I blinked a few times and refocused my eyes. Was this letter really what I thought it was?
18th October 1909
My dear cousin Jeanette,
I am now back from Scotland and the result of my journey is beyond even my expectation.
After days of fruitless search we at last hit upon Feveran as our last resort, Mr. Grove had to return to St. Albans but left me to make enquiries. The result is that I found some old inhabitant who knew about the Innes case. There is an old man named Low the son of the grave digger at Belhelvie Church still living. It was his father who allowed the Mitchells to get a hold of this book and tear out the leaf which contained a record of William Innes’ burial and he also had a hand in the removal and burying of the grave stone.
I saw Low but he will not speak although anyone with half an eye can see that he knows a great deal of what his father did in the matter. A man named Stott had the idea of the stone to see and he was assisted by a man named Duguid. Both Stott and Duguid are dear but their children are alive and live at Newburgh. Stott has not been dead many years but he was a notorious bad character and from inquires that I made, in his lifetime he could always get what he liked out of Captain Mitchell.
By the advice of the Reverend Loutit the Minister of the Parish, I did not see Stott’s eldest son as he is a bad lot but if we need be we will have to approach him a fair sum of money to open his mouth.
Well I found Duguid’s, stone but it was only after I had been at him for four hours that he at last told me that it was said that his father had a hand in the moving of the stone but he did not believe his father knew what he was doing. He went with me to the Church yard and showed me the part of the graveyard that the stone was hidden in. I got the present grave digger and we probed and probed the ground and also commenced digging but up to the time I left we had not found the stone and I have the matter in very good hands and I am daily expecting to hear the result of the search for the stone. In the same church yard is a stone of Gilbert Innes who was William’s father.
Having found the parish William was buried in, I went to Edinburgh and I found a record of his marriage in 1727 and also a record of Alexander’s birth in 1731. Alexander is our great great grandfather. How on earth a man can die in 1722 and get married in 1727 and have a son in 1731. I don’t know but this we will leave to the scoundrels Mitchell to explain. Of course the missing links in the other action which was commenced in 1858 was that they could not find William’s marriage, whether he had any issue and where he was buried. I have found two of the missing links and I do hope we find the missing stone but even if we should not we have more to work with than our fathers had but with the stone I do not see how we can possibly fail in our claim. This action will cost a lot of money as you can rest assured the Mitchells will have a strong fight for it .How are we to raise the necessary money? I have thought of getting the money through a syndicate but as you will know they will want to be tremendously well paid in the event of our success.
If you can, I think it will be far the best if you come over as so much has to be arranged and we could better discuss our ways and means of fighting the action and the sooner we get to work the better. No time ought to be lost. Find the stone and I don’t for the life of me see how we can fail. And what a success it would be. Miss. Jane Innes left over a million pounds in securities and the estate was worth another million. We shall be entitled to be refunded the profits on these two sums over sixty years so I love you to calculate the numerous sum we shall be fighting for. Fortunately the Mitchells have not squandered the money but have increased it and all though they will probably be ruined, I think all together they would be able to repay what they have had. I don’t see that we should show them any mercy. They got the estate and money by absolute fraud and delivery of the word kind. I would come out to you but I think it would be far best for you to come here so as to be on the spot.
What a story! Records were revised illegally, gravestones were hidden and a mystery relative grilling a cast of bizarre characters to end up digging in a graveyard. Not only did the letter paint a picture of a fantastical story, it also gave credibility to many of the foundations of our original family lore. There was a fortune, our family was trying to claim it and it it was under some very mysterious circumstances where a coverup (or perceived coverup) was taking place. However, some of the details (important ones) were misconstrued. The letter mentioned the last name Innes. Fortunately, I knew where that name came from and it was a lot further up on my tree than I anticipated.
Jeanette’s parents were William Ferguson and Mary Steel. Mary was born in England and her parents were John Steel and Elizabeth Scott. At some point Elizabeth had died in England and after her death was when John Steel appeared to have “stolen” another man’s wife and came to the U.S. I knew that John Steel’s parents were Joseph Steel and Elizabeth Innes. Here was the link!
I started googling Alexander Innes in hopes to find some account of a large trial to further research what exactly happened with all of this. I knew we didn’t end up inheriting 60 million pounds, but did any legal proceedings occur and what actually happened with this supposed lawyer getting murdered.
I couldn't find a thing about Alexander Innes, so I started googling the other names mentioned in the letter. First William Innes and I came to nothing conclusive. Then I tried Gilbert Innes. Jackpot.
Gilbert's life and fortune were well documented. Turns out Gilbert Innes was the director of the Royal Scotland Bank for 45 years (1787-1832). He was known as the richest "commoner" in Scotland at the time. He never married and when he died in 1832 his sister Jane inherited his estimated 1 million pound fortune.
When Jane died just 7 years later, she had no will. That's when people came out of the woodwork, trying to find a way to make claim to the fortune. Part of the problem was due to Gilbert's....social life. Its believed that he may have fathered up to 67 illegitimate children. Many of them tried to make claim to the fortune. Jane had supported some of these children during her life by providing money and investments for various projects, but some were likely not true descendants. In fact, that's where the answer lies in what happened to the extraordinary fortune.
The letter mentions the Mitchell family. It's clear whoever the writer of the letter is does not think much of them, referring to them as the scoundrels Mitchell.
In my research, I found reference to the Innes fortune in a BBC article from 2010. Much of the information in the letter and in other sources is corroborated in the article. A researcher, Kate Deans, details her quest to learn more about the fortune. Her ancestor, also an Innes, was one of the individuals who attempted to make a claim to the fortune and claimed to be one of the illegitimate children of Gilbert. One paragraph in particular stood out to me....
"But what did eventually happen to the Innes' fortune? Legend has it that it was inherited by a Mitchell family who had sent people around Scotland to alter parish records and deface gravestones to legitimise their claim."
Stay tuned for next week's conclusion! Did the scoundrels Mitchell steal the fortune from the rightful heirs? Were our Morris relatives entitled to the money? Find out how we separate fact from myth with genealogical research methods.
Do you need help solving your own family mystery? Contact Modern Ancestry here to find out how.