Administrations in England & Wales up to 1858

If one of your ancestors, in your family tree, died without making a will, then their next-of-kin could apply
to the church courts for Letters of Administration to be granted to them. What would happen is that they
would then be bound in law by entering into a bond to administer the goods of the deceased. As well as family it is sometimes possible to find that a creditor is granted the letters of administration, but in all cases they are referred to as an Administrator, if they are male, whilst a female is known as an Administratrix.

A will and testament from the 19th century
A Will from the 19th century, online

You may well notice that administrations, or sometimes admons,are generally less informative for the family historian than wills are. That said, however, If you have found that one of your ancestors left no will, but their effects were dealt with by and administration, then at least the document will include: the name of the administrator(s) and bondsman, as well as the the relationship of the administrator(s) to the deceased. This could indeed be valuable to someone tracing their family tree. In addition to which, the administration may often include a date of death and the value of the deceased’s estate, that could help you fill in some gaps.

As in the case of wills, until 1858 it fell to the church courts  to be responsible for granting administrations. So for that reason you will need to use the same system to find administrations as you would do for finding wills of the same period. The main point to remember was that it is the same two provinces – the Prerogative Courts of York and of Canterbury – each controlled by an archbishop, that England was divided into.

A subdivision then occurs into several archdeaconries, and then further divisions again into rural deaneries. What all this means to the researcher is that there are over 250 church courts who were responsible in some way for the granting of letters of administration.

So where do we make a start? One answer is to take a look at the A2A website (Access 2 Archives) on the National Archives website:
www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/a2a

It is a fantastic database covering a myriad of records from over 400 record offices across not just England, but the whole of the UK.  Some of their records go back as far as the eighth century, while some come right up to date.

It is possible to search it by name, or a place and also by a topic and while it may not cover every single record office, by the very nature of its substantial coverage it can be used to search for probate material by using the key words ‘wills, administrations or inventories’ plus the region of the country that your ancestor died within.

Send to Kindle

Where To Look For English Ancestor’s Wills

You may be wondering where to go looking for your ancestor’s will.
The first thing that you need to consider is that before 1858, England and Wales were divided up into two provinces.

Canterbury was the largest and most influential and its remit covered the South of England up to the Midlands along with Wales. The other one was The Province of York, whose area covered the counties of Durham, Yorkshire, Northumberland, Westmorland, Cumberland, Lancashire, Cheshire, Nottinghamshire, and also the Isle of Man.

The structure of these ecclesiastic provinces were that at the head of each was an Archbishop. Then the province was subdivided into several smaller dioceses with each diocese having a minimum of two bishops. A further division was where these dioceses were divided again into archdeaconries.

Until 12 January 1858, all wills had to be “proven” in a church court to ensure that it was considered a legal will. There were, in effect, over 250 church courts across the country that proved wills and the records of these wills are now to be found stored mostly in local record offices.

Where a will was proved would depend upon where the lands the property was situated in. Another important consideration was whether they were contained within a single archdeaconry. If they were then the will would be proven in the Archdeacon’s court. If, however, the property of the deceased was to be found stretching across several archdeaconries, then it would have to be proven in a Bishop’s Court.

In a similar fashion, should the land be in more than one diocese then it would be to the Archbishop’s Prerogative Court that the will would need to go to be proved.

As always, there are the exceptions to the rules and one of these is if the deceased had died abroad. I such a case the will would be proven at the Prerogative Court of Canterbury regardless of where the property was.

Wills proven in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury are now held at the National Archives in Kew, while the wills proven in the Prerogative Court of York are to be found at the Bothwick Institute in the University of York.

All of the wills proven in the lower courts up to 1858 are usually held in the Diocesan Record Office and often this will be the County Record Office. In Wales, however, wills from 1521 are held at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth.

Family historians can find locating wills to be an up hill task. It is recommended that you try to locate an index before you set off to one archive or another, to see if a will for your forebear exists. Many indexes are now available on CD and online via the subscription sites like TheGenealogist.co.uk and Ancestry.

A will and testament from the 19th century
A Will from the 19th century online
Send to Kindle

Family Tree Research is Big Business!

While I was taking a break from researching my family tree I took a look at a finance site this morning. My attention was drawn, because of my interest in Family History, towards a report on Investors.com about a stock that’s been one of the market’s big winners during the past year and a half in the USA.

Read more at:http://www.investors.com/Education/DailyStockAnalysis.aspx?id=576677

It is, of course, Ancestry.com Inc. the group of family history web sites, including Ancestry.co.uk, that many of us use or have probably used in the past to dig into our family tree and dig up things like births, marriages and deaths, census record and more. It became listed in November 2009 and so it is considered to be relatively new to the market.

