Friday, November 21, 2014


I have taught classes, and written about, using Last Will and Testaments for genealogy purposes. I think a common belief we share is that our 'Will' is private and will only ever been seen by the people mentioned in it. Right? Ha!! WRONG!!

As long as a 'Will' has been probated it becomes available to anyone who knows how to search for it. In most cases it will cost you a very small amount [like under 10 bucks].

So now why would you ever want to spend money searching for an ancestors 'Will'? And who left a 'Will'? Probably only the rich, right? WRONG!!

I have numerous 'Wills' of ancestors ... from Scotland, England, USA, and Canada ... mostly from the 1800s. I'm sure there are others I could get, from other countries, and other timeframes. But WHY do I want them?

Think about why WE write a 'Will'. To ensure our possessions are left to those we want to inherit. We are no different than our ancestors who had the same desires. Property was, and may still be, the biggest of our assets. Then there are numerous other 'things', least of which will be our genealogy research. Have you thought about who will inherit all your work? And have you made note of that in your 'Will'?

One of the things we all have in common is the multiple times same names are used over and over from generation to generation. So if your ancestral families had numerous kids, and all those kids named *their* kids the same names [to honour their parents/grandparents etc], they would need to be very specific about which kid got what [ie. who were their parents?]. To do that they almost always named every one of their children in a 'Will' - often in birth order. For the female children the name of the husband would be included, often with the couples current address and even with his occupation, and of course his surname! Now isn't *that* an awesome way of finding our invisible and lost females ancestors?

If you're like me, pretty much all my families were from modest means. They were labourers, coal miners, small farmers, weavers, grocers etc. Following them through records has shown they obviously had very little cash so what was there to leave? Well let me tell you my friends.

My 3X great grandfather, Johnston McNIECE, had 13 children and never owned a full quarter section of land. And guess what? He left a SIXTY-SEVEN page 'Will'!!!!!!! He named every child, every marriage, AND every location they lived in at the time he wrote his 'Will'. He also included some details about his wife - one Martha JONES babt 1826 in New York USA. Looking for a Jones b. NY in the early 1800s is like searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack. But that's a story for another day. Haha. Johnston made sure to mention any 'assistance' a child had already been given. He also listed alllllll his assets - the good wagon, the wagon, the good harness, the harness, etc. etc. - and to whom each was to go to. It was a gold mine of information and cost me less than 4 bucks.

I have another one from a 3X great grandmother from Scotland. She also listed all her children, whom they married, where they lived etc. What was totally startling was that she named the father of one of her grandsons. Not too exciting? Well, that child was illegitimate. AND the son of my 2X great grandmother. AND my great grandfather! In no other record is that available. I can say that with surety as I've searched them all from birth to death.

I could continue, but hopefully you've gotten the idea by now. But where and how do you find 'Wills'? Ah ha! That will be one part of an upcoming course I'm working on that will be ready for Fall 2015. AND it will be an online course, so no matter where you live, you can register and participate at your leisure. More about this later. In the meantime, remember the importance of 'Wills'.

To get your started, for those with British Isles roots, have a look here

Happy Searching!

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