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. Wills and How to Read Them

    Places are available on the day course “Wills and How to Read them”, run by our sister organisation the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies. The course will show you how wills can help you research your family, how to find them and their associated documents and practical advice on how to interpret the handwriting. It is taking place on Saturday 26th November. Click for more details 

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  3. 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.


    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!

  4. Weekend course in genealogy

    Interested in finding out more on fleshing our your family tree?  Not sure where to start?  Then the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies Beginners to Intermediate weekend course on genealogy might be for you.  It will cover topics including parish registers, parish record, wills and paleography.

    Taking place at our headquarters in historic Canterbury, this course is running from Friday 8th-Sunday 10th July.  To find out more, including booking information and accommodation provided, click here.

  5. Dates of birth in wills

    Probate records can be an excellent source of information for family historians, sometimes providing information over several generations.  They can confirm family relationships over a large distance, from different counties or even countries, and provide the proofs required that a particular family is the correct one being traced.

    However, they do not normally provide exact dates of birth, either of the testator or any beneficiaries mentioned.  Children and young adults were usually described as simply being under the age of twenty one, and sometimes in age order, such as “my eldest son”, “my second son” etc.

    But one will examined recently by our research team was unusual in that the testator, William Innes, included exact details which he wished to include on a memorial table to be put up in his memory, and that of his wife.  Perhaps he did not trust his executors to get the details right, and he included his date and place of birth, as well as marriage, within the will itself.


    William Innes’ date of birth is given at the beginning of the fourth line, and his marriage date in the middle of the fifth line.

    It just goes to show that whilst generalities can be made within genealogy, you never know what the next document will show!



December 2018
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