‘I’ve heard people say, you know more about my family than I do’

What I Do: Maeve Mullin is a probate genealogist, who helps to find beneficiaries after the death of a family member

I liked history at school. My dad was always interested in genealogy. He was a member of Clogher Historical Society, and manys a Sunday I was dragged around talks and graveyards.

I did IT at college and worked at Bank of Ireland for 25 years. I loved my job, but I wanted to do something different. I did a Masters in Irish history at Maynooth. Genealogy had been a hobby and it evolved into a career, and I’m so glad I took the leap of faith.

As a probate genealogist, most of the work you do is for solicitors. If someone is named in a will but there is no address, a solicitor will ask our company, Finders International, to track them down. If they are deceased, maybe it is their descendants who are entitled to a share of the will.

If someone dies without a will, the solicitor needs a full list of the entitled beneficiaries, and for that, they need a confirmed family tree.


The civil registration of births, deaths and marriages in Ireland started in 1864. From a church point of view, you have baptisms, marriages and burials. If we need a birth record from 1850, there won’t be a civil birth record so we will go in search of a Baptism. Some are online, and for some, you need to go back to the parish.

Older records to do with property are in the Registry of Deeds on Henrietta Street. It was set up in the 1700s and it’s gorgeous.

Handwriting can be difficult to read. We sometimes email the team a snap of the record and ask for everybody’s best guess – “What was this man’s name?”

Irish people emigrated in droves. Most went to the UK, but we also do overseas research in Canada, America and Australia. Lots went to South Africa too and in the 1800s, many emigrated to Argentina. Recently, we are seeing more and more cases regarding people we need to locate in eastern Europe because a family member has passed away in Ireland, or where there are beneficiaries to be found in Ireland of someone who has passed away in Poland, Lithuania or Latvia.

There are some countries where it is very difficult to conduct research and find beneficiaries – like China and parts of Africa.

It’s very unusual that there is one beneficiary who is going to inherit a large amount. Mostly there are lots of cousins and they are all going to get a small share

A person receives a letter from us saying they are a possible beneficiary to an estate. Sometimes there is a lot of scepticism – that’s just too good to be true. They are surprised we know the townland their great-grandparents were from. Then we have to make sure they are the right “Mary Murphy” that had these parents and grandparents.

Most people are hugely interested in their family history. They may have lost contact and they are interested to know about the person who died. It might be someone who left Ireland 40 years ago, and the family is delighted to have closure. Yes, it is nice to inherit a bit of money that you didn’t know was coming your way, but they really and truly are very interested in their family history too.

It’s really nice to be connecting people back up again. It can be emotional, but if someone is a more distant relation, it’s more curiosity and interest. I’ve heard people say, ‘You know more about my family than I do’.

There was one family recently and they were absolutely delighted to be back in touch and are now going to each other’s children’s weddings. A lot of good comes out of the research we do.

If someone owned property and had shares, it could be a few million in their estate. What’s more usual is a net worth of €200,000 or €300,000 if they owned a house or had savings in their bank account. There are lots of people whose estate is less than €10,000.

Some of the smaller cases in the UK we would work on pro bono. Maybe the local council needs to get in touch with next of kin for the person’s funeral to go ahead. Irish people are really great. Lots [who] we have put in contact with the hospital or the council, they have gone over, and in some instances, the remains are brought back to be buried in the family plot.

It can happen that a family essentially dies out. Where there is no family to be found, or we can’t locate them, the money would go to the Treasury in the UK or to the Irish Government.

It’s very unusual that there is one beneficiary who is going to inherit a large amount. Mostly there are lots of cousins and they are all going to get a small share.

I love the research and there is incredible satisfaction when you find what you are looking for. You are uniting money with members of a family

We have a case at the moment where it is looking like 52 second cousins are entitled. I have seen cases where there are 80 to 100 beneficiaries – they are an enormous amount of work. The family is what the family is, and you just have to get in touch with everyone.

Being a genealogist is all about attention to detail, patience, thinking outside the box and leaving no stone unturned. You are collating pieces of a jigsaw, you need to have all the pieces to get the full picture. It can be painstaking.

My favourite case at the moment is where we got a phone call from a Dublin hospital about a gentleman who had passed away. There was no record of next of kin and his neighbours said he kept to himself. It was a difficult search, but we were able to locate his mother’s death record, her probate record and then her grave in Deansgrange. He had lived with her all his life until she passed away. That gentleman would have been buried in an unmarked grave, but he was buried with his mother and grandparents. You feel like you have done something good.

I love the research and there is incredible satisfaction when you find what you are looking for. You are uniting money with members of a family. It’s great when a decent amount of money gets divided among lots of people. They can pay bills, go on holiday or do some good with it.

If someone made a will, it’s great to be able to find who they really wanted to have the inheritance, and to finish that out for them. Everyone should make a will.

In conversation with Joanne Hunt