Until the Married Women's' Property Act of 1882, the property of a single woman passed automatically into her husband's hands when she got married. To protect their property and, perhaps, to secure some independence, women often transferred their property to Trustees, who would then legally own it, but use it to the benefit of the wife (and her children) rather than her husband. These legal documents are normally refered to as "Marriage Settlements."
Denny Lowe of Canada adds this note for researchers: Colin R Chapman, in "Marriage Laws, Rites, Records & Customs" states (on page 65) 'Marriage settlements in England, Wales and Scotland were personal documents and so, only by chance, are likely to have found their way into county or similar record offices.'.
Adrian Hedgecoy advises:
"Marriage Settlements are still being created today, usually by wealthy families to ensure that specific assets, such as land and buildings are retained within the ownership of family. Other assets, such as furniture, ornaments, jewellery, crops and debts could also be covered. Such agreements would be drawn up by family solicitors, or for the mega-rich financial advisors and their lawyers. Settlements would also be created as and when a couple had additions to the family. Settlements were once considered to be a very tax efficient method of transferring a families wealth. A pre-nuptial agreement could be said to be a marriage settlement. It is now recommended that all today's couples sign such an agreement when they marry. It helps sort out the mess and anquish after the purple haze has disappeared!
Ann Widdowson found this Marriage Settlement in the Lincolnshire Archives using the "Persons Index":
Mary FISH expects a Bond from Charles CAULTON to leave her half his fortune in case she survives him and remains his widow... to his children if he leaves any but in case... if the said Charles CAULTON should survive her viz Mary FISH and have children by a second, third or fourth wife that still the children that she has shall be esteemed his eldest ......or portions to be more than ye younger children bourn of his other wives.... Or those other wives bring a better fortune than Mrs Mary FISH.
Included was a pre marital Inventory of Charles CAULTON and valuation of his wealth and a declaration that he had no debts. (Note the `Mrs` is short for mistress. She was the sister of Thomas FISH of Little Bytham, Clerk.)
- From 1668 until 1857, divorce could only be granted by an Act of Parliament. Records of Divorce Bills are in the House of Lords Record Office, indexed in Part XIII of "The Index to Local and Personal Acts".
- Records of later divorces are kept at the Divorce Registry of the Family Division of the High Court. Postal applications (circa 1991) could be made at: Divorce Registry, Somerset House, Strand, London WC2R 1LP.
- Petitions for Divorce (100 years old, or older) can be found at the Public Record Office, among the Supreme Court of Judicature in class J -77. See PRO information booklet No. 127.
The role of a Coroner was to be informed of all sudden deaths and cases where the deceased had not been seen by a doctor within two weeks of death. A Coroner's Inquest is the investigation into a death. The law requires such an inquest under various circumstances and the circumstances have changed over time. The Coroner's Report is the result or findings of the investigation. There was a post-mortem exam (not necessarily an autopsy as we think of it) and if it was clearly natural causes (e.g heart attack with history of heart condition) he would issue a death certificate, but in all other cases he would hold an inquest (with or without a jury). In many cases the police would be involved at the outset, but the Coroner could order a police investigation himself. The inquest would record one of the following verdicts: natural causes: accidental death: misadventure: death caused by person or persons unknown. Often the names of witnesses and some family members are included. If you are lucky, the relationships will also be spelled out in the report. You will often hear the term "Inquest" used to mean the actual report, rather than the process. Accidents were a very common occurrence in the days of our ancestors. There should be a record of the inquest at the Archives, but many were not saved as it was not required under the law until 1752. Some Coroners' findings were luridly reported in the local newspapers.
Until 1926 all inquests were held before a jury. The main surviving record is usually the individual inquest or inquisition, giving the verdict, name, date, time, cause and place of death with the signatures of the jurors. In most cases the supporting evidence doesn't survive. From 1752 to 1860, coroners were required to file their inquests at the Quarter Sessions, and so they are generally preserved among the records of Quarter Sessions, mainly at local record offices. There is a 75-year privacy rule limiting access to direct relatives and certain public officials.
The Lincolnshire Family History Society (LFHS) has indexes to Coroner's Reports published on microfiche for the years 1753 to 1836 from various sources. To purchase these indexes, go to our Societies Pop-up page, and click on the Family History Bookstore icon.
Anne Cole reports the following (paraphrased): The LFHS is working on transcribing summaries of actual reports. Brief details of inquests for an area roughly covering the Caistor Registration District as it was up to 1891 for the years 1837 to 1866 are transcribed, but not yet completely checked. The same for Lindsey (from the Quarter Sessions) from 1836 to 1846, which are also transcribed and mostly checked. Please note that from 1839 these only say who, when and where. The newspapers are being searched for additional information. Details from Inquest Reports for the Spalding area that include witnesses' papers etc. (found behind a blocked up fireplace in a Solicitor's office) for the years 1809 to the 1870s are currently being transcribed but none are yet checked. All these will eventually have relevant newspaper reports added to them; all will eventually be published; some will appear on the Pay Per View site before they are published in microfiche format.
There are also Inquest Reports similar to those for the Spalding area mentioned above for the Stamford/Rutland area (these were found in a skip! [trash bin for Americans]). They don't go as far as the 1930s. These are at Lincolnshire Archives, but so far nothing has been done with them. I believe they are available to researchers at Lincoln, but may be wrong.
Many of the inquests took place in Inns and public houses and the names of these have also been indexed on the fiche. The publican or innkeeper's name will often be found in the relevant inquest.
Other than these the newspapers are your only source. The Stamford Mercury is on microfilm and should therefore be available through a Mormon Library. The Lincolnshire Chronicle is also on microfiche. There were other local papers around by 1937. These will not be available at Lincoln, but Stamford Library may have them.
Specific resources include:
- The Death Certificate will normally state if a Coroner's Inquest was held. Get this first. Don't assume there is a report just because the circumstances seem odd. See our Civil Registration page for information on content, cost, how and where to order a certificate.
- The FFHS bookshop has a book about Coroners' Records. In the information about the book it states that there are restriction on access for records less than 75 years old, but it also states that some records have been destroyed after 15 years.
- See our Newspapers page to see which newspapers might be available in the area you are searching. There are also obituary services listed on that page.
- Inquests from the Stamford Mercury 1789-1812, selected and 1813-1819 complete are included on the LFHS microfiche "Lincolnshire Inquests Vol. 1" available on www.genfair.com.
- Here is a sample of a newspaper report on a coroner's inquest.
The Coroner is one of the oldest offices under the Crown and he/she is also responsible for deciding the ownership of any treasure. (Thank you, Peter Barnes)
Please see our Wills and Probate Records page.
This section awaits the loving attention of the webmaster.