Workshop: Wills (pre-1858)
My workshop introduces your group to pre-1858 Wills, where to search for them, how to overcome brick-walls in their research and techniques for reading old Wills. This is an Interactive workshop rather than a talk. If you wish to book a talk rather than a workshop for your group please contact me to discuss.
What is a will?
A will is a written instrument by which a person disposes of their property on death. It is secret and revocable (capable of being revoked or cancelled)
- It must be in writing and dated
- Signed by the testator / testatrix at the end in the presence of two witnesses, who must sign at the same time
- The testator / testatrix must be of full age
- Testator / testatrix must have animus testandi; they must know they are signing a legal document
How are Wills useful for our family history?
Wills are useful for clarifying and proving pedigrees built through birth, marriage and death (BMD), Census and Parish records
- Useful for adding colour to family trees (belongings, desires and suggesting how the family felt about each other)
- useful for learning about possessions and who they were left to
- may record who was still alive, or had died. Who married who, who was in or out of favour and which possessions were prized by who
- very good way of confirming who was related to who, or finding a reference to possessions passed down to your generation
The Statute of Wills (1540) and Wills Act (1837) laid out the rules for most wills useful for family historians
- From 1540 men aged 14 and women aged 12 could write wills; this was raised to 21 years in 1837
- Those excommunicated, mad or in prison could not write Wills
- Many women didn’t write Wills until 1882, due to the fact they couldn’t legally own anything until this date (ref: Married Women’s Property Act allowed women to own property; 1882)
- The writer (testator – male, testatrix – female) nominated executors
- Executors took the will to a court to ‘prove it’, by swearing it was authentic and represented the deceased last wishes. They undertook to carry out the instructions expressed
- Pre 1858 Welsh Wills at the National Library of Wales, free to view https://www.library.wales/searchwills/
- For Scottish Wills see: nrscotland.gov.uk/research/guides/wills-and-testaments or scotlandspeople.gov.uk/
- For Irish Wills see: www.findmypast.co.uk for an Index of Irish Wills 1484-1858 (reconstituted from substitute records as many original Wills were destroyed in 1922)
Wanting to write your own will? Consider will aid month (in November each year) https://www.willaid.org.uk/
Find out more in my workshop:
- What is a will?
- Use in Family History research
- Writing Wills
- Letters of Administration
- Handout: Example of Will (1)
- Finding Wills
- Breaking brick walls
- Handout: Example of a Will (2) 1710
- Do / Don’t
- Share your findings
- Optional homework exercise
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Robert Parker is a Genealogist and Trainer, based in Kent. He delivers courses, guidance, talks and research services for those interested in tracing their ancestors. See https://myfamilygenealogy.co.uk/guidance/ for his 5 steps to discovering your ancestors. Contact Robert to discuss your requirements without obligation.
What stories could your ancestors tell?