Success Stories

It Started with a Photograph

Family history on the back of a single photograph

When an elderly matriarch passed away, she took her family history with her. Were a photograph and names associated with the photo a clue to her paternal family? HeirSearch’s forensic genealogy services were put to the test.


HeirSearch was retained to complete a Level II paternal search of a 90-year-old woman who died testate. The decedent was an only child and her mother was reported to have been widowed during World War II. Our client was in contact with the maternal side of the family where the research was not required. The surviving maternal cousins were unable to provide any information about the decedent’s father or his family. Initial client attempts to find pertinent information for the decedent’s father using his given name and surname were unsuccessful. Seemingly the only lasting evidence of potential paternal family history was on the back of an old photograph found within the decedent’s personal possessions.

The photograph showed a large, formal dining room, with seven people sitting around a table. On the back of the photograph, someone had written the name of each person depicted.

It was not long before a breakthrough was uncovered. Surnames for immigrants were often anglicized and often with multiple variations of spelling. Cross-referencing the names on the photo with various genealogical resources clearly showed a connection to the decedent’s father.

Genealogy research services with international reach

With a solid foundation now in place, HeirSearch was able to continue their genealogical research and located paternal relatives some of whom were able to share the background on the history of the family surname.

HeirSearch was able to report that the decedent’s father emigrated from Russia and provided records documenting his arrival to the United States.

With a final report in hand, our client was able to serve notice to all of the paternal heirs. With only a photograph to work with, HeirSearch’s expert team was able to solve this international genealogical mystery.

Disclaimer: Although accurate in scope, all identifying information such as names, dates and locations have been changed in order to protect the privacy of individuals.
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