NEW ON-LINE DATABASE OF KENT WILLS

 NEW ON LINE DATABASE OF KENT WILLS

The Society of Genealogists has received news of a new on-line wills database published by the Kent Archaeological Society

When antiquarian and historian Leland Lewis Duncan of the Kent Archaeological Society died in 1923 his lifetime’s work, including handwritten lists and transcriptions of Wills of Kent residents and landowners who lived in medieval and Tudor times, was deposited in the society’s library at Maidstone Museum.

For 80 years local and family historians could inspect this invaluable resource only by visiting the library. Now, a team of volunteers ‑ Margaret Broomfield, Dawn Weeks, Zena Bamping and Pat Tritton – is completing the task of transcribing Duncan’s records for the society’s website, from which they can be downloaded free of charge.

Duncan’s records were written in 61 exercise books and bound quarto books, most of which survive. Their 2,188 entries were originally indexed by parish by the Vicar of East Peckham in 1934.

The records are now on a database which has two indexes. One enables the surnames of testators to found and is convenient for family historians. The other, for the benefit of local historians, lists the areas, parishes or dioceses in which the testators lived or owned land.

The areas include boroughs which were once part of Kent but are now within Greater London.

Links alongside the entries allow any of the Wills that have been transcribed to be viewed ‘with one click’.

To access the Wills visit the Research section at www.kentarchaeology.org.uk

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PRONI online wills project shows how it should be done

Family Historians should be very impressed with the Public Record Office of Northern Ireleand’s (PRONI) project to provide and index and images of wills from 1858. It’s a model for others to follow and a very good reason for suggesting that the historic post 1858 probate records for England and Wales should not be under the jurisdiction of the Courts Service but rather transferred to an agency that knows how to look after and make accessible popular records used by genealogists. However given that there are over 20 million wills held by the Court service I guess it will be some time before these  are all made availeble online.

The PRONI website application provides a free fully searchable index to the will calendar entries for the three District Probate Registries of Armagh, Belfast and Londonderry, with the facility to view the entire will calendar entry for each successful search.  The database covers the period 1858-1919 and 1922-1943.  Part of 1921 has been added, with remaining entries for 1920-1921 to follow in the near future. 

Digitised images of entries from the copy will books covering the period 1858-1900 are now available online, allowing users to view the full content of a will.  93,388 will images are now available to view.

The Society of Genealogists’ online guide to using Probate Records is avilaible on the SoG webiste

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Devon wills in the Society of Genealogists’ family history library

Anyone researching their family history in Devon will regret the loss of much of the county’s probate material in the 2nd world war. However the Society of Genealogist’s family history library in London holds indexes and transcripts of a number of Devon wills that were made before the loss, and some of these have now been made available on the Members’ Area of the Society’s website.

The Fothergill collection is a typical example. It was compiled in the early 1900s by Gerald Fothergill (1870-1926), an eminent genealogist and historian who lived in London. It is not clear why he compiled abstracts of sundry Devon wills, but he evidently went to Exeter and Taunton to study and abstract them, since almost all were proved and kept in one or other of those places. The abstracts can be found in the Middle library and an online index can be searched here.

Another book at the Society lists wills and administrations proved or granted at the Peculiar Court of the Dean of Exeter, from the 1630s to 1857.  All the original probate copies of wills proved in this court were destroyed in 1942.  This list therefore presents (with a few exceptions) the only surviving evidence that well over a thousand Devon individuals did in fact leave wills or had their estates administered.

The jurisdiction of the Dean’s Court covered the parish of Braunton (north-west of Barnstaple) and the Cathedral Close.  The latter area seems not to have been an actual parish, but merely the area immediately around the cathedral in Exeter.  Many of those who lived in the Cathedral Close worked in or for the cathedral in some way. The index can be searched here.

A third work lists wills and administrations proved or granted at the Peculiar Court of the Vicars Choral of Exeter, from the 1630s to 1857.  How and why the singing men in the choir at Exeter Cathedral came to have their own court is not known. Woodbury, the only parish which came under their jurisdiction, is a large one, not far south-east of Exeter.  An average of about four wills/administrations per year were dealt with, though this varied depending upon the time period. The index can be searched here.

The Devon Wills Project is seeking to gather details of as many Devon wills as possible and the Society is grateful for their help in compiling these indexes..

