The IFTA-nominated RTE prime time TV show Dead Money was first broadcast in 2012, depicting the day-to-day work of Massey & King through the retelling of the research and background stories to some of the cases it has handled over the past quarter of a century.

Most people who die intestate without contact with their relatives have no notion of the detailed, in-depth work that will be involved after their death in order to locate their next-of-kin. Nor do many conceive that without such work, their assets will fall to the State.

For the past quarter of a century Massey & King has been tracking down the heirs to unclaimed estates and informing them about an inheritance. The story of its day-to-day work is depicted in Dead Money, an IFTA-nominated, RTÉ TV series.

The series, developed by film producer Michael O’Connell of ProMedia productions, was inspired by an advertisement in the Boston Globe issued by the Massachusetts State Treasury Department seeking possible claimants to unclaimed estates. On the extensive list were hundreds of Irish sounding names.

The show is presented by two of Ireland’s foremost legal genealogists, brothers Steven and Kit Smyrl. They are the directors and driving force behind Ireland’s leading probate genealogy firm, Massey & King. For the last quarter of a century they have specialised in tracing missing beneficiaries, not only in Ireland but throughout the world. With offices in Dublin and a network of international researchers and agents, they can trace next-of-kin no matter where they reside.

In the course of each of the exciting episodes, the brothers search and uncover fascinating information about the lives of the people they are researching. While the brothers search for facts, it’s who they find that makes these stories come to life for the viewer. These human stories are the most enthralling and moving scenes of the series. Personal histories unfold with a link to the present day through meetings with living relatives.

The viewer hears tales of mysterious disappearances, tragic bereavements, abandonment and reunion, all set in some of the most fascinating periods in history, from the bitter conflict of Ireland’s Land War to the chaos of the Russian Revolution. Both the beneficiaries and the long-lost relatives, have stories of their own to tell – some harrowing, some entertaining – linking fractured families together once more.

Each programme is unique, telling a very personal story framed by social history, linked to the living beneficiaries that are found. As they are presented with possible fortunes, the programme captures reactions to the poignant stories of life and death from distant relatives they never even knew existed.

Steven’s deep interest in family history came at an early age, when his grandmother would tell him stories of distant relatives’ lives and loves, and family secrets and events, illustrated by evocative black and white photographs. The more he asked the more he wanted to know; and the more he learnt about how others had lived their lives decades before.

Kit spent his youth in Scotland with his father, tracking wildlife in the glens of the northwest Highlands or chasing sea life ofd the west coast. He brought this experience with him years later when he joined Steven in the genealogy business and became an expert in tracking people. It soon became clear that the patience, tenacity and cunning shown on the sides of Scottish mountains would be just as useful on the streets hunting down missing beneficiaries.

Together, the brothers make up a formidable investigative duo. Steven is the researcher par excellence – he trawls old bound volumes, dusty documents and online databases to find the vital clues that will move the quest forward. Steven sees each new case as an exciting challenge, a riddle to be solved and an investigation that could lead him anywhere. Meanwhile, Kit hits the street to do hands-on research, talking to friends and neighbours of the deceased, as well as experts and specialists – anyone who can guide him along the trail that leads to the living relatives who are entitled to the estate.

 

Episode One - Steven and Kit’s efforts to find the relatives of Dublin woman Maura Byrne reveal a tale of horror and tragedy, from the squalor of the inner city tenements in the 1910s to the sad abandonment of a young boy in an industrial school.

Episode Two - Leads Steven to America in search of the relatives who are entitled to a Galway estate worth half a million euro. We discover how a family overcame poverty and emigration to build new lives in the New World. The programme culminates in the reunion of long-lost Irish and American cousins in Boston. 

Episode Three - Kit travels to the French region of Dordogne where he hears the unhappy tale of Frenchwoman Yvette Gebhard and her ‘black sheep’ Irish grandfather. He and Steven pick up the quest for Yvette’s relatives in Ireland. A fascinating story unfolds, involving a mysterious drowning, life in a mental institution, and an Irishwoman who worked for a Russian Tsar.

Episode Four - Sees the Kit visit London to uncover the tale of an illegitimate child and a single mother cut adrift in the dark and insalubrious Victorian east end. The trail leads them back to Ireland via colonial India, and culminates in Gloucester where the beneficiaries come to terms with a hitherto unsuspected Irish heritage.

Episode Five - The brothers look into the case of Alan Murray, who died in Sligo in 2004 leaving an estate but no known relatives. After undertaking a marathon search for Alan’s cousins, Steven and Kit are hit by a bombshell: it turns out that the deceased had a daughter who never knew him. She becomes the sole beneficiary of his estate.

Episode Six – Searches get underway for the living relatives of Anna May Watt, a Scottish variety performer admired by everyone from the late Terry Wogan to Johnnie Beattie. After they uncover the striking circumstances surrounding the birth of Anna’s mother in Ireland, Kit and Steven travel to Carlow where their quest comes to an unexpected conclusion.