Ethical Research with Standards-Based Results
Are you an attorney or legal professional who needs help identifying next of kin or potential heirs to an estate?
Since 2017, Mark A. Wentling, MLS, CG, Owner of Ancestor Introductions, LLC, has offered forensic kinship research services to the legal community in New England, New York, Florida, and beyond, including:
- Identifying missing and unknown heirs and next of kin
- Affidavits of kinship and due diligence, with supporting exhibits, always fully source-cited
- Family tree charts, accurately and clearly organized
- Correction of other heir search firms’ research
Mark has over 25 years of research experience, and thousands of hours of experience identifying next of kin in all U.S. states and internationally.
As a Board-certified genealogist, university professor in genealogical principles and methods, peer-reviewed author, and active professional board member, his recognized expertise lends credibility to the results produced for clients.
Mark holds the Certified Genealogist credential from the Board for Certification of Genealogists. The credential is awarded only to those genealogists whose body of work has been judged to meet the sound principles and methods for conducting genealogical research published by the Board. As an associate of the Board, his work is reviewed every five years to ensure it consistently upholds the Board’s high standards.
Standards-Based Results are Reliable Results
All work is conducted according to the principles and methods prescribed in the Genealogy Standards set forth by the Board for Certification of Genealogists. The standards govern all phases of work, from research planning, to investigation, evidence collection and analysis, and forming and documenting conclusions in an affidavit or report. Conclusions are measured against the Genealogical Proof Standard, making them unlikely to be overturned.
Have Confidence with Ethical Research
In all cases, Mark maintains the highest ethical standards, working strictly on an hourly fee plus costs basis — never on contingency — so that you, your client, and the court can have total confidence in the completeness and accuracy of his research as a disinterested third party. Mark has signed the Board for Certification of Genealogists’ Genealogist’s Code of Ethics and the Code of Ethics and Professional Practices set forth by the Association of Professional Genealogists. He also follows the Standards of Practice & Conduct set forth by the Council for the Advancement of Forensic Genealogy.
Contact Mark to inquire about work for your case.
“Thank you for your thorough research and report. We filed your report and our Motion to Dismiss. Opposing Attorney has informed us that he is withdrawing their pleadings.” – Attorney, Cranston, RI
“Thank you for all your hard work….It was exactly what we needed.” – Attorney, Boston, MA
“I am very impressed! Not having been involved with anything like this previously, I really didn’t know what to expect. The thoroughness of your work is quite impressive. It was well worth the money spent and I’m very happy with the result.” – Private client, intestate estate, ME
Recent Case Successes
- 2022-2023 – (Palm Beach County & New England states) – Traced distributees for the estate of an intestate decedent with family in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio and Rhode Island, including numerous intestate post-deceased distributees.
- 2022 – (Cumberland County) – Traced distributees for the estate of an intestate decedent, originally from Massachusetts, who left real estate. Research additionally extended to California, Florida, North Carolina and Virginia.
- 2022 (Suffolk County) – Established the correct distributees for the estate of a Decedent whose “children” and “grandchildren” were named in obituaries, but for whom other evidence did not support the claims.
- 2019 (Middlesex County) – Identified distributees for estate of a Decedent born to parents who immigrated from Italy to Boston in the early 1900s.
- 2019 (Bristol County) – Proved the legal adoption of a Massachusetts woman during the 1940’s, settling the question of whether her biological or adoptive relatives could take. Then, identified nine distributees not known by her family, nearly doubling the number of eligible distributees.
- 2018 (Middlesex County) – Used immigration and military service papers to prove that a decedent’s grandfather fled the draft to Connecticut during World War I, and started a second family in New York City during the 1920’s. Identified his two previously unknown children, who were still living and eligible to take.
- 2017 (Suffolk County) – As part of a quiet title action, identified the sole living distributee who required notice for property originally left to a decedent’s four siblings in 1909.
- 2020 (Passaic County) – Identified distributees for the estate of a Decedent born in Italy who immigrated with parents and siblings to New York City in the early 1900’s.
- 2022-2023 (Columbia County & Germany) – Identified four distributees in Germany requiring notice for a testate estate.
