vienna via Kuala Lumpur and Sydney, our genealogist finally reached Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, paid a visit to the heir and explained the case to him. He quickly found out that the heir was not Jewish and that his wife did not speak Italian. Moreover, the heir made it perfectly clear that he did believe that the inheritance was real but that he was not interested at all in such a large amount of money, as he was afraid that his wife would be abducted and he then wouldn’t have anyone to cook his meals for him.

Countless attempts to convince the heir via local notary publics and attorneys did not bear fruit, and as a result our genealogist flew back home after 5 days.

To conclude, we would like to add that the heir lives in extremely poor economic conditions and that his son was very interested in the amount of money, especially because he had been unemployed for a long period of time. However, a conversation between father and son was just as unproductive as our genealogist’s efforts.

In search of dues in Galicia

In our profession sometimes all you need is historical knowledge and luck …

We were asked by one of our German partners to find heirs entitled to the inheritance of a German-speaking woman who originally came from Galicia.

As the archives in the former most-Eastern Crown Land of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy are in a really poor condition, and since it can sometimes take more than a year to process information, the chances of finding legitimate heirs within due time were relatively poor. But we knew that after the Second World War, 99% of the former German-speaking population of Galicia had emigrated mostly to the German regions of Baden-Württemberg and Hessen as well as to the Austrian Federal States of Upper Austria and Salzburg.

A search in the telephone directory in the abovementioned regions for the relevant family name came up with two entries and, within a very short period of time, we found the son of the nephew of the legator in Salzburg. He too was born in Galicia and had to leave the country in 1945 after the invasion of the Red Army.

A journey to Israel

We are aware that our profession is relatively unknown. We also know just how important it is to dispel any scepticism that heirs may have before telling them the exact ins and outs of a case.

In the case at hand, which was offered to us via one of our Hungarian partners in the USA, the heir, a niece of the legator who had passed away in the USA, had already been found by our Hungarian partner after extensive research in various archives in Poland and Haifa (Israel), but had not replied to the letters of our partner.

That is why – not least because of our permanent Jewish staff on site – we were asked to get in contact with the heir. Our attempts were initially unsuccessful since the lady just did not answer our employee’s calls.

Finally our genealogist did manage to find out the name of the heir’s daughter, who lives in Tel Aviv, and called her. She confirmed that her mother was simply no longer able to use the phone, and briskly asked for the reason of our call.

Our employee explained our field of activity to the daughter and pointed out that her mother might be entitled to an inheritance of a considerable amount of money. The lady was more than sceptical and demanded to be given all information about this case, which we didn’t want to discuss on the phone. That was when she immediately called our Head Office in Vienna and in no uncertain terms demanded that the Managing Director come to Tel Aviv the very next day – otherwise she would block any further contact from our side.

Two hours later, our Managing Director and another genealogist had packed their most important things and 5 hours after the phone call they flew from Vienna via Zurich (the direct flight from Vienna to Tel Aviv was already fully booked) to Israel. They were welcomed by our permanent representative who brought them to the agreed meeting point in a large hotel in Tel Aviv city centre. The heir’s daughter and her son were already waiting for us there, accompanied by their spouses and two attorneys.

After a five-hour meeting during which scepticism prevailed, we agreed that the heir’s children would sleep on the matter and inform us of their decision the next day.

But since the next day was a Saturday (Shabbat – the Jewish Sabbath), a day on which work is not permitted, we had to wait until dusk before contacting them.

Unlike the son who was a little bit more open-minded, the daughter told us that she had consulted her husband from the USA and was not interested in continuing the talks. We then contacted the son and asked him for another meeting.

Unfortunately, he lived 150 kilometres from Tel Aviv and it was terribly difficult to get a taxi on the Sabbath. Finally, we managed to get there via the Gaza Strip and appreciated the opportunity for another meeting with the son.

During a dinner, at which his attorney was also present, we were able to convince the son of the case, but it took another 5 hours before the fee arrangement was accepted by both sides.

After this the brother contacted his sister, who, after much hesitation, finally agreed that we could hand over the contract to her after our return to Tel Aviv which she would then pass on to her mother.

The next day, our planned day of departure, we received the signed agreement and flew back to Vienna the following day.

The heir is entitled to almost 700,000 US$ .

The Kindertransport

One of the most challenging and complex cases which we have ever worked on came from an Austrian notary public, who needed our help to find the heirs of a Jewish concentration camp survivor.

We looked into different files and soon found out that the legator had had a brother whose fate, however, was completely unknown. We assumed that the brother had not survived the Holocaust due to his religion. When studying the lists of victims we did not find the brother’s name, which led us to believe that the brother of the deceased had managed to survive the war.

We knew that the brother was 16 years old when Hitler came to power and assumed that he might have emigrated to the USA or Israel, but could not find proof thereof in any relevant database.

