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.

Talk (Workshop) Overview

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)

 

Writing Wills

 

  • 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

 

Finding Wills

 

 

 

  • 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:

  • Introduction
  • 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
  • Summary
  • Do / Don’t
  • Share your findings
  • Optional homework exercise

 

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Sources

https://www.freeimages.com/ (Photo by Oliver Gruener)

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?

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