Genealogical Passion

My genealogical passion for the past 15 years has been probate records, primarily because they are almost the only type of “first-person” or primary record to provide solid genealogical proof. They are the immediate “voices” of our ancestors directing how their property will be dealt with after their death. While probate documentation consists mainly of wills (or testaments) and administrations, the term can also include other forms of death and succession acknowledgment such as Inquisitions Post Mortem. However wills remain the best source of genealogical verification because they are “written” by the persons with the best possible information on ancestors and descendants. Of course, and especially in a time when literacy was the exception and not the rule, the will was usually not written by the testator (the person making the will) but rather was dictated to and written by someone in the parish who could read and write, often the parish priest. But if the original will has been preserved and is available (and this is a big “if”) the signatures or marks of the testator/ancestor and the witnesses are present and these provide a tangible sense of their once presence.

Most of the wills, and virtually all administrations, are commonly available in the “registered” version, the copy of the original will which was required to be filed and entered into the volumes retained by the religious, and later civil, authorities. While reading registered wills is generally easier than the originals because of the consistency of script and state of preservation, they are more likely to contain errors because of the process of copying. Whenever possible, consult and compare both the original and the registered copy to ensure accuracy.

This posting is the first, I hope, of a thread of discussions on wills and other types of probate documentation.

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