- 2022 (New York County & Tennessee) – Identified distributees requiring notice for the estate of a Manhattan decedent whose origins were in Tennessee. Proved several relatives named as “children” in obituaries were in fact stepchildren and ineligible to take.
- 2022 (Queens County & Slovakia) – Identified distributees requiring notice for the estate of a decedent whose parents immigrated from Hungary, now Slovakia, in the early 1900’s and settled in New York City.
- 2021 (New York City & Ireland) – For a court in Ireland, investigated whether an Irish immigrant to New York City who married there in the early 1900’s had descendants in the U.S. Involved obtaining and consideration of Irish and U.S. immigration records.
- 2020-2021 (Westchester County & Germany) – Identified distributees living in Germany for the estate of a decedent whose mother was born out-of-wedlock to a father whose identity was falsely recorded. Identified the likely father and his living next of kin by eliminating nineteen other men of the same name from contention. Case involved extensive research in German and New York City records from mid-1800s to present.
- 2019-2020 (Queens County) – Identified distributees for the estate of a decedent whose grandparents were Italian immigrants to New York City in the early 1900’s.
- 2019 (Nassau County) – Identified distributees for the estate of a decedent whose parents were Italian imigrants to New York City in the early 1900’s. Involved overcoming name changes by relatives.
- 2018 (Queens County) – Traced the family of an African-American decedent, born in South Carolina during the 1930’s, through Virginia, New Jersey, and New York City, to successfully identify his sole living distributee.
- 2021-2022 – Traced distributees to the estate of a decedent whose family members had multiple out-of-wedlock births. Proved “children” named in published obituaries for several relatives were in fact stepchildren and ineligible to take. Research resulted in opposing counsel’s pleading based on a contingency-based heir search firm’s faulty research to be withdrawn.
Why is Contingency Fee-Based Heir Hunting Unethical?
Some genealogical research firms known as heir search firms or heir hunters, approach potential heirs and ask them to sign over a portion of their potential financial distribution from an estate—often 20% or more—in exchange for the firm’s promise to locate remaining heirs, and to represent their interests during the probate process, at no up-front cost to the heir or at no cost if no distribuition is recovered from the estate. This is called contingency fee-based heir research. It is considered an unethical practice by most forensic genealogists in the U.S. because it creates a conflict of interest for the genealogist in two ways:
First, the heir may end up losing a substantial financial sum that is not commensurate with the work performed by the heir hunter, and to which the heir would not have agreed had they known the actual cost up front. For example, for a $250,000 estate, an heir hunter who works 50 hours and charges a 20% contingency can take $50,000 from the heirs. By comparison, a genealogist who works the same 50 hours at $150 per hour charges the estate $7,500—an 85% savings for the heirs. Heir hunting firms typically do not disclose to potential heirs the estimated value of the estate upfront, nor how many other heirs there may be, leaving the heir in the dark about the true value of their rightful inheritance they are giving away when they sign on.
Second, contingency-fee work gives the genealogist a financial interest in the outcome of the case. It becomes in the heir hunter’s financial interest to omit from its report to the court legitimate heirs who did not sign, or to misrepresent to the court that someone who signed is an heir when in fact they are not. Doing so maximizes the amount of money the genealogist potentially collects: The fewer heirs reported, the larger the share each heir receives, thus the higher the dollar value of the portion the heir hunter takes from each heir who signed on. Conversely, the more people who sign that are accepted as purported heirs even if they are not, the higher the total dollar value collected by the firm. Although not all heir hunters engage in these types of behavior, I have personally produced research for the court to successfully refute both kinds of false claims.
For these reasons, the Standards of Practice & Conduct set forth by the Council for the Advancement of Forensic Genealogy specifically prohibit genealogists from entering into contingency fee-based agreements for heir search services.
Instead, hourly fee-based work is regarded as the ethical approach to professional heir research in the United States. It allows the court to have complete confidence in the genealogist’s findings as a disinterested third party, because the genealogist has no financial stake in the outcome of the case. It also preserves more of the estate for distribution to the rightful heirs, because the genealogist’s total fee is modest and commensurate with the work, compared to the value of the share that is forfeited by the heirs under a contingency fee agreement.
– Mark A. Wentling, MLS, CG