No Fog! I’m in London for Who Do You Think You Are? Live

No fog this year to mess up my travel arrangements and keep me away from the 2013 Who Do You Think You Are? LIVE show at Olympia like it did last year when my plane was grounded in Jersey for days!

I can’t wait until tomorrow to take my first look around.

Watch this space for an update!

In the mean time I’ve found this offer for my readers from GenesReunited.

Save 15% on membership between 22 & 28 February using promo code WDYTYA13. Search over 580 million family history records and start connecting with family – past and present – on Genes Reunited.

 

Send to Kindle

Wills & Administrations in English Family History

Wills can be of great use to any family historian for a number of reasons. They can furnish you with names of relatives, give you a description of the property that your ancestor owned at the time of their death and even reveal their favourite charity. Or though in my case I suspected that the charity that my aunt chose to leave the residue of her estate to was really her solicitor’s favoured charity and his suggestion!

Wills are one of the few documents written by your ancestor. For this reason they may give you an insight into their attitudes, social standing and their lifestyle. Perhaps, if you are lucky they can also explain family feuds and even expose scandals.

If, however, you discover that one of your ancestors seems to have been cut out of the will, you should always consider that this may not necessarily mean that they were disinherited. You should be open to considering that other arrangements had already been made for them in the lifetime of the deceased.

Quite a few family history researchers assume it is not worth checking if their ancestors left a will because they think their ancestor’s background precluded them from doing so. It is, however, wrong to believe that only a minority of people from the top of society left wills. Yes, it may be true that most people who left wills had some property of some kind or another. But wills can be found for people from amongst the very widest range of backgrounds.

Whilst it is perhaps true that only a small percentage of the population left a last will and testament, you should remember that for every person who did so means that there will be at least one other person mentioned in the document and this at least doubles your chance of finding a connection to your family tree, even if they are a distant relative.

It is possible, but not all that common, to find a will belonging to your family that pre-dates the parish registers, or even better where parish registers and the other primary sources have been destroyed or gone missing over the years.

You should know that before 1858 wills were generally proved in the church courts. In order to find a will in this time period will need you to have some understanding of the church hierarchy and how this bears relationship to the place or area that you are researching within.

So, what is a will?

It is a formal document stating exactly what a person desires should happen to their possessions after they have passed on. The person making a will is referred to as the Testator and they make a Last Will and Testament. This is actually a joint deed, the Will and the Testament.

Last Will and Testaments became the legal means of passing on one’s property in England in the year
1540. This was because it was only from that date that ‘Freehold’ land could be gifted or “devised” through a will. Before this date a “testament” was legally only concerned with what the law knows as “personality”. this is a term referring to personal property, that is a person’s moveable goods and chattels.

Why wasn’t it possible to pass on land? The answer lies with the fact that interests in “real property”, or the land and buildings your ancestors owned, would descend automatically to the deceased immediate heir. The church law, however, stated that at least one-third of a man’s property should pass directly to his widow as her dower and then one-third to all his children.

In theory these rules could not be broken, however property owners found ways that they could get around them. As an example, whilst “Copyhold land” – land held from the Lord of the manor – could not be left in a will before 1815, it could still be given up or “surrendered” to be used in a will. This effectively meant that it could be left to whomever a person wanted! Other methods of circumnavigating the rule was to transfer one’s property to trustees who would hold it during the owner’s lifetime as per that person’s instructions.

If you are lucky and find your ancestor has left a will you will see just how useful it is to the family historian.

Send to Kindle

Researching family in Jersey, part 7: Property Records and PRIDE

A Jersey Property Deed by Nick Thorne

A Jersey Property Deed

Establishing who owns land or a house on it is important, and pretty well every country has a land registry. Jersey’s is small but perfectly formed because every property transaction goes before one single body, the Royal Court. Apart from a small number of mid-17th century transactions, records are complete back to 1602. The first 150 years of records are on paper, but everything subsequent to about 1800 has been scanned and indexed into a computer system called PRIDE. There are two terminals at the Archive. One is upstairs in the reading room, the other is downstairs in reception – which is exceedingly useful as it can be used between 1pm and 2pm when the reading room is shut. You will need a member of staff to log you on.

PRIDE has a very simple search interface, and for most purposes you need a name to investigate, but it can be a hugely useful tool. Not only do you find sales of property, but after 1841 you will also find wills and details of partages – arrangements which exist to deal with the complexities of Jersey’s Norman-based system of inheritance.

You will also find details of rentes. Rentes are a little like a mortgage – you agree to long-term instalment payments in return for a capital sum – but unlike modern mortgages they are theoretically perpetual, and they can be inherited or traded between individuals, although there are very few left today. Also on PRIDE you will find details of procurations – in other words, appointments of attorneys to act on behalf of an individual – for more recent times.

