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Can you trace your family tree using Wills? Neil Fraser, Partner at Fraser and Fraser explains:
When writing a Will, you will likely be doing so for the benefit of your family, making the decisions as to where your money, property and possessions go after your death. But have you ever thought about your family to come – your future descendants whose family tree branches won’t grow for some time yet? It could help them, too.
As information rich sources, Wills can be a handy tool when trying to discover your family tree, helping you to work both backwards and forwards in the search for ancestors and descendants. Often giving away far more information than a birth, death or marriage certificate, a Will can help push your research on leaps and bounds, speeding up the overall process.
Below are the six most useful tips and tricks often used in genealogical research:
Death certificates do not always state enough information to confirm you are looking at the correct person. Middle names can be missed altogether or initialised, making the search for your ancestors that much harder. A Will can provide the full name of the deceased and whereabouts before death to help confirm your research steps. You can also identify the correct people for your family tree.
The heirs to someone’s estate can help to speed up your research process immensely. Spouses and children are usually mentioned, as well as those married into the family such as the wife of the brother, as well as the brother himself and their children. This can help you to plot down new branches to your family tree much quicker than relying on certificates. It can also confirm previous research that may have been carried out.
A common stumbling block is discovering the married name of a woman – it can seem as though they disappear off the Census and become untraceable by their maiden name. Wills are a great source to finding the marriage, which can help move your research forward considerably.
Wills often include a flavour of your ancestor’s personality, as well as the many family relationships. Take the Will of one man discovered during Fraser and Fraser’s research for example; in his Will he explained he had a health condition which caused him to often ‘break wind’. His wife, however, was not particularly forgiving of this, and so as punishment, he almost excluded her from his Will, leaving her just 1p of his estate.
Older Wills often include much more information than we see nowadays, perhaps down to the fact that they had much larger families, or because they were often more concerned with passing on their life-long possessions. For instance, it is unlikely to see today someone specifically leaving ‘the entire contents of their living room’ to a family member.
It is quite common for a Will to state the deceased’s chosen funeral or burial arrangements, which can also give clues to their family history. For example, a request made to be buried next to their mother could lead you to a different city or county, or perhaps even another country, which could lead to further inquiries and discoveries.
Fraser and Fraser’s Will Search Service provides a thorough search for both registered and unregistered Wills in the UK. A number of methods are used to help us track down the correct Will.
To see how we can help you, get in touch today by emailing email@example.com or call us on 020 7832 1400.