THAT’S the trouble with the net - no question remains unanswered. Starting with a name and a couple of informed guesses, a late night search swept me half way around the world. Two more clicks and Google earth revealed a single bedroom flat in Harrow. Ground floor, neat and well-kept. Harrow? When they came looking for me, I was much harder to find.
In the middle of a meeting I saw the phone ring. Unknown number. Grateful for distraction I headed for the front lawn. After a brief introduction, the caller mentioned my mother’s maiden name and asked if I knew her middle names.
“Lucy Emily” I said as alarm bells went off in my head. SCAM ALERT, SCAM ALERT! I have a common surname though I have no relatives who share it. A decade ago I moved from Sydney to Melbourne. Then to Bass Coast. Changed career, phone number and email more than once. There’s a trail of abandoned Facebook profiles but who’d know where to start?
I asked a few questions. His search had started in a solicitor’s office in London. They followed the trail of a ten pound Pom to Sydney. Paladin, an Aussie hired gun of genealogy, traced Mum’s path through the NSW electoral rolls across the decades. She moved from Waterloo to Nowra via Auburn, from spinsterhood through motherhood to cremation in the 90s.
Having discovered my existence through the rolls, Paladin had googled a list of “me”. Namesakes were eliminated via Facebook and phone calls. The critical link had been a Facebook note of a high school education in South Granville, a suburb adjacent to Auburn, NSW. Bingo.
That patch of grass was a fine place to learn that a relative had died in England. I already knew that most of my aunts had died. My cousins were merely a collection of names scrawled on the back of photos posted from old Blighty when mail was shipped across those vast oceans.
The obvious question - “Who’s died?”
“Who?” I said, as the memory returned.
“Boreham” was a vague whisper from my childhood, echoed from my Mum’s East End childhood. Two families, one motherless, sharing a tiny terrace. A house crowded with kids and parents struggling to feed them. The Borehams were her cousins and playmates. They lived at the top of a hill where the seven children shared one chain-less pushbike. One night the Luftwaffe bombed the houses lower down the hill.
In antipodean sunshine, Paladin and I swapped details. His story matched mine but it must be a scam. How could I benefit from the passing of this Margaret Boreham?
The United Kingdom laws for intestate property are very strong. Obviously the number of people who die without a will is huge and an entire industry has evolved to unite lost relatives with deceased estates. For a fee. Actually two fees. Where there is no final testament, solicitors engage one of many companies specialising in forensic genealogy. The people looking after Margaret Boreham’s affairs had hired Finders International who set Paladin on my internet scent.
So there was the rub. Finders would take 15 per cent after the solicitors scythed off their chunk. No money up front so why not just sign the form and wait for the dosh? This was a real windfall for the … mmm, five of us?
Obviously the value of the estate was of interest but what had happened to her side of the family and all the people between me and her, the most tenuously linked relatives imaginable?
Margaret had never married. Her sister had married and born a child who died in infancy. All my mum’s sisters were dead. There were five known cousins. Did I know what happened to my uncle in South Africa or my cousin in Indonesia? I passed on what I knew – uncle dead, cousin running a mine.
Eventually all the twigs and branches were identified, quantified and notified. Margaret Boreham had 24 relatives. All I know of her is that she never married. One of my aunts, Ivy, was a spinster who lived a quiet life, ran a small post office and ended her days in a nice nursing home. I imagine that Margaret lived a similar life. I hope they were a comfort to each other as the family dispersed.
So I sat back and reverse engineered the search to that modest property in Harrow, 20 kilometres from Margaret Boreham’s birth place. Can’t quite look in the window but it’s very tidy. I’ve filled in the form. Some time next year, two dozen of us, on three continents, will each receive a few pounds. I might put mine toward a comfortable chair for the new house. What a delightful surprise. Cheers Cousin!