Wills

This section is for wills and most probate documents of my direct ancestors and some of their relations; also for any wills I discover referring to them. ‘Most’ because I have created a separate section for probate inventories.

Wills index – searchable list of wills which I have transcribed and which are available on this website.

(A list of wills by part of my tree and then surname is at the end of this page)

This page is mostly boring stuff but possibly useful – especially if you are interested in using one of my transcripts in your own tree. I will be adding what I hope will be a much more interesting page (or pages) commenting on the contents of the wills I have looked at.

What

I have transcribed a number of wills, dating back into the C15th. As well as wills of direct ancestors, I have looked at wills of other relations. Other close relations may have played a significant part in the lives of my ancestors, making them of interest to me in their own right, but of course sometimes these wills refer to my direct ancestors.

Pre 1858, where they left wills, those of most of my ancestors were proved locally, either in the Archdeacon’s or Bishop’s (Consistory) court. One exception to this is the period of the interregnum in England, when with abolition of Archdeacons, Bishops and Archbishops there were none of the usual courts, and wills had to be proved centrally. Several of my ancestors were thoughtful enough to die during this period. I say ‘thoughtful enough’ because this means their wills are more readily available, and in the case of Devon (a quarter of my ancestry and a much larger part of my research to date) it means they survive when they otherwise probably would not have done. Although there was no Prerogative Court of Canterbury during the interregnum the wills proved at this period are now with the PCC wills in the National Archives (PROB 11).

Quality

Some are in secretary hand; my ability to read this has improved a lot recently, but some were transcribed when it was pretty limited, so most of these earlier wills have some words I didn’t at the time manage to decipher or got wrong. I have begun reviewing these, making corrections and filling in the gaps. As with those which aren’t in secretary hand, the clarity of the writing varies and this too may limit my ability to read / transcribe them. Most of these wills I have seen on film, or digital images or print offs from film.Sometimes the quality of the images / prints leaves something to be desired. There are a few where I hope to be permitted to see the original as some words are illegible in the image.

Original or register copy

Many wills survive in only one form. Often this is a register copy which may of course have transcription errors.

Where both reigster copy and original survive, as is the case with many of the wills proved in a Church court in the Diocese of Canterbury, ideally I would have looked at both register copy and original wills, but in most cases so far I have only looked at one. (This will be indicated below the transcript). I have mostly chosen register copy over original partly because quicker to find on the microfilm, but also because on the whole I find the handwriting easier to read. I know they could have transcription errors and I used to reckon they were probably less than the errors I would add struggling with the old writing. Now I’ve been reading a lot more old documents and my ability has improved it might make sense to switch to originals, to avoid the problem of bleed through which is found with register copy wills and can obscure words.

Language

In addition to difficulties presented by the handwriting, one will is in Latin – the will of Basil Becon. This is ironic, since he was the son of Thomas who was involved in writing the Book of Common Prayer, i.e. making that which had been inaccessible to many through being in Latin easily understood! Probate statements pre 1733 are mostly in Latin (not during the Interregnum). Generally I have made no attempt to translate these, but as my ability to read old hand-writing has improved and I am trying to remember / re-learn some Latin (it’s a long time since I did ‘O’ levels), I have started to look at the clearer ones.

Images

I have photocopies etc. of a number of the wills (as held in record offices – usually not the original) but as these are generally copyright there are few images of wills on this website.

Copyright

I am in the process of getting to grips with this. I had assumed it was fine for me to publish transcriptions, but have discovered that copyright belong to the heirs of the testator (see National Archives PDF), unless assigned elsewhere (which I think would be very rare for a will). Where there was a will I guess the copyright would have gone to the residual beneficiary, unless a bequest was made of the will of the testator or of the copyright of a will which the testator had inherited (which I suspect may never have happened).  It may be that the restrictions do not apply to a non-commercial website such as this, but it seems probable that I should be seeking permission to publish some or all of the wills here. I gather there is an exemption when copyright owner(s) cannot be discovered, and this would apply to many of the wills here, especially the Devonshire ones, given that so many Devon wills are missing.

