News and Blog

The latest news and information from the Achievements team.

  1. Oral Wills

    It was perfectly valid for a will to be made orally until 1837, when the right was restricted to soldiers on active service or sailors away at sea. Indeed it has been estimated that around a third of wills were oral or nuncupative as they are known. So these wills are invaluable for family history research.

    Many wills were spoken verbally because they were made on the deathbed of the testator. The Statute of Frauds of 1678 specified that they had to be made in the testator’s own home in their last illness. Three witnesses were also required to be present who had to write down the words within six days and after fourteen days, present the will at a probate court. Genealogist can find these wills in local archives

    Many of those in their final days would have been incapable of handwriting their will (holographic) or organising a lawyer to write out a will on their behalf for them to sign. Many could not read and write and women, particularly widows, made a high proportion of nuncupative wills.

    Not surprisingly, many of these wills were the subject of dispute in the ecclesiastical courts. Relatives who received nothing would argue that the will was not valid, for if an administration was ordered, they could receive part of the estate. Records of these disputes often contain information that is of genealogical value. and give us a clue to the the thoughts and feelings of our ancestors

  2. Who Do You Think You Are? Clare Balding

    Clare Balding Sports presenter and broadcaster investigates a family rumour.  Her maternal great-grandfather Sir Malcolm Bullock was said to have been involved in a family scandal and the ‘thing that has been sort of whispered in the family – could he have been gay?’ Getting to the truth of the matter is a challenge when all the evidence comes from a time when homosexuality was illegal.

    Her father’s family tree takes her to New Jersey and New York, where she uncovers an extraordinary dynasty and American roots stretching back generations.

  3. More unusual occupational terms

    Finding out the meaning of an ancestors occupation can give you an insight into how they lived and lead to other sources for your genealogical research. Many occupations simply no longer exists. For example, a Higgler was an itinerant trader who bought and sold goods such as butter, cheese, poultry eggs and fish. Higglers and other travelling salesmen, such as peddlers and badgers (those who sold corn and grain), needed a licence. Licences were issued by the Justices of the Peace at the Quarter Sessions and the surviving records are held in local archives. Searching these records can add detail to your family tree and enhance your understanding of your ancestry.

  4. Old Occupational Terms

    As you study your family history you may come across terms that we no longer use. This is especially true of occupations where trades are no longer practised or the terms has fallen out of use. For instance a Fellmonger. This was a dealer in hides, most commonly sheep skins. They would also prepare the hides for tanning. The word comes from from the Old English ‘fell’ meaning skins and ‘monger’ meaning dealer. A good reference source for genealogists to find out the meaning of  archaic words and phrases is The Oxford English Dictionary.

  5. Who Do You Think You Are? Warwick Davies

    On BBC1 tomorrow [15th February] at 8pm the 8th episode of the series features the family History of Warwick Davies.  “Actor Warwick Davis owes his big break aged 11 to his paternal grandmother Edith, who heard a radio ad ‘looking for short people to appear in Return of the Jedi’. Warwick takes a non-judgemental approach as he researches the family line stretching back from Edith, finding humanity and humour in some uncomfortable stories. On his maternal side, Warwick is equally open-minded when he finds out about his three-times-great-grandfather – a postman who lived a double life”.

  6. Who Do You Think You Are? Ian McKellen

    The new series continued last night and, if you have not seen it, do catch the repeat or watch it on BBC I Player. Last night’s episode was one of the best in the series so far and Ian Mckellen was a charming guide leading us through the story of his family history. Maybe only he can make reading newspaper clippings, a favourite devise in the series,  so enjoyable. Sir Ian discovered that he shared a passion for acting and campaigning with two of his ancestors. Finding along the way that his ancestor Robert Lowes made a vital contribution to the campaign for a half day Saturday that started in Manchester and spread to the rest of  the country. And it is because of that campaign that many of us now enjoy weekends without work.

  7. Was your ancestor a star baker?

    Baking competitions have always been popular, especially as part of a village’s annual flower and produce show. Your ancestors may have been renowned for the quality of their bakes. Newspapers are a great source to find out if your family had a history of collecting prizes, as these examples show.

    Widow Stebbings was a formidable force at the Watton Annual Show “The competition for the best loaf of bread was keen….Widdow Stebbings again carried off first prize, her bread being all you could have wished for” [Norwich Mercury 23rd September 1899].

    Whereas at the Hendon Horticultural Society’s show in 1929 the vicar and his family had the competition all sewn up! [Hendon & Finchley Times 8th November 1929.

    b

  8. Family history day course “The Parish and the Manor”

    It is not too late to enroll on our sister organisation The Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies’ day course, “The Parish and the Manor”.  It is running this Saturday 1st October from 10.30 to 4.30, and is held at our headquarters in Canterbury.

    Topics which will be covered include parish records, being churchwardens records, vestry minutes and records of the poor, as well as those documents compiled by the manor and the manorial courts.  This course is a must for any family historian seeking to extend their knowledge of the subject, and find out what records are available and where they can be accessed.

    Further information, including how to book, can be found here.

  9. 32 family members named in a will . . . .

    Wills and other probate records can be invaluable to genealogists, particularly when family members from across a county, or even country, are named.  This can allow the family history trail to diverge in previously unknown directions, perhaps finding the marriages and burials of family members some distance from where the rest of the family lived.

    One of our researchers this week was completing research on a Ridley family of Surrey, when she came across a will in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury naming some thirty-two family members.  Elvy Ridley died in the 1840s, and clearly did not have any surviving children, and had outlived his wife.

    will-of-elvey-ridley

    However, he was keen to divide his estate fairly between his wider family, which was extremely useful from a genealogical point of view.  He recorded his family in an ordered fashion, dividing them into his nieces and nephews from his different siblings, including recording who was still living.  Married surnames were given for the women, as well as where each nephew and niece was then living.  Thus an extensive family tree could be drawn up, and then research could follow each niece and nephew to further extend the family tree.  Without the evidence from the will, further research would have been much more time consuming, and family relationships may have remained probable only.  A good find during this research!

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