The Wills of Our Ancestors (Paperback)

A Guide for Family & Local Historians

Family History

By Stuart A. Raymond
Imprint: Pen & Sword Family History
Pages: 200
ISBN: 9781848847859
Published: 12th November 2012
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What are wills, and how can they be used for family and local history research? How can you interpret them and get as much insight from them as possible? They are key documents for exploring the lives of our ancestors, their circumstances, and the world they knew. This practical handbook is the essential guide to understanding them.

Wills expert Stuart Raymond traces the history and purpose of probate records and guides readers through the many pitfalls and possibilities these fascinating documents present. He describes the process of probate, gives a detailed account of the content of the various different types of record, and advises readers on how they can be used to throw light into the past. They offer factual evidence that no genealogist or local historian can afford to ignore.

In a series of concise, fact-filled chapters he explains how wills came into being, who made them and how they were made, how the probate system operates, how wills and inventories can be found, and how much can be learned from them. In addition to covering probate records in England and Wales, he includes the Channel Islands, Ireland, the Isle of Man and Scotland.

This introduction is aimed primarily at family historians who are interested in the wills of particular individuals – who are seeking proof of descent – and local historians who are interested in the wealth of local historical information that can be gathered from them.

Featuring chapters and heading with straightforward names such as “What can I find in a will?”, Stuart Raymond’s latest book proves to be both easy to navigate and comprehensive.
Whether it is information about how to trace wills after the probate restructuring of 1858 or how to extend your search beyond England and Wales, the author’s wealth of knowledge in the field certainly shines through, and his mention of the pitfalls and limitations of the sources clearly derives from his personal experiences. What I found most enjoyable about this book is Raymond’s emphasis on just how much can be provided by these documents – particularly the finer details contained within wills from the Tudor and Stuart periods. Information about locating the documents is especially well researched, and addresses for relevant web pages are included with some handy illustrations and guidance for using them.
If you have not yet ventured to investigate these fascinating records, this could be your gateway into a world of discovery.

Who Do You Think You Are Magazine, Christmas 2012

This is a review of sorts - the problem being that the book I'm featuring is one that I haven't finished yet! However, I am so impressed with what I've trawled through already that I want to make sure you're able to get it before Christmas!


I recently received a copy of Stuart A. Raymond's new book The Wills of Our Ancestors: A Guide for Family and Local Historians, published by Pen and Sword. Often books written down south on apparently universal record types that cover the UK will be primarily about England and Wales, and have a token 2 pages on Scotland and/or Ireland as if somehow they're just an appendix to the main event, instead of a subject that can be as equally complex and detailed as the other two countries of the UK. This book unashamedly states on the first page that it does deal primarily with England and Wales, and doesn't claim otherwise. No problem, that's great - so why am I so excited by it, as an Ulsterman living and working in Scotland, and primarily within Scottish genealogy?

Even when something is about England and Wales, territories in which I only occasionally do client work in, I always like to find something to latch onto in a book that I can relate to before looking at the stuff I don't usually deal with. So the first thing I did was to go through to the Scottish part, on page 96, to see how well covered the situation was here. It's only four pages, but it's really well written. For such a short section it packs in a hell of a lot, and doesn't just say 'go to ScotlandsPeople'! Good start - at this point it's a book about England and Wales, but it has a decent Scottish section (and Ireland, the Channel Islands and Man are equally give the punchy treatment). So then I went to the start of the book - and that's when it really took off...

Stuart's introduction within the first few pages does something you don't often find when people deal with Britain - it provides an understanding of how the legal systems in both Scotland and England used to deal with probate before the respective Reformations in both countries, and before they went down different routes from the 16th century onwards (1540 down south, 1560s here in Scotland). He starts off with a brief description of how wills originated in feudal England - and by doing so he's allowed me to understand how similar the systems for probate once were north and south of the border. It makes perfect sense, with the two countries using the Roman Catholic ecclesiastical courts for some of the process, and the respective Crowns in both countries to retain controls over the inheritance of land under the feudal system. It's actually quite a short introduction, but it basically allowed me as someone more clued up on the Scottish system to twig how the English system evolved.

From this point on it's fairly much about England and Wales all the way, and well written with topics such as the physical process of English probate, the location of records and more. It's incredibly accessible, even for a Johnny Foreigner like me - for example, on page 17 he mentions how a customary law prevailed to 1692 in the Province of York only, which denied testators an unrestricted right to dispose of moveable heritage. They had to give a third of their estate to their widow, a third to the children and then dispose of the final third themselves - exactly the same as the Scottish system (the jus relicate, the legitim and the deid's part). So I'm reading a book about a system I don't normally deal with, and completely on the right wavelength, because he's taken the care to bring me along as an 'outsider' - brilliant.

