Wills and probate

This twitterchat for #ANZAncestryTime was based on wills and probate records. Some of the tweeters have written blog posts relating to the topic:

geralt / Pixabay

What interesting discovery have you made in a Will or Probate Record? How did this help your research?

Names, names, names! Confirmation of relationships, discovery of property details, so much detail in wills and probate records.

I found wills of certain ancestors very interesting, particularly my half 2xgreat uncle in the UK who provided the names of all his nieces and nephews. How easy it to obtain wills in New Zealand and Australia

Deb, in NZ the wills and probate are held at archives. Many are scanned and available via @FamilySearch. Check Archway first and there is a link to the documents in Archway. Fran

I have found a lot of good information in Wills or in Probate records. Best is usually the married names of the daughters. Sometimes some puzzling ones like why certain people are missing

I’ve had this too – sometimes it’s because those people have been helped financially in some way before death, so weren’t left anything. Or, were automatically left property due to inheritance rules, so didn’t need to be included

I learnt that one of my 2nd great grandfathers was probably not too happy with his son, my great grandfather, like many others weren’t. He had behaved badly over decades, and let many people down.

You want to find the true stories Karen but sometimes they can be disappointing

This is a great example of things we wouldn’t ordinarily know about an ancestor’s relationship. Wills are invaluable for research

Haven’t been fortunate enough to have an ancestor with one…

with a irish wills you can use Australia as a search term capturing people who lived in Oz or who left $ to family in Oz.

Very true Pauleen My g g grandfather’s Will in Ireland told me where his seven daughters had all emigrated to in the US and who they married. Very helpful

I have another will from an Irishman who married into the family. He left his farm to his daughter. Only I have idea where it is. It was nearly 100 years ago.

I have an Irish Will where my three times g grandfather left a bed to a granddaughter…. 🙂

In another Irish Will I discovered where an old mirror and hairbrush set my grandmother gave me came from and how old it was

A will confirmed what seemed obvious by the birth date – a son was really a grandson but was adopted by his grandparents

My paternal GF died young, predeceasing his mother, leaving my GM a widow with a 13 year old child in the 1940s. My paternal great GM died a few years later & only left money to her surviving adult children & nothing to my father. I can’t forgive that

My great grandmother was excluded because they had Brought up her illegitimate child…stated in will

I can’t understand it. Someone said to me not to judge the past by present expectations, but I’ve found plenty of wills from that time and earlier where provisions were made for grandchildren when parents had died

Best record was husband’s grandfather’s probate had birth certificates of his mother and aunt both within the 100 yr cut off

One of my biggest breakthroughs came through a probate record in London Gazette. It was my aunt’s biological father. Details on next of kin pointed me to his daughters & I was able to reunite sisters who had never met. I was so nervous about contacting someone out of the blue but it turned out well. I agonised over a letter, but then decided I couldn’t stand the wait. I rang her! Thank goodness some people still pick up the phone.

I’ve used relatively recent probates to track down family Brooke and had success with a letter, but have baulked at contacting another because the death of the person was too recent (for me) to feel comfortable. In time maybe

gt grandfather in 1907 left his land to daughter seems ahead of his time. Son did already have some land.

I found a probate packet at the Qld State Archives containing an inheritance dispute that was more than interesting. And another where the dispute lasted 40 years!

Another great-grandfather’s will reflected his financial circumstances – not good – but showed his life insurance and his portable house. The life of a railway family.

A new Zealand Will proved a family family story about a ‘missed out on inheritance’ was untrue. The money belonged to a second wife. There was no family money…

An English Will showed me that a daughter was really an adopted niece. So a whole new search ahead

Best discovery was a will from a half aunt of my fathers. Turns out the money was not left to the cattery as per family lore although listed was many piece of china and who should receive them.

I love the details in wills, especially those left by women, as they often mention extended family, and smaller items as bequests.

I have found that my female ancestors tended to leave things to servants much more than males did

My Northern Irish ancestors all seemed to outlive their husbands and make Wills. They had substantial land ownings luckily for me

@geniaus encouraged me to get the probate for my 2nd great-grandmother Isabella Ellis nee Sinclair. Boy oh boy was it jam packed with information. I was fascinated to see how she lived in the same suburb I did as a baby.

I found my grandfather had left me a piano which I played often as a child but not since we moved house in the late 1960s

Also found out my great great grandmother’s married sister was childless and left everything to nieces and nephews

I found a missing Scottish ancestor in an asylum in Australia. His will showed that a person who wasn’t a family member, left him a large amount of money

My great grandfather had a complex will which verified family details and raised issues about the actions taken. He had wills in the UK, Qld and NSW.

My great/grand uncle left an interesting will with several large donations to missions and charities incl Indigenous advancement. His choices were based on religious affiliations.

My 4x great grandmother’s will confirmed I had found the right family back in England (and later doubly confirmed with DNA), wsa such a great moