What does probate mean?

What does probate mean? When someone dies ‘Probate’ is the term used to describe applying for the right to deal with and administering the deceased person’s estate and affairs.  Different terms may be used depending on where the deceased lived and whether or not they made a will before they died. So What does probate mean?

If the deceased has left a will then one or more executors may be named to handle the deceased’s affairs upon their death. The executor has to apply for a ‘grant of probate’ from the probate registry (a section of the court). This grant is a legal document which confirms the executor’s authority to deal with the deceased’s estate and assets.

In the event that the deceased did not leave a will (or at least a valid will) then a close relative (sometimes the law requires more than one) can still apply to the probate registry to deal with the estate for a ‘grant of letters of administration’. Once given the relative would then be known as the administrators of the estate which similarly to being an executor of a will gives them the legal authority to deal with the deceased’s affairs.

This is a very simple summary of probate, in reality with estates being complicated and multiple (sometimes conflicting) beneficiaries and tax issues, probate can become a very complex task requiring professional advice to administer the estate. As with many things if in doubt always consult a professional advisor before making any decisions. Fins a probate advisor that works on a fixed fee so you know exactly how much their services will cost before you proceed.

Using a professional advisor does takes away much of the stress of dealing with complex legal matters and can ease the work of administering the estate at what is usually a very difficult time so is well worth considering.

Unfortunately many people do not leave a will and sometimes there are no known close relatives either. It is in these cases that the estate will be referred to the Treasury Solicitor’s Office and then be published on the Bona Vacantia list. This is where Heir Hunters come in and try to trace living relatives of the deceased and claim the estate for the rightful heirs. In some cases however no beneficiaries can be found and the estate will eventually go to the treasury.

This being the case if you have no close relatives or wish your estate to be inherited by someone else then it is vital to make a will stating your wishes clearly. Wills must be legally binding though so do make sure you seek professional advice on making a will otherwise it could be ignored if considered invalid after your death.



Which is the best genealogy software package?

There is a wide choice of software available to store and research your family tree these days so which do you think is the best genealogy software or do you use a cloud application and use an online application or website such as those provided by Ancestry.com or Genes Reunited?


Which is the best genealogy software?

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Is Your Genealogy Data Safe?

Blue Screen Of DeathIf you’re anything like me a lot of your genealogy research will be stored on a computer. Scanned and downloaded images, photos and PDFs of documents and certificates, notes and your family tree software data which represent hours, days, weeks, months or years of your research time.

Unfortunately computers can suffer failures and events such as mechanical or electronic failure, power surges, viruses or plain old user error can result in all your data being lost in the blink of an eye. Even if you have paper copies of all your research losing your genealogy computer data can be a great loss and mean having to re-input a lot of information.

Working in IT, this is a situation I’ve come across far too often. Many people only think about backing up their data once they’ve suffered a data loss and that, sadly, is often too late and their data is lost forever.

So whether it’s your genealogy research or other files such as digital photos, personal documents there are several points to consider to protect your data. No computer will last forever – it’s not a question of if it fails, it’s a question of when it fails so be prepared and ensure you have sufficient backup procedures in place for when it happens.

Backup principles

A backup is an additional copy of your primary data!

First let’s get one thing clear – a backup is a copy of your data and is only a backup for as long as the original primary copy of the data exists. I’ve seen too many people copy their data to an external hard disk or memory stick and then delete the original copy as they consider their data is safe because it’s on their ‘backup’ disk.

If your data only exists in one place then you do not have a backup! If you copy your data to a backup device and then delete the original then your backup becomes your primary copy, and you don’t have a backup as your data only exists in one place and if that copy is lost you’re up the creek!

All your eggs in one basket?

Your backup data must exist on more than one storage device. Keeping your backups on the same hard disk as your primary data won’t help you if that hard disk dies or becomes corrupt or your computer gets struck by a power surge. This means having at least one copy of your data on an external hard disk, CD, DVD, memory stick or other storage medium. You could have a second internal hard disk in your computer but that could be subject to any system-wide failures that computer suffers.

It is also worth considering the reliability of your backup medium. External hard disks can suffer the same failures as internal hard disks. Memory sticks and solid state drives have limited life-spans and wear out eventually. CDs and DVDs can be scratched and damaged. All these points must be kept in mind if relying on anything as your main backup copy.