The list of the so-called Kindertransport finally helped us – this is a list of Jewish children who were given the possibility to flee to England without their parents on the eve of the Second World War. With no more than a suitcase, a bag and 10 Reichsmark, this is how approximately 10,000 Jewish children were saved from the Nazi regime.

Once they had arrived in England, they were looked after in foster homes. The records of one of these homes contained the name of the brother we were searching for. The brother fortunately had had a “sponsor” assigned by the British government. We asked his children about the whereabouts of the legator´s brother and found out that the latter had emigrated via Shanghai to Canada at the age of 18.

Soon after we were able to trace the descendants of this brother in Ottawa and informed them about their uncle’s fate.

Implications of World War II

In 2005 we were made aware of a flat in one of the richest neighbourhoods of Vienna which, after the death of the owner, would have passed to the state if we hadn’t found the legitimate heirs within a certain period of time.

We soon found out that the late owner of the flat was a lady called Ludmilla D., allegedly from Mannheim, Germany.

But when our German registry office searches did not provide us with any information, we carried out further research and discovered that she was not born in Germany, but in the Ukraine in Mannheim near Odessa, a former German “colony” in Bessarabia.

One of our members of staff, supported by one of our partners, traced the woman’s origins. As we know that most ethnic Germans had to leave their homes after the Second World War, we assumed that the family had emigrated to either Germany or Austria.

With the help of the Association of Displaced Bessarabia Germans, we quickly found the birth register entry of the woman and learned that she had had two brothers and one sister, whose whereabouts were still unknown.

Moreover, the association helped us to find further relatives of the legator, that is to say her cousins, who had been “bought out” of the Soviet Union by the Federal Republic of Germany in the 1960s.

They told us about a sister who had allegedly lived in Germany. After much tedious research we identified the sister, only to determine that she had died approx. 20 years earlier, which is why we had to then search for her descendants who we finally located in Belgium.

We now had an heir (the sister’s descendant in Belgium), but what had happened to the legator’s brothers? Helped by one of our partners we learned that only the legator managed to escape the Red Army during the retreat of the German Armed Forces. Her ethnic German brothers were accused of collaboration with the Nazis and sentenced to 25 years of forced labour in Siberia.

The penalty of 25 years was reduced to 15 years. Once these 15 years were over, the legator’s brothers settled in Eastern Kazakhstan, close to the border with China, where they died a couple of years ago. All her life the deceased had tried, supported by the Red Cross, amongst others, to establish contact with her brothers, but unfortunately her efforts had been in vain.

After three months of extremely intensive research in Kazakhstan, our partners informed us that the descendants of the late brothers of the deceased meanwhile were still living in Russia in extremely poor conditions. We succeeded in finding them and, together with their Belgian cousin, they can now enjoy ownership of a flat in Vienna and a certain amount of cash.

Forced labour in Siberia

At the beginning of December 2004 we received an e-mail enquiry from Russia. Mr D. informed us that his grandfather had been wounded in a defensive battle of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy during the First World War in Lemberg (former Austro-Hungarian Crown Land of Galicia and Lodomeria). Subsequently he was abducted by the Russian Army and taken for forced labour in Siberia.

Before his death the deceased, who had become stateless, married a Russian woman who gave birth to their only son. The son suffered greatly from the implications of the Second World War as he was considered to be an ethnic German.

After the end of the war, the Austrian family tried numerous times to bring the son of the abducted soldier to Austria, but failed. He never saw his father’s homeland before dying.

His son, who lives in the Jewish autonomous region of Russia, asked us to search for his relatives in Austria.

First of all, we carried out research into the birth entries in the village where the grandfather was born (in Lower Austria). We also found out that the grandfather had had siblings whose descendants we were unable to trace despite thorough research in this region.

With the help of the Archives of the Federal State of Vienna and the City of Vienna we discovered that parts of the family moved to Vienna after the First World War and also died in Vienna. A check on the graves´ register in the Vienna Central Cemetery confirmed that some of his relatives had in fact died in Vienna.

We then checked who had paid for the grave of the abducted soldier’s brother – which is how we found the brother’s daughter who we then contacted and who confirmed that one of the family’s relatives had not returned from Russia.

And that is how we were able to reunite a family after almost 90 years.

The Scottish daughter

Showmen visit countries like few other people do.

In our case an Austrian lady had died about who we knew that she had given birth to a baby girl in Hamburg at the age of 17. However, the whereabouts of the daughter were unknown. We soon found out that the daughter was illegitimate and was born in Hamburg during a tour of Germany but had been adopted by a Scottish family quite early on in her life. The daughter did not have any contact to the mother who finally settled in Styria with her husband.

With the help of our British partner we were soon able to trace the daughter who, in the meantime, had been married three times. The daughter knew that her biological mother used to live in Austria, but she didn’t know her name.

The daughter finally inherited a pretty detached house in Austria which would have fallen to the state if we hadn’t intervened.