The Smyrl brothers tapped Brophy to find the descendants of the three, who would be Broderick’s first cousins and entitled to a portion of her estate. Despite the abundance of Shaughnessys in Massachusetts, Brophy said he made quick work of this case, thanks to obituaries and other vital records.
Convincing the local families that they were the beneficiaries of a $1.5 million estate in Ireland, however, was a bit of a challenge.
“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 grandfather was Henry Shaughnessy, and her six siblings certainly believed it was a scam when they first heard they could be getting an inheritance.
But her father, William Shaughnessy, who had suffered a debilitating stroke and was nearing the end of his life, hoped it was true. As Broderick’s first cousin, William was a rightful heir.
“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.”
William died in 2009, not knowing whether the inheritance story was true.
A couple of 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, Mass. We had no idea.”
From Newton is Roger Shaughnessy, the son of Edward Shaughnessy and Broderick’s first cousin.
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.
A family reunion of long lost relatives certainly made for good television, said Michael O’Connell, executive producer of “Dead Money.”
“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. It was amazing, it was extraordinary.”
Patricia Fontaine, whose father was named after her grandfather, Henry Shaughnessy, said she could see a resemblance between Roger Shaughnessy and her father when she met him.
“It was really fascinating really how people look like each other,” the 60-year-old said. “We couldn’t get over some of the stuff. It was so familiar.”
The show’s production company flew in one of Broderick’s cousins to the reunion from Galway.
“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.”