If you start in modern times – after about 1980 – you can search properties. Any sale contract has to include a recital of title – in other words, who the seller acquired the property from and when. If you are fortunate it is then possible to work back up the chain…

Even if you don’t understand all of the legal niceties, PRIDE can still be hugely informative. A search for Philippe Du Feu threw up a document dated 1826. It didn’t actually concern Philippe so much as his wife Elizabeth Amy: the Amy family had created what we call a partage des heritages to ensure that the five daughters were provided with money for homes by their brother who had inherited the estate. In doing so the document gives us the names of all of Elizabeth Amy’s siblings, the names of their husbands (if they were married at that point), her parents, her brother’s grandparents and several aunts and cousins. None of that detail is on the Du Feu family tree. And study of the contract itself could give a great deal more information to the family historian – how generous the settlement was (or wasn’t) could indicate the social standing of the family.

Next time we’ll be looking at military records. Until then – À bétôt!

Guest blog by James McLaren from the Channel Islands Family History Society

Send to Kindle

Bankrupt Ancestors in Your Family Tree!

We all know that in today’s new economy people are getting themselves into debt. Worse still, for some, is the prospect of going bankrupt. It may seem that bankruptcy is a modern phenomena, well it isn’t. Getting into debt was also a common problem for our ancestors as well. As we all love a skeleton in the cupboard, just how can we find out if one of our family has had the problem to face back  in the Britain of the past? It would seem that we may be able to find out more online.

In my research into my family tree I remember chancing on some family notes that, on face value, seemed to identify one of my ancestors as having been a partner in a business enterprise that had failed. To start with I had had no inkling that my forebear, in question, had even been a merchant, so to learn that his enterprise had eventually hit the rocks was an interesting nugget of information in itself. As a bookseller, myself, and having read the Charles Dickins novel called Little Dorrit, which you will no doubt know is set in within a debtor’s prison, I wanted to find out if my own ancestor had faced being declared bankrupt.

In England, Bankruptcy goes all the way back to a statute of Henry VIII in 1542. The 1571 Bankruptcy Act brought about the idea that a bankrupt person would be able to settle their debts, by distributing what remaining assets they had, through independent commissioners. Up until 1705  the unfortunate debtor could never be discharged from bankruptcy and so the stigma would remain with them for ever!

Legally, Bankruptcy is a process in which a court official assumes charge of a qualifying debtor’s property so that a distribution can be made to the creditors of the debtor in a proportion to the sum that they are owed.

Only in the year 1869 was it that individuals who were not undertaking a business  of some sorts were able to become bankrupt. Before this date, ordinary people were known as being insolvent instead. These souls faced being sent to debtor’s prison and were not released until they had found a way to pay off their creditors. Bankruptcy, as such, applied strictly to people who were traders, that is those who bought and sold goods, or who worked some materials into things that they then sold.

District bankruptcy courts were first established outside of London from 1842. Then their jurisdiction passed on in 1869 to the County Courts. In the capital city the London Court of Bankruptcy was set up in 1869, before being absorbed into the High Court of Justice in 1883. Should you wish to find details of what’s available for you to search then I recommend taking a look at Access to Archives at http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/a2a/

Independent assessors, known as Commissioners, would determine if a debtor was eligible for bankruptcy or not. If they were satisfied that bankruptcy could take place, then they would publish a notice in the London Gazette declaring the debtor bankrupt. Also posted would be a list of potential creditors along with the dates set for meetings. The London Gazette’s archives are easily searched today on-line at www.london-gazette.co.uk. This is a fantastic resource  for any family historian hot on the trail of a bankruptcy. You are able to search the archives by date and name, then view a pdf image of the pages that your results have found. The London Gazette has been published since 1665 with a regular publication of bankruptcies stretching back to 1684 and also 1712 for insolvent debtors. Scottish notices can be found in the Edinburgh Gazette at : www.edinburgh-gazzette.co.uk

Family historians can locate case files for English bankruptcies at The National Archives in Kew, while Scottish sequestrations are to be found at The National Archives of Scotland. Unfortunately, for us, the majority of case files for England have not survived, but those that have are indexed on TNA’s online catalogue.

Other resources to consider are journals that published similar notices to the gazettes. These will include The Times; The Gentleman’s Magazine; Perry’s Bankrupt & Insolvent Gazette (1828-1861) and Perry’s Bankrupt Weekly Gazette (1862-1881). If you are looking for notices of bankruptcies in the County Court, then you will probably need to turn to local newspapers for the area in question. The British Library would be the place to look for these. Now we are also able to search contents of newspapers at http://newspapers.bl.uk/blcs.

Insolvent ancestors can be an interesting topic of research. Remember, however, that their hardship carried much more stigma than it does today. In modern times we can go into debt, declare ourselves bankrupt, or wipe out a huge chunk of our debt with the alternative Individual Voluntary Arrangement IVA. And yet none of us lives in the fear of being incarcerated in the debtor’s prison in the 21st century.

Send to Kindle