You say that you know all your ancestors were of modest means? You know there will never be any money to inherit? Perhaps you should be checking a bit more closely.
A 71-year-old man in California looks likely to share the proceeds of an art sale worth up to £5 million (roughly $10 million U.S.) after he was tracked down by genealogists and identified as the descendant of a Victorian servant.
Russell Colquhoun Ryan, Jr., is the great-grandson of James Cullen Colquhoun, a loyal servant in the 19th-century Edinburgh household of the Dundas family, according to research by The Times (a British newspaper) and Lorraine Escobar, a California-based genealogist.
Mr. Ryan is in line for the windfall after the owner of arguably the world's finest collection of Native American artifacts offered up to "tens of thousands of pounds" to anybody who could prove that they were directly descended from Mr. Colquhoun, who traveled to British Columbia with his great-grandfather in the 1850s. Mr. Colquhoun died in poverty in San Francisco in 1868.
The offer came from Simon Carey, 77, great-grandson of the Rev. Robert Dundas, who acquired more than 80 Native American artifacts as a clergyman in Canada. The collection, including several pieces viewed as masterpieces, is expected to fetch up to $10 million (£5 million) when it is auctioned at Sotheby's in New York this year. Mr. Carey has said that he wants to "honor" Mr. Colquhoun's memory as a loyal family servant by giving money to his descendants.
Speaking last night from his home in Santa Rosa, California, Mr. Ryan expressed shock after being tracked down by The Times and informed about Mr. Carey's offer. He said, "I always knew that there was some Scottish ancestry in the family, and I think I was there once as a child. But that was all I knew about it."
A retired public works laborer, Mr. Ryan spent years digging up streets for the water department in Santa Rosa, 50 miles north of San Francisco. He said, "My wife and I are doing pretty well, but we're not rich. Anybody could always do with a little more money.
"I'm pretty much all that remains of the family. I was thinking about getting some research done into the family history because I have always been intrigued by the Scottish roots, but I've never done it. I recall very vaguely my father speaking about his grandfather and how we came to be in America, but I can't remember too much about it."
Mr. Ryan was born in San Francisco on April 19, 1935, to Dr. Russell Colquhoun Ryan and his wife, Harriet Estelle Levitt. His father, Dr. Ryan, was born in San Francisco on July 31, 1889, to Frank M. Ryan and Elizabeth Colquhoun, the daughter of James Cullen Colquhoun and one of just two children. She was born on June 9, 1862, in British Columbia. Her brother, Robert Dundas Colquhoun, was born in British Columbia on February 9, 1860.
It is thought unlikely that the brother had children. In a 1920 census, by which time he was aged 60, he was described as single and listed at the same San Francisco address as his sister and brother-in-law.
Mr. Ryan, who lives in a small, two-bedroom house in Santa Rosa, was an only child and said that, with the exception of his grown-up daughter, he has no living relatives that he is aware of. Mr. Carey said that Mr. Ryan's claim sounded "quite promising" and asked for him to write to him. He said: "There will obviously be a lot of claims, and we will investigate each carefully."