I am not sure if this copyright exists jointly or severally – i.e. where the will is of a direct ancestor or mine and I am amongst the heirs should I be seeking permission from other descendants to publish, or can I take that decision alone? Where I am not a descendant, or my line did not inherit, I should clearly be seeking permission from those who are. But especially with the earlier wills tracing all the heirs alive now would be an almost impossible task. Effectively, I have to either not publish or disregard these copyright restrictions.

Where there is Crown copyright or Parliamentary copyright in documents this has, for most documents, been waived and we are free to transcribe and publish. Given the whole purpose of me putting my website online is for the sake of others interested, I have decided to assume that those who have Copyright in the wills on this site would also be happy to waive this. I think that others who may have copyright in the wills of their ancestors, either with me where we share descent, or separately if descended from a relation of mine who is not my direct ancestor, will in almost all cases either not care one way or the other about me publishing these transcripts, or will find it helpful and/or of interest that I have done so.

If you do have Copyright in a will on this website and are not happy that I have published a transcript please let me know.

Probate statements

I need to check the full picture, but copyright in many if not all of the probate statements is Crown copyright so I am free to publish them!

Your use of my transcripts

Where you have an interest in a person whose will appears on this site you may add my transcript to your own tree, whether on your website* or genealogy software, or in paper records. An acknowledgement / link would be appreciated but is not required.

* Please do not publish my transcripts without my agreement on trees on commercial sites such as Ancestry; if you wish to ‘include’ it there please do so by a link to this website.

If you let me know you are using my transcript then I can let you know if I make corrections or additions (e.g. of Probate statements).

Where a will on this site is accompanied by discussion / comments by me this may not be copied en bloc. Obviously you may refer to it or quote from it but please treat it as you would any other copyright publication (assuming you respect copyright).

Find a will

The wills are linked to from the pages on this site for the appropriate people – the testator at least, and I am adding links to others – executors, beneficiaries etc. You can also look through or search the wills index page, or go to parent pages for wills relevant to particular surnames (mostly these are of people with those surnames, but some are included under different surnames – generally spouses, in-laws etc. to my line e.g. the will of Thomas Efford, who is of interest to me because he married my 6 x great aunt Susanna Issell, is in the Issell section.

Wills index – alphabetically by Christian name! But the search looks for the name (or any other text) appearing in the title or description (but not in the ‘linked to’ column). A  search for the exact letters entered, it does not look for alternative spellings.

(Usually I link wills to the testator and / or others on this website when I add it to the site, but sometimes I don’t have time and so more may be listed below). 

List of will transcriptions on this website

This list shows wills as relevant to my tree, by part of my tree, surname and then individual. The parts of my tree are mostly described by the county in which most or all of the records occur.

Kent represents a quarter of my tree (my paternal grandfather).

Devon is broken in two to separate the wills of my Grandmother’s South Hams ancestors from those of my Grandfather’s ‘Straddling Dartmoor’ (West Devon / Ideford and Kingsteignton area) ancestors, as most viewers of this site will only be interested in one lot or the other.

Most other parts are 8ths but both Norfolk and Durham / Northumberland, should I find any wills from these, are just a sixteenth each.

One eighth I describe not by county but as the Swan side. This is for the ancestors of my great grandmother Jane Swan. At the time of writing I know little, but do know it includes London, Surrey, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire (but probably near both Northamptonshire and Bedfordshire) and Essex (on the borders of Cambridgeshire and Suffolk).

The names are those of direct ancestors, and other wills relevant to that family are grouped with them even if the testator had a different surname.

Also, the counties are where my ancestors lived, and so one or two are listed under a different county to that in which the testator died.

Most of the county and surname pages are just lists of the appropriate wills, but some have extra comments.


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