when we carry out inheritance investigations we systematically search for heirs in every order of inheritance, that is every order of entitlement to an estate. first order heirs exclude second order heirs and so on. this is to say that first of all we need to find out whether the decedent had children. once we made certain that this is not the case we look for surviving parents and then the parents’ descendants. next come the grandparents and their descendants. this researches is generally difficult and frequently time consuming. it can take years as the researcher relies on the cooperation of authorities and the public administration in various countries for issuing documents or providing information. as access to public records is frequently blocked it is necessary to wait until the authorities provide the information or records that are required to take the next step in the research.
occasionally heirs do not understand why it was so hard finding them once we approach them. they may, of course, know their relatives and have a clear idea who and how they are related to other family members. it may have been even the case that the decedent who left an estate knew his family also. if he or she did not leave a will and left no notes this knowledge is lost to those who seek to find his or her relations. more often than not our research starts from scratch and we need to find out whether he or she was married, had children, names and other information about the parents and so on.
inheritance investigations are a combination of genealogical research and detective work: first of all we seek to find kinship ties by studying the sources. as soon as we detect a relative that is possibly still living we make every effort to find his or her current address to get in touch with this person.
all sorts of genealogical records come into consideration as sources for this research. officially recorded life cycle records (public or civil registers of birth, marriage and death) are of particular importance next to church records, records of habitation, address books, probate records, grave site lists of cemeteries, tax registers, public censuses, obituaries and lists of refugees, migrants, victims of war or expulsion.
the findings of an inheritance investigation differs from genealogical research reports in that the table displays all persons who have entitlement to a share in an estate according to the inheritance laws. the chart usually lists basic personal data (location and date of birth, marriage and death). this may be complemented by a report on the particulars of a case, especially if the search proved unsuccessful and it needs to be recorded what sources were searched in the course of the investigation.