Death of Oxford stonemason sparks search for 45 heirs

 In Probate

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Genealogy for Wills

The case of an Oxford man has illustrated the complexities of probate genealogy and the importance of making a Will. But more happily, it also shows how the process of tracking down beneficiaries to an estate can help bring families back together.

The Facts

When Herbert Roy Hilsdon (known as Roy), passed away at the age of 79 in December 2009, he left a few cousins who were well-known to him and many more that he probably knew little or nothing about.

Roy, a bricklayer and stonemason all his working life, left no Will (he died intestate) and had no children. When our client took on responsibility for distributing his estate – worth more than a quarter of a million pounds – it quickly became clear that our help was needed to track down his relatives due to the complexity of the case.

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After painstaking detective work, Title Research found there were some 45 entitled beneficiaries to an estate worth £330,000, on both Roy’s maternal and paternal side. Many live in Oxfordshire, but others are as far away as Australia and the United States. The smallest share is one-360th of the total (around £900) and the biggest one-eighth (£41,000 plus). Who will get what depends on how closely related the beneficiaries were to Roy and how many children their parents and grandparents had.


Drawing up Roy’s family tree was a gargantuan task requiring professional probate genealogy to ensure only legally entitled heirs were located. Moreover, we had to ensure every relevant birth, marriage and death was identified and recorded to avoid the risk of unknown beneficiaries coming forward after distribution of the estate.

Although an only child himself, Roy’s parents each came from large families. His father, Herbert George Hilsdon, had four brothers and three sisters. His mother Dora – who died of breast cancer in 1946 – had three brothers and seven sisters.

Our efforts revealed that two of Herbert’s brothers were killed during the First World War. His oldest brother, William Thomas, died in France in 1916. Another brother, Charles Henry, died in Egypt on 19 September 1918, less than two months before the Armistice. Their names appear on the War Memorial in the Oxfordshire village of Sutton Courtenay.

On Roy’s mother’s side her siblings tended to have quite large families themselves – her oldest brother had seven children – whereas Roy’s father’s siblings had relatively few children.

The family

The Personal Representative is Roy’s 70-year-old paternal first cousin, Thomas “Tony” Hilsdon. He last saw Roy at the funeral of his own father – Roy’s uncle – 15 years ago.

When Title Research first made contact, Tony was suspicious. “I just couldn’t believe it. I thought it was a scam,” he says. But he remembered Roy and so, when he thought about it, he knew the story was plausible.

Since then, he has made contact with cousins living in Oxfordshire and has met up with several of them. He knew of the existence of some of the relatives but didn’t know who was still alive. “It feels good to know they’re still around,” he says.

Roy’s and Tony’s first cousins, Peter Justice and Jack Rodgers, both of whom at one time worked at the Morris Motors factory in Cowley near Oxford, were close to Roy, as was Jack’s brother Sid.

Jack, who is in his 80s, says he and his late wife used to visit Roy once a month until a few years before he died.

Jack reminisces about how close the Hilsdon family was when his grandparents, parents and aunts and uncles were alive: “We used to get together at Christmas time when I was young. We met at the old family homestead in Cowley Road, where my grandfather used to live.”

Peter says Roy was a keen coin and stamp collector; “a good person”, always happy and who enjoyed a beer. Roy was particularly close to his Aunt Ivy, Peter’s mother, and would visit her often until she died ten years ago, says Peter. They then drifted apart, but always exchanged Christmas cards.

The surviving cousins have renewed their family ties in the wake of Roy’s death. “Tony is glad to know he will receive a share of Roy’s estate, although the feeling is bitter-sweet.

“It’s something you didn’t expect. But it’s sad too.” The money is welcome,” he says. “My wife is disabled and we’re both retired, so it’ll come in very useful.”

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