Finding Missing People

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Why might you look for them? - Adoption / just to get more family infor or photos / genetic or medial reasons / probate research or intestacy / curiosity.

It's difficult because of all the unknowns. You'll generally be looking for 20th century details.


Before 1858 they were dealt with by Church Courts and after throygh Probate Registry. Probate is recognition by a Court that the will is legally valid and can be administered by the executor, not concerned with the will's contents.

National Probate Calendar 1858-1995

  • on Ancestry
  • if says 'probate; there was a valid will, says who the executor is not who gets the money.
  • the 'find a will' government site can have slightly different details.
  • if says 'administration there's no valid will. adn individual can apply to manage the effects. Dont bother getting this.
  • 'administration with will' is valid and can be executed (executor may have died). Maybe worth getting this.
  • after 1967 less info in the calendar
  • after 1996 computerised and even less info, don't bother with 'grant only' entries.


Died with no will.

Spouse gets first £270,000 and then half of anything above that / children share the other half.

General order of priority Spouse or Civil Partner / Children / Parents / Brothers or Sisters of the whole blood or their issue / Brothers or Sisters of the half blook or their issue / Grandparents / Unlces, Aunts, Cousins of whole blood. Comes down from anyone sharing a grandparent in the UK, and possibly a great grandparent in Scotland.

Bona Vacantia website - govenrnment site.

Companies that deal with this sort of thing - Finders International / Blanchards Ltd / Heir Hunters Association

Tracing Missing Family

Build the family tree and get all the evidence you can.

Sources inc. 1939 register / wills / newspapers / electoral rolls / occupations / friends / neighbours / social media

FreeBMD website - up to 1983 more or less complete until 1970s. Commercial sites will generally have up to the 2000s.

Births and deaths - GRO Index, only up to 1934, 1984-2019.

Marriage - held on microfiche at some libraries and held at local reg. offices.

"The People Finder" by Karen Bali, which then became "Tracing your 20th century ancestor".

When looking for children:

  • Search for the maiden name of the mother.
  • Maiden name for registrtion purposes is the 'name in which a woman first contracted to a marriage'].
  • If born out of wedlock there is no 'maiden' name on the certificate. From 1911 maiden name is shown in the GRO birth indexes and then if she is not married.
  • Then the surname is repeated (suggests illegitimacy ot cousins who marry). New GRO Index now hasmaiden names back to 18__(?).
  • Look at the 'informant' column. Unmarried fathers had to sign the birth cert as well, so if 2 names thay are not married - at least not to eachother.
  • Birth reg. don't show any surname for child until 1969, so births indexed by surname of parents depending on marital status or both parents if unmarried.

Late registration of children:

  • eg: a child born 1934 but not registered until 1940 or possibly a re-registration.
  • Why re-register 1) on the instructions of the Reg. General (eg: fraud) 2) to legitimise a child after a subsequen morriage of parents 3) to add the unmarried father's name not on origianl cert. (after 1953).
  • Check to see if there was an original registration, even if you can see the re-registration.
  • There is a legal requirement to re-reg children if you marry after the kids are born.

Death certificates - look for the 'informant'who could be a relative, present at the death, occupier of the house the death took place in or person casuing the burial/cremation to take place.

Marriage certificate:

  • Check all details.
  • Have to look for divorces - post 1858 was a central system for divorce.
  • TNA case papers are up to 1937, Ancestry up to 1918.
  • Can be brief, tend to list the children and original marriage cert. and addresses.
  • After 1937 more difficult, can get a copy of the decree or the final order (expensive), doesn't say why, just a date.
  • Try

Electral register:

  • Find at Local Council - go through hand looking street by street - also British Library.
  • Open (edited) edition is online, people can opt-out of this one eg: FMP 2002-2020 / other pay sites eg: / Peopletracer.
  • Look for other family members.
  • Historical registers - BL / local archives / Ancestry (London to 1965) / FMP (various + Absent Voters List 1918-21).

Changeing names:

  • Marriage won't change a name automatically.
  • Can have any name you like, as long as over 16 and it's not for fraud.
  • How - press announcement / by declaration / Deed Poll / by usage or repute (eg: using your marriage certificate) / written witnessed statement of name changes / can register with the courts but this costs and will be published in the London Gazette
  • You don't need a legal document but it is used in legal cases and for general bureaucracy.
  • TNA 1851-2003 C54 (C275 index) has the same detail as the Gazette.

Newspapers - recent coverage is not so good but is improving. The BL reading room has the best collection / local archives / local libraries (can often log in from home)


  • Pre 1926 done through the church, poor unions etc / advertisement.
  • After 1926 - Adoption Act and Register of Adopted children.
  • Original birth cert will exist with the word 'adopted' but no link to the new name of the child.
  • Found with local authorities / Adoption Agency / Courts.
  • An individual should ask on their own behalf - refer them to the Adoption Services Team in your local area of GRO - or go through an authorised intermediary.


Try to find as many clues as you can and if there are living relatives who can remember the illegitimate ancestor, try speaking with them.

If the father’s name is missing from the birth certificate, this does not necessarily mean it won’t appear on the baptism record. Be aware that false names may be used. For example, the father may use the mother’s surname, and vice versa.

Bastardy papers can be a goldmine for genealogists. They are usually held at local record offices in parish record collections. These papers can include bastardy examinations, bastardy bonds, bastardy warrants, and bastardy orders. Check whether records survive that may be relevant to your search. You may find some online: TheGenealogist, FMP and Ancestry - all have bastardy record collections.

If you have London ancestors, check the resources at

Don’t neglect probate records, newspaper articles, and DNA. All of these can be useful in broadening the search and confirming theories of paternal identity.