Excerpt from Seeking John Campbell (1)

Seeking John Campbell FRONT COVER-page-001

The excerpt below is taken from the first three pages of the Prologue and signals the start of my journey Seeking John Campbell


At the end of 1995, sixty-eight-year-old Isabel Greig returned to Stone House, her home in the market town of Petworth, West Sussex, after enjoying a quiet visit with an old schoolfriend in Bath. It had been her first Christmas without her husband, Ian, who had died a couple of months earlier after a battle with cancer. Widowed after almost forty years of marriage, Isabel was lost.

  Isabel was a striking woman, caring and unselfish and not without a sense of fun in happier times. She received fulsome support from her neighbours following the death of her beloved Ian, and when she returned after Christmas she telephoned a friend, who lived in a cottage opposite, but was persuaded not to visit her that evening as she was suffering from flu. The country was in the grip of the coldest winter for fourteen years and the following morning Isabel woke to a dusting of snow. Later that day, after light rain had washed the snow away, Isabel ventured out, but within yards of her home, slipped on black ice and fell to the ground, giving herself a hefty knock to the back of her head.

  A passing policeman comforted her and a neighbour took her in for a soothing cup of tea. Isabel regained her composure and, typically not wishing to make a fuss, assured everybody that she was fine. She returned to her house, saying that she would take it easy for the rest of the day. Her friend across the road, still recovering from influenza and unaware of Isabel’s fall, was not surprised that she hadn’t called that day, expecting her to be enjoying the company of those in better health.

  When Isabel’s neighbour knocked on her door the following morning, New Year’s Eve 1995, there was no response. Eventually, the police were called, the door was forced and on entering the house they found the lifeless Isabel in her bed. She had passed away during the night from what was later diagnosed as a brain haemorrhage. The coroner recorded a verdict of accidental death.


Fifteen years later, I was scanning the UK government’s list of estates unclaimed by relatives, which is held by the Treasury Solicitor. Each week their Bona Vacantia department add new estates and probate genealogists race to find potential heirs and help them to claim their money in return for a commission. Genealogy has been of interest to me for more than forty years and I had been surprised to discover that, apart from the weekly release, more than ten thousand other estates, going back thirty years, remained unclaimed. Why were these cases unresolved? Why had professional heir-hunters failed to unlock their secrets? Many of the cases would have been of little value and discarded as unprofitable at a time, pre-2007, when the values of the estates were published. Others must have been too difficult, or costly, to solve.

  With available time and a thirst for problem-solving, I considered finding out why those who had tried to solve the cases had failed. It would be an intellectual challenge, a genealogical jigsaw puzzle that, even if it ended in failure, would enhance my ancestry research skills. My curiosity got the better of me and I searched the list of unsolved cases to pluck one out for initial research, assuming that the heir-hunting roadblock would quickly become apparent.

  My action was no more sophisticated than scrolling the list to the Gs and sticking an imaginary pin on the computer screen. I was drawn to a female name and her details indicated that she may be a prime candidate for my research. Almost fifteen years had elapsed since her death, providing the heir-hunters with plenty of time to make their initial investigations into the case, yet it remained open. Another factor was that she was one of a small percentage of persons listed with three given names: always an additional aid in genealogical research. Furthermore, the third given name appeared to be a maiden or family name, providing additional clues for the researcher. Maria Isabel Pemberton Greig, who died at Petworth, Sussex, on 31 December 1995, was to be my test case.

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