Landlords call for housing court reforms
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Eva Hancock died intestate in the house in which she was brought up. Her death certificate reported an open verdict, and the informant was not even a friend or known person – a Nottinghamshire coroner produced the certificate after she was found dead.
Unable to look after herself, and with only 71 pence in her bank account, Eva was unaware that she, in fact, owned the very house in which she starved to death, and died alone.
Our researchers were shocked to learn of such a tragic end to a life and became all the more determined to locate her relatives. It emerged that she had either been adopted or fostered and had lived in the same house for much of her life. This house had formerly been owned by a couple, Mr and Mrs Graham Charles Thrall, who then left the property to Eva in Graham’s Will.
News of this Will was a breakthrough, as it also gave details of other members of the Thrall family, and in particular, a niece who would have inherited the house had Eva not survived Graham by a month. This niece informed us that Eva had been fostered from a young age by the couple and she lacked mental capacity. This fact sheds some understanding on the circumstances of Eva’s death, although there was still no evidence of any adoption which would allow the rest of her relatives to be located by working the Thrall family line.
There was no record of Eva in the adoption indexes, and no notice of such an event on her birth certificate. Having followed up many leads including making enquiries with a number of local solicitors, it was concluded that she could not have been formally adopted – not a problem in her life or her ownership of the house, but an issue in ensuring that her estate was distributed to the correct beneficiaries.
Now Eva’s birth certificate came into question. Born in 1936, Eva was the daughter of Ethel Perkins and Crimes Hancock. The plot thickened – could someone really have been called “Crimes”? We’ve come across many unusual names on birth and death certificates, from “Time Of Day”and “Mineral Waters”, to “Leicester Railway” (born on a carriage at the station). Our birth and death records produced no one by the name of “Crimes Hancock” in either set of records, and Eva’s mother, Ethel Perkins formerly Baggalay had not married anyone by that name – or there was no record of that in any case…
However, Ethel had married Robert Perkins, a coal miner, in 1916 and had three children by 1920. Since there was no divorce recorded, it could only be assumed that Eva had been born outside the marriage. Her mother maybe was at an age, which in those days would have been considered rather a ripe one at 47 (her husband was 10 years her senior), and that Ethel had attempted to conceal the truth on Eva’s birth certificate.
Eva had the good fortune of being fostered by an engineer, Graham Charles Thrall and his wife, who had been wealthy enough to provide Eva with a solid education and a comfortable home. When Graham died in 1969, it was Eva who registered the leather mill manager’s death as his adopted daughter, and it is clear that she was part of the family.
In the meantime, Eva’s half-brothers passed away, leaving only cousins, her birth mother’s six brothers’ and sisters’ children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, as her next of kin. The Baggalay family had some difficulties in deciding the best way to spell their name, Ethel herself registering her maiden name as Baggalay, Baggaley, Baggallay and Baggally on each of her children’s birth certificates, and her siblings had had similar difficulties, with additional spellings including Bagley and Baggalley.
Once the relatives were located with their innumerable permutations of the name, it became clear that they had all been entirely unaware of Eva’s existence. Although born in Worksop, she was brought up in Nottingham and without contact with her natural family. The cousins, as well as those once or twice removed, were Eva’s distant relations – a relation which in our experience can rarely provide further information on the deceased at the best of times, and nothing else was gleaned other than that registered on her death.
In many ways, this is one of the sad situations in which the distribution of an estate can be questioned for moral reasons; for someone to be brought up separately from her blood relatives, surely those people arguably more entitled would be those she had spent her life with…? Once again, the only conclusion to be drawn is the undeniable value of making a Will.