When the hunt began for the late Mary Broderick’s nearest relatives, no one imagined that genealogists would find clusters of cousins, who never knew each other, living within miles of each other in Massachusetts.
Boston.com reports on the amazing story that saw the heirs of Mary Broderick claim their rightful stake of her $1.5 million estate she left behind with no will in Galway.
Patricia Fontaine, of West Roxbury, MA was doubly stunned by the news of her unknown cousins and of the inheritance they’d be receiving.
“When we came to find out that I actually have cousins who live in Newton and I live in West Roxbury — I thought it was amazing, the whole thing,” she said in a recent interview.
“The money is one thing, but to trace our family tree, to find out who was here, it was amazing.”
The meeting of the cousins who were otherwise strangers was filmed by an Irish documentary program ‘Dead Money,’ which debuted on RTE last year. The series, which was nominated for an IFTA, follows genealogist brothers Kit and Steven Smyrl in their search for heirs to unclaimed estates in Ireland.
In their search for Mary Broderick’s rightful heirs, they looked to Michael Brophy, a genealogist who specializes in Irish-American ancestry and is based in Massachusetts. Brophy began his own Brophy Professional Genealogy and Heir Tracing in 2004, not soon before getting laid off from his job as a medical salesman.
Mary Broderick, born Mary Shaughnessy, married late in life and had no children or siblings. She moved to her husband’s farm in Galway, where she lived well after her husband’s death.
In 2008, at 78, Broderick died, leaving no will for her estate valued at $1.5 million. Under Irish law, her estate would be inherited by the closest living relatives. In this case, Broderick’s estate would go to her first cousins or their children.
Tracing Broderick’s heirs on her mother’s side was easy, but on the father’s side, not so much. Broderick’s paternal grandparents had 10 children, but in post-famine, late 19th-century Ireland, most of the them had to emigrate to find work.
Six of the Shaughnessy children (who would be Broderick’s aunts and uncles) left Galway for Massachusetts, many of them finding work in an iron foundry in Waltham. William Shaughnessy, Broderick’s father, stayed in Galway, along with three other siblings.
Only three of the Shaughnessy siblings still had living descendants and were entitled to receive a stake of the inheritance - Henry and Edward Shaughnessy and Elizabeth Minihan. They were the three among the six siblings who had emigrated to the US.
Brophy was put on task to find the descendants of those three people, who would be Broderick’s first cousins. Despite an abundance of Shaughnessys in Massachusetts, Brophy was able to quickly locate the ones he needed using vital records and obituaries.
However, trying to convince Broderick’s heirs that they were entitled to a piece of her estate turned out to be the tricky part.
“People are skeptical. [They think] it’s the e-mail from the Nigerian prince,” said Brophy, referring to a prevalent online scam. “Their first reaction was that it was a scam.”
Beth Schiavone, whose father William Shaughnessy was Mary Broderick’s first cousin, and her six siblings certainly believed it was a scam when they first heard they could be getting an inheritance.
However, her father, William Shaughnessy, whose father Henry Shaughnessy had emigrated to Massachusetts from Galway, who had suffered a debilitating stroke and was nearing the end of his life at the time, hoped it was true.
“It was laughable to him that now that he can’t even walk he might have a little bit of cash,” Schiavone, of Worcester, said in a recent interview. “He sold automobiles most of his life and it was a struggle.”
Unfortunately, William Shaughnessy passed away in 2009 never knowing if the inheritance would be held true or not.
A few years later, the family received a letter indicating they were among 17 beneficiaries of Broderick’s estate, each getting $36,000, Schiavone said.
“And the next thing you know, they were trying to get all of us to meet,” Schiavone, 46, said. “We have Shaughnessy relatives from Newton, Massachusetts. We had no idea.”
Roger Shaughnessy, the son of Edward Shaughnessy and Broderick’s first cousin, comes from nearby Newton in Massachusetts and stepped forward to claim his stake.
However, the family of heir Margaret Minihan, daughter of Elizabeth Minihan, did not come forward to claim the inheritance, believing it to be a scam, Brophy said.
With the cousins agreeing to meet, the creators of ‘Dead Money’ knew they had television on their hands.
“We wanted to have the ‘Oh my God!’ when they met each other,” said O’Connell, whose inspiration for the show came after seeing the state’s unclaimed property list published in The Boston Globe while visiting the city several years ago.
“When this family walked in, I recognized them immediately from the family resemblance,” said O’Connell. “It was amazing, it was extraordinary.”
At the unexpected family reunion, Patricia Fontaine also said she could see the family resemblance between her own father and Roger Shaughnessy.
“It was really fascinating really how people look like each other,” the 60-year-old Fontaine said. “We couldn’t get over some of the stuff. It was so familiar.”
One of Broderick’s cousins from Galway was even flown in by the ‘Dead Money’s production company.
“She shared her stories about Mary with us,” Schiavone said. “It made it better; it wasn’t just this random check from somebody we didn’t even know. . . . You can put a face to somebody now, because we really didn’t know anything about Mary, except that she passed away and she had this home. It made it more tangible for us.”