What most of us think of as a "Will" is technically a "Testament". It is a statement of how you want your wordly assets distributed upon your death. A "Will," in a strict technical sense, is a statement of how you want things to carry on after your death. For example, splitting your worldly goods and giving 50% to each of your two children would be a Testament. Setting aside a million pounds in gold and giving them a check for some fraction every year for the next 20 years would be a Will.
But, since the two types of document are often combined, the item has come to be called a "Last Will and Testament", or simply "Will". Both kinds of documents go through Probate, where they are verified ("proved") and administered. The Executor has to report to the Probate Court that he has carried out the instructions in the Testament and Will.
There is a National (England & Wales) index for wills after 1858 (see below). The Derbyshire Archives has this index on microfiche up to 1928. That's not much help to you who are out of the county, but it does mean that LDS Libraries (Family History Centres) should have copies.
Wills are an excellent resource for Family Historians, as they often contain details of both property and family. The best place to look for information on wills is in the Derbyshire Archives.
It was rare for a wife to make a will prior to the Married Womens' Property act of 1882. Until then, they and their possessions were treated as the possessions of the husband. A wife could only make a valid will with his consent. Wills made by widows and unmarried women are fairly common. A female could make a will from the age of 12 (Statute of Wills 1540) until 1837 when the age was raised to 21 by the Wills Act (and from 14 to 21 for males). [Christopher Kirman]
There is a National Probate Calendar (covering the years 1858 - 1943) which is available in some Record Offices, but is also held at the National Archives in Kew and at the Family Record Centre. The Society of Genealogists has microfilm copies which go up to around 1952. To find out where copies are held in Record Offices, see: Genuki Probate.
Anne Cole adds: "The wills are in very large books in no sort of order (at) the Archives. You need the information from the index that gives you the actual date of probate plus other information."
- All post-1858 wills are held at the National Probate Registry and you can order a copy from there. The cost is £5.00 (in 2007) for a search plus the will. Her Majesty's Courts Service.
- And Ancestry now has England & Wales, Prerogative Court of Canterbury Wills, 1384-1858 (some 1,012,964 records).
- Don't forget to search the National Archives Office for wills.
- Indexes to Wills from 1320 to 1700 were published by the British Record Society in their Index Library series.
Provided by Craig Pickup:
Under the feudal system real property was not bequeathable but had to be retained whole and descended by Common Law intact to a man's heir. Only leaseholds could be bequeathed. The church later made all other types of property bequeathable. The document describing the owner's wishes on what happened to this property was originally called a Testament.
During the 15th century the law restricting the devising of land was got around by conveying real estate, during the individual's life, to trustees know as the 'feofees to uses' ('to hold to the use of the owner's will'), and the document instructing the trustees was known as his Will.
In 1535-6 this device was made illegal by the Statute of Uses. In 1540 the Statue of Wills allowed certain types of reality to be devised, subject to certain restrictions. This allowed the two documents to be combined under the title Last Will and Testament, now simply called "the Will".
(The above is an abstract of the entry for Wills in "The Dictionary of Genealogy." by Terrick V. H. FitzHugh)
Coroners Reports were completed whenever an unidentitifed bocy was found or there was some suspicion of foul play. These are often listed in local newspapers.
Other resources include:
- There are a number of links at GENUKI Probate Records for all England to assist your search.
- If they died overseas, all the records may be filed there.
- Rosemary LOCKIE has a collection of pages listing abstracts of Derbyshire Probate Records. Many thanks to all the kind people who have contributed their ancestors' Wills to this project!
- Leslie MAHLER has abstracts of Wills from the Commissary Court of London 1629-1634 which contain a few entries for Derbyshire.
- See also Derbyshire Probate Records Online for an overview, and links to online collections elsewhere.
- See the list of GREEN wills filed at Litchfield (These are all people with the surname GREEN).
Many of these definitions were contributed by Susanne in Australia and Anne COLE of Lincolnshire.
- ABSTRACT of TITLE - This would be a separate sheet drawn up by a solicitor listing the trasactions that have affected the property. The title had to be proved every time the property was sold.
- APPURTENANCES - These are the minor property rights or privileges, subsidiary or incidental to a more important one - usually used in the plural.
- BEASE - This refers to farm animals ("Beasts").
- BOOCES - A Boose or a Bowse is a cattle stall in Lincs and Yorks.
- CRUSE - Small glass bottle holding vinegar or oil, which could be poured out slowly through a narrow pipe on the side (or) Small earthenware jar or pot, usually for drinking. These were valuable personal property.
- ENDORSEMENT - Deeds were usually folded into squares of about 9" and on the dorse (back) the names of the parties, the property involved and the dates were written. The practice increased in the 19th century so a later endorsement might appear on a 17th or 18th century deed. Heirs to the property had to be traced before a sale could be made, so other documents such as baptism and marriage certificates, will and admons might be found in the bundles.
- HEREDITAMENTS - This is the property that can be inherited. It is real property, one's inheritance.
- MAUNGER - A manger.
- MESSUAGE - Derived from the word menage. It originally meant a portion of land occupied as a site for a dwelling house and its appurtenances. It later came to mean a dwelling house with outbuildings and adjacent land assigned to its use.
- PLAT - A plot of land.
- QUITS or QUYTS - A heifer of any age up to three years, or until she has had a calf.
- RACKES - Racks.
- TENEMENTS - This the land or buildings held from a superior by any kind of tenure; a holding, specifically in the plural, property held by freehold.
- TOFTS and CROFTS - A croft was a small piece of arable land adjoining a dwelling or small farm, while a toft was a homestead or a hillock.
Also see: "Words from Wills and other probate records" by Stuart A. RAYMOND.