I’ve noticed, as I’m sure everyone else has, that the further back we take our family trees, the less and less information there is to allow us to do so. Sometimes there is little more than parish records and most of those are simple one liners, often just mentioning the name of a child’s father in a baptism or the names of the spouses in a wedding. If you’re looking for a well used surname sometimes it’s a case of using educated guesses and then looking for something more solid.
Probate records fall into that solid category, if you can find them. Thankfully, via Find My Past, you can order any you find from the York Borthwick archives, for a fee of course. The process is a slow one though. You find the index on Find My Past, then follow the link to the Borthwick website, where you fill in a form requesting a quote. In my case I asked for the full documentation, but you can just go for the registered will. I’m presuming that you need to ask for a quote first because they probably don’t know just what condition the documents are in without looking at them. Either way, they took about a week to get back to me and charged £13.50 for the first one I ordered. It took another week or so to be emailed to me, but was worth the wait.
I’ve never really looked into probates before. I’ve looked at wills in Beverley Treasure House, and they have helped, but they are few and far between.
The one I ordered from Borthwick was the will and probate, along with an inventory of assets (if it existed), basically the whole load of probate documents, of one John Noble of North Dalton, yeoman, and my 8th great grandfather, dated 1740.
I had already, as you do, been through North Dalton parish records and found what I thought was all of John’s children, their baptisms and some deaths. I found a marriage licence for him too and pieced together that he was born c1697 (still haven’t found that elusive baptism for him) and married Margaret Callis in 1722. They went on to have Elizabeth, William, James (my 7th great grandfather) and Henry between 1722 and 1732, when Margaret died. John himself died in 1739 and there my research stopped until I received the relevant email from Borthwick.
I must say that I wasn’t expecting much, perhaps a single page of mostly legalese (or weasel words as I prefer to call it). It was possible that I’d just wasted £13.50 on something irrelevant or something that would prove all my research to be utter rubbish.
I was quite surprised when I opened that email. It had attached a seven page PDF document that was a full colour, high quality scan of the will and a full inventory of John Noble’s assets which included amongst other things his purse and apparel, a brass kettle, various pots and pans, the contents of his house, beds etc, a copper and a brown vessel, three cows, a plough and harrow, one pig, some hay and corn and what I think is the chickens in the yard. It all added up to £65 6s 6d which, according to the National Archives Currency Converter, is about £7722.55 nowadays and equivalent to a couple of years wages for a skilled tradesman, nine or so horses or thirteen cows, give or take a leg. Presumably there was a horse to go with the plough somewhere but a few of the lines are difficult to read and some use words that don’t come up in any of my books or even the all knowing (yeah, you did detect just a little sarcasm there) Google. I may ask someone at the archives to have a look at it at some point and teach me some new old words.
It wasn’t a massive sum really but it was all left to my 7th great grandfather James, to be administered by his step mother Grace until he reached his majority (her having received enough to keep her maintained for the foreseeable future, along with small amounts to the rest of John’s children). At this point I was wondering if I had the right probate at all as William, the eldest, as far as I thought, should have inherited, and I’d never heard of Grace. Further, a younger daughter, Mary, was mentioned too. So it was back to the parish records, which finally linked it all together, now that I knew what to look for.
William had died in infancy, in 1727, a fact that I had missed altogether. In fairness to myself the parish records are a bit patchy in places and I needed to go look at the originals. Grace Welburn was from Seaton and was John’s second wife, who he married in 1736. They had Mary in 1738.
So it turned out that I was right all along, though with bits missing, and that my £13.50 wasn’t wasted after all.
It just goes to prove that old saying, where there’s a will there’s a way and that with probates I have now a new tool in my research box which I can definitely see myself using again. In fact I already have plunged in again and I am now waiting on the 1730 last will and testament of Robert Otley of Lund.
* I’ve not put images of the probate document as I’m not sure of the copyright.