By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — A 16-year search by a Welsh genealogist has tracked down 50 relatives who are set to share a million-pound fortune left by an elderly Irishwoman who died childless in London.
Mary Nathan, whose maiden name was O’Shea, built up the fortune by making astute investments in stocks after she was left a £60,000 nest egg by her Australia husband, Gilbert, when he died in 1942.
Her legacy will now be shared by relatives scattered across three continents, most of whom never knew she existed.
After seven visits to Ireland, Machynlleth-based Peter Birchwood’s genealogical detective work tracked down the baptismal records of Mary O’Shea. She originally came from a remote small farm at Cahirkeem Upper, in the parish of Eyries on the rugged Beara peninsula in County Cork.
"She appears to have been very successful with the stock markets. In 1983 I spoke to the lady’s accountant and he told how impressed he was by her handling of her investments."
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Mary was born in 1890, one of 16 children of John O’Shea and Mary O’Neill. Three of the children died shortly after childbirth and the others left the area, most of them traveling to America.
Nine of the siblings had children and about 15 descendants in the UK and 35 in the U.S. will share her fortune.
Mary went to London, where she married in 1917. When she died intestate in 1982 at 93. She left behind a personal fortune of over £900,000.
Carol Voderman’s "Find a Fortune" show on ITV helped in tracking down the scattered family now living in America, Australia, Britain and Ireland.
"It’s quite an amazing story," said Mike Shea, a grand-nephew of Mary who lives in Crewe in Cheshire.
"I have been working on my family history but I didn’t know that she or a lot of these relatives existed. I knew some relatives in London, but I was totally unaware of the American lines.
"There are also six other relatives in Britain I didn’t know existed. Some of them are Kellys, some O’Sheas and some Sheas. It’s strange, the ‘O’ seems have got dropped somewhere. My dad also called himself Shea, but my uncle was O’Shea.
"The family side of all this is fascinating and it will be great for holidays. They family branches in America had a reunion four years ago and there were 157 at it. I gather there is also a relative in Australia.
"Mary was my grandfather’s sister. My father was one of six children and he had five children so any money will be split that way. If it all works out I expect I will get £4,000 or £5,000. As I understand it, a claim will be put through the courts later this year. I imagine it will take some time."
Birchwood, whose Celtic Research business has specialized in tracking down missing heirs for the last 30 years, found family branches now living in Idaho, California, Florida, Utah, and Montana. In Ireland, he found relatives in Dublin, Kilkenny and Cork descended from two of Mary’s siblings, Mike and Ellen, who remained behind.
"It’s been quite a mystery to work on for so long. I have found relatives living within five miles of each other in London and they have not seen each other for 50 years. It’s extraordinary but that happens," he said.
Most of the family first went from Ireland to Liverpool and then left by transAtlantic steamer for Butte, Mont. Butte was known as the richest hill in the world after huge copper deposits were discovered in 1880. Mine bosses recruited staff in Cork at the turn of the century because there were active copper mines at Allihies.
"Montana would have been the Wild West, real cowboy country, when most of the family went to Montana. The oldest brother, John, emigrated in 1897, and Butch Cassidy did not die until about 15 years later."