Another problem is long term storage. A hard disk locked away securely in a safe might seize up and if the data on magnetic media  isn’t refreshed then it can degrade over time and become unreadable. Writable CDs and DVDs in relative terms have not been around very long so again relying solely on them may not be wise. It’s a good idea to check your backups regularly and renew your backup medium as they get old. Remember to consider technological obsolescence too – if all your data was on 5.25 inch floppy disks you’d struggle to find anything to read those disks today!


Always hope for the best but plan for the worst! I’d advise that you keep at least one backup of your data in a different geographical location. Catastrophic events such as fires, floods and lightning strikes could destroy your primary data and any backups you have. It’s therefore essential to have an off-site backup, whether this is a memory stick you leave at a friend’s or relative’s house or on an online storage service.


One thing that also catches out a lot of people is that they might keep backup copies of their data but they don’t have multiple revisions of their backups. Take this situation as an example: Jane is writing a 30,000 word report on her family history. Her PC automatically does a backup of her document every evening. One morning however she opens up her document and realises she’d accidentally deleted several chapters the previous day. Unfortunately her backup routine ran yesterday evening so the only backup copies of her document are also missing those chapters!

You have to consider then whether you need to keep multiple revisions of your data so you can restore back to an earlier point in time than just your last backup. Likewise if your backup routine syncronises a folder on your PC to a USB memory stick and you delete a file on the PC do you want that file deleting from your backup? What if you deleted it from the PC accidentally?

Fortunately most backup software and some online services allows you to create multiple revisions of your backup rather than overwriting the same backup every time but it is something to keep in mind and does consume more backup space.


In summary I’d recommend as a minimum you have at least three copies of your data (the primary data and 2 backups) on 3 different storage mediums and in at least 2 locations. In reality this isn’t actually that hard to do these days. There are many online services around that offer free storage space (you can pay for extra space or get more free space usually by referring a friend) and different options in their software client to backup your data so if you’re paranoid you could even use more than one online service. Many of us use more than one computer now too so these online services can sync your data between your computers also.

If you keep one set of backups on an external hard disk or memory stick and one on an online service you’re pretty well covered – just remember you can never have too many backups though and review your backup procedures regularly and check they’re still working.


Check out the resources below and if you’re confused about how to back up or have your own backup routines please let me know by leaving a comment.



Backup Software

  • Easeus Todo Backup – Free all in one backup system & disaster recovery software.
  • Syncback – Free and paid versions to backup and sync files to different drives, mediums or servers.
  • Areca Backup – Open source backup solutions.
  • Cobian Backup – Free versatile backup software.


Online Backup/Storage Services

  • SpiderOak – 2GB of free storage space and backup, sync and sharing access.
  • SugarSync – 5GB of free storage space with backup, sync and sharing options and versioning.
  • Dropbox – 2Gb of free storage space with syncing, sharing  and versioning.
  • Wuala – 2GB of free storage with backup, sharing and syncing options and encrypted data storage.
  • Carbonite – Paid unlimited backup storage with versioning.

*Disclaimer: By signing up through some of the links above I may receive additional free space or rebates on my own backup storage – if I do thanks in advance!


In my next blog post I’m going to examine keeping your personal data private in case of theft or loss.


Welcome prospective Heir Hunters!

Welcome to our shiny new blog – Heir Hound began as a simple free service to save heir hunters (both professional and ‘amateur’) having to check the Bona Vacantia every week. Users sign up and create surname alerts and Heir Hound does the hard work of updating our system from the Bona Vacantia every week and if any of the names match your surname alerts we send you an email to let your know.

What you do if you receive an alert is up to you. First I’d suggest that you do some family tree research or examine your existing family tree to establish if you actually are related to the deceased. If you are and think you may be an heir to the unclaimed estate then you can either contact the Treasury and try to progress the case yourself or you can contact a professional heir hunter or probate genealogist to help you.

Well that’s the original raison d’etre for Heir Hound but I’m finding that it is gradually evolving (or mutating!) into my place on the web for my general genealogy and geekery interests so this blog will probably end up containing a variety of subjects but usually all with a genealogy slant.

I hope someone finds this blog interesting but then as one genealogy T-Shirt I saw said ‘Genealogist: You’d be much more interesting to me if you were dead…’