The book is structured to be two thirds background and context etc, with some useful case studies quoted along the way, and then the final third with some useful appendices, including a handy summary of pre-1858 probate courts for England and Wales, a Latin glossary, and other useful resources. If you're looking for a comprehensive guide on the subject, this is it - and if you're overseas, north of the border or just over the water, it makes the subject easily accessible.

I'm about a third of the way through it so far - and on what I've read so far, I would thoroughly recommend asking for it for your Christmas stocking!

Chris Paton, British Genes Blog

Equally excellent is sometime FT contributor Stuart Raymond’s fact-packed guide to wills and other probate records. Learn about the history and purpose of wills, how to locate your ancestors’ wills, how to understand them and what they can tell you about the lives of past individuals. Using case studies, England, Wiles, Scotland, Ireland, The Channel Islands and the Isle of Man are covered clearly and succinctly, and there’s also a handy chapter on lesser-known collections, from Navy Office wills to those of the British in India.

Family Tree, January 2013

The writing is clear and concise, with many examples of wills from many different parts of England and Wales.
This one is of the high standard we have come to expect from his hand. He has concentrated on England and Wales but offers information for those searching the in the UK at large, including the Channel Islands.
He has a wealth of knowledge. This he uses to good effect. Ample illustrations are supplied, which are both relevant and informative. Below the picture he gives a translation of any Latin used.
I found I was able to enjoy reading it while I learnt a lot about Probates, Inventories, Prerogative Court Archives etc, and how and why they changed over the years.
All through the book there are a number of websites, some are pay to view and some free. I tried several and found some useful information.
There is am impressive list of further reading, a comprehensive Appendix of where wills are likely to b held, a Latin Glossary, an appendix of terms used in probate record and another of legislation affecting Probate.
This book is a good read and is also a good reference book for Family Historians as well as Local Historians.

Federation of Family History Societies, Ann Gynes

In a series of concise, fact-filled chapters he explains how wills came into being, who made them and how they were made, how the probate system operated, how wills and inventories can be found, and how much can be learned from them. In addition to covering probate records in England and Wales, he includes the Channel Islands, Ireland, the Isle of Man and Scotland.

Kent FHS Journal

The author explains how wills were made and who made them, how the probate system operated and how wills and inventories can be found. In addition to recovering probate records in England and Wales, he includes Ireland, Scotland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.

West Surrey FHS Journal

Wills have received increasing attention in recent years as a resource for family historians, aided by online date such as the National Wills Index and Ancestry’s digitisation of the National Probate Calendar. However, there are few books devoted to the subject, making Stuart Raymond’s title a useful in-depth guide to add to the reference shelf.
In this book Raymond considers who make wills and why, and their history spanning back to medieval times. He also describes the process of granting probate in detail, and the any different types of information that wills and probate records can offer family historians.
This must be on of the most comprehensive discussions of the subject, covering everything from bank of England will extracts to probate litigation records, along with useful appendices on Latin and English terms researchers may come across.
Read it for an expert guide to every aspect of wills and probate.

Your Family Tree, April 2013

The book contains everything you will need to know about wills and inheritance records and although it does concentrate on the English system (radically different from the Scottish one) there are references to Scotland, Ireland, the Isle of Man and also mention of the wills in the British Library's Oriental and India office.
As well as an extensive list of pre 1858 Probate Courts in England and Wales, which help the researcher to identify where wills may have been proved, there is a very useful appendix of legal terms and Latin phrases used in testaments.

Journal of Glasgow and West Scotland Family History Society

A well written comprehensive guide to wills that no family historian, beginner or more experienced, should be without.

Essex Family Historian

About Stuart A. Raymond

Stuart Raymond is a genealogical bibliographer, publisher and bookseller, an experienced family historian, and an expert on the history of wills and other probate records. He is also a prolific author of genealogical handbooks, web directories and library guides.

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This fully revised second edition of Ian Maxwell's Tracing Your Scottish Ancestors is a lively and accessible introduction to Scotland's long, complex and fascinating story. It is aimed primarily at family historians who are eager to explore and understand the world in which their ancestors lived. He guides readers through the wealth of material available to researchers in Scotland and abroad. He looks at every aspect of Scottish history and at all the relevant resources. As well as covering records held at the National Archives of Scotland, he examines closely the information held at local archives…

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