Where there’s a will…
Wills are fascinating documents to search through. My first one was over thirty years ago when I was, basically, being nosey and wanted to know what had happened to the ‘estate’ of a Great Aunt who had died in 1966 aged 93. I had fond memories of being taken to visit her at her rather large rambling house in Watford. I was allowed to roam freely around the gardens playing hide and seek with my sister. Inside the house I was allowed to look in a big old metal safe, discovering, amongst other treasures, medals that her late husband had won in the Boar War. What more could an inquisitive nine year old wish for?
My ‘Aunt Kitty’ and her husband did not have any children, so in her will she had stipulated what possessions she wanted to go to which relatives. She was one of eight children and her husband was one of nine, so there were a lot of nephews and nieces as well as great nephews and nieces identified. In total there were 43 named individuals given, mostly with towns where they lived and their relationship to her were all documented in this will, a treasure trove for the family historian.
A few years ago now, I was researching for a client the contents of a letter that was written in 1829 concerning a family called Wyatt, a farming family who originally hailed from Staffordshire. To cut a long story short I needed to look at two wills, one from 1818 and the other from 1853. Both detailed a copious amount of information regarding family members and their relationship to the deceased person. The 1853 will of Lewis William Wyatt detailed over 30 relatives of his.
Of course not all wills will give you the volume of information regarding family members as the two mentioned above have. However it is still very much worth endeavouring to find the wills and probate documents of your ancestors. Over the centuries the writing of wills and the granting of probate were not confined to one section of society, even those of humble origins often left a will so it is well worth searching for them.
Only last month I found the probate records of a distant relative of mine who died in 1904 and left her estate worth £78 13s 3d to her sole surviving daughter. I find that it is often filling in the little pieces of information around an individual that makes researching your ancestors so rewarding.
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