Tim Lawrence

Head of Library Services

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Tracing your Wiltshire ancestors with the Society of Genealogists

The Society of Genealogists houses the finest collection of family history records in the country. However in addition to its physical library in London it also makes some of its records available to Members over the internet.

One set of records to be found on the Members’ Area of its website will be of particular interest to those with Wiltshire ancestry. The Wiltshire Wills’ Beneficiaries Index was originally created by Mary Trace and Pat Wilson who donated it to the Society a number of years ago. It is particularly useful to family historians as it lists not just the testator (the person making the will) but also the beneficiaries (those who were left bequests).

Covering thousands of wills, administrations & other probate records of Wiltshire people for the period 1800-1858, the index lists the beneficiary’s relationship to the deceased, his/her place of residence and occupation (if this was recorded in the original document). However it does NOT contain details of the bequests themselves – for this you will need to view the original (held at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre).

Non-members can carry out a basic search here but to view the full record you will need to be a member of the Society of Genealogists

Tim Lawrence

Head of Library Services

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Genealogists will be delighted that Ancestry.co.uk  has just launched  the England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations),1861-1941 – an index to more than six million wills proven across the 19th and 20th centuries .

A free information leaflet for using wills as part of your family history can be found on the Society of Genealogists website

 ‘Probate’ refers to the court’s authority to administer a deceased estate, including granting representation to a person or persons to administer that estate.

In 1857, the Court of Probate Act saw the power to administer estates transfer from the church to the state and it is the probate calendar books, in which grants are summarised and collated annually by the state, that are now on Ancestry.co.uk. Note there are some gaps in the coverage of the calendars found on Ancestry’s site but they hope to add the missing volumes when they get the chance. Currenty the following  are not covered : 

“the books for the years 1858-1860 and there are some gaps for the years 1863, 1868, 1873, 1876, 1877, 1883, 1888, 1899-1903 and 1910-1911″
 

 

In addition to the material value of the estate, probate calendar books provide a rich source of information for family history enthusiasts as each entry may also include the name of the deceased, the date and place of death, the name of the executer and, in some cases, bequest recipients. The calendars lokk like this

Included in the index are numerous famous names such as once-rich polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, who died in 1922 leaving an estate of just £556 (£20,000 today), having lost his fortune in failed money-making schemes while allegedly trying to recapture the adventure of his youth.

Fittingly, the anti-capitalist Karl Marx died in 1883 almost as poor as Shackleton, leaving just £250 (£23,000 today) to his youngest daughter Eleanor.

In contrast, Thomas Holloway, a man who made his fortune selling medicines and ointments, left one of the largest estates in the index, worth £600,000 in 1883 – the equivalent of £55 million today.

Anyone able to locate an ancestor in the England and Wales National Probate Calendar, 1861-1941 will be able to delve further into that person’s life, learning more about their social standing and worldly possessions.

As more than two million living Britons claim to know of a wealthy ancestor or a lost fortune in the family, for the first time many of us will now be able to go online and trace our own family’s missing millions.

Individual entries may also reveal details about the fate of the deceased. Perhaps unsurprisingly, that of Edward John Smith, captain of the ill-fated Titanic, reveals that he was ‘lost at sea’, as do the listings of first-class passengers Benjamin Guggenheim and John Astor, and ship’s builder Thomas Andrews.

Other notable names include:

  • Charles Darwin – the acclaimed naturalist Charles Robert Darwin is listed as having left a personal estate worth £146,911 (around £13 million today) when he died in 1882
  • John Cadbury – the ‘King of Chocolate’ John Cadbury died with a personal estate of £43,773 (around £4.2 million today) when he died in 1889
  • Charles Dickens – the famous Victorian author Charles John Huffham Dickens died leaving ‘effects under £80,000’ (around £7.1 million today) when he died in 1870

Also included are legendary cricketer W G Grace (in 1915 with £7,278 – £620,000 today), former Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (in 1940 with £84,013 – £3.5 million today), scientist Michael Faraday (in 1867 with £6,000 – £500,000 today), and authors Lewis Carroll (in 1898 with £4,145 – £450,000 today) and Arthur Conan Doyle (in 1931 with £63,491 – £3,000,000 today).

Those using the England and Wales National Probate Calendar, 1861-1941 can obtain a full copy of the wills listed from the Probate Registry,  (address on the SoG information leaflet on Wills) which will help them to uncover further information such as details of the deceased’s family and additional detail about the estate.

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