But already Investors.com reveals that:

” … a lot of people seem to be interested in that information. Sales growth ranged from 36% to 41% during the past four quarters.
* Earnings growth has had some big swings, but came in at a hefty 125% last quarter.
* Looking ahead, analysts see earnings rising 51% this year and 30% next year.
* The stock’s Relative Strength Rating is 96. That rating compares Ancestry’s price performance to the rest of the market. So Ancestry is outperforming 96% of the other stocks in the market.
* Still, its Accumulation/Distribution Rating is a D-. So some big investors have been selling the stock.”

All this shows that, across the world, people like us are so taken by the Family History bug that we are willing to spend money in the pursuit of our hobby.

Now I know, from feed back on my blog and on my facebook page, that some people believe that the subscriptions to sites like these are getting out of their reach. It would seem that the Israeli owned MyHeritage may have understood this trend in the market as it is reported on another website I found called Businessinsider.com, that they are developing a way to share the costs of subscriptions to their site.

MyHeritage, which makes it money from advertising as well as premium subscriptions has a quite clever way of getting family history researchers to pay for premium subscriptions to its site and that is to encourage your friends and family to chip in.

According to Business Insider:

“You can create a “Family Goal” to encourage other family members to subscribe.

This has some precedent, in different ways, in online fundraising campaigns, which encourage donors to reach a goal, and in group buying. Obviously it makes sense in a genealogy site, where a family may be involved in matching their heritage, but it can also make sense for any site that is used by a group (for example a group publishing platform).

It’s a clever mechanic, and it will be interesting to see whether it works for MyHeritage and whether other social sites implement something similar.”

Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/myheritage-social-payments-2011-7#ixzz1RyYprp7U

Send to Kindle

Well Worth Family Historians Looking For A Will

A will and testament from the 19th century
A Will from the 19th century

It was not just the rich who would leave a will in the Britain of the past. For this reason, family historians looking into their family tree, should consider it worth researching whether their ancestor did so. This area of family history research is often recorded as Wills and Administrations. I will write about Administrations in another post concentrating today on Wills.

Technically what we refer to in common speech as a ‘will’ is in fact a joint deed that is legally known as ‘The Last Will and Testament’ of the person who has died and it was in 1540 that in England it came into existence. From that date on a party could now devise, or gift, their ‘Freehold’ land by the means of a will.

In order for a deceased’s wishes to be carried out an executor, or executrix, would need to be appointed by the departed to administer and distribute their estate after their death. The executor/executrix would need to apply to a court for the will to be carried out and that court would have to be satisfied the will was valid and that it was the deceased’s final will, and testament. This is the process known as “proving a will”. When satisfied the court then issues a grant of probate that allowed the executors to finally carry out the will’s terms and distribute the deceased’s property.

Before 1540, in England, a testament was only concerned with what is known as “personality” or personal property, which is a person’s moveable goods and chattels. This was because a person’s interests in any “real property” (that is the land and any buildings that they owned) would automatically descended  to the
deceased’s immediate heir, normally the first son. Ecclesiastical law, however, held that at least one-third of a man’s property should pass to his widow as her dower and then another one-third should go to all his children.

As you delve into this area of family history you may possibly come across something called a nuncupative will, or perhaps you will see it referred to as an oral will. If you consider that in some places, in years gone by, very few people other than the clergy could read and write. So if your ancestor was dying, with no one available with the skill to write down his wishes, then the court may have relied on the deceased’s oral declaration of their last wishes to another party. Probate would only be granted after the courts had listened to the sworn evidence of those persons who had heard that declaration being made.

As I am sure we can all imagine, this sort of will would often lead to disputes. Needless to say nuncupative wills were made invalid in England by the Wills Act of 1837. There being one exception, however, and that is in the case of members of the armed forces on active duty, for whom they are still legal today.

You can tell such wills apart in the records, as they can usually be identified because they start with the word: Memorandum.

A holographic will, on the other hand, is a will and testament that has been entirely handwritten and signed by the testator. In the United Kingdom, unwitnessed holographic wills remained valid in Scotland up until the Requirements of Writing Scotland Act 1995. This Act of Parliament abolished the provision and so such wills written after 1st August 1995 are now invalid in all of England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.

Family historians, may well find that the ancestor that they though would just not have written a will, may well have done so. Consider that even if your ancestor was not wealthy, but a person who owned the tools of a trade, then they may well have wanted to make sure that these were passed on to the right person.

Another lesson that I have learnt is that finding wills can be difficult. I had searched many times, over the years, in various online places before I found the probate for my 2x great-grandfather on the recently available Ancestry Wills & Probate data.

Henry Thomas Thorne, for forty years worked on the River Dart first as the steersman of the railway ferry the Perseverance and then as captain of the GWR Steamer The Dolphin making the short crossing between Kingswear and Dartmouth. He died in 1908 and left effects of £202 17 shillings. That’s about £15,700.00 now, using the retail price index.

As with all family history research, don’t give up on blanks in your family tree, simply resolve to return to unfruitful searches at regular intervals as more data becomes available all the time.

The Nosey Genealogist.

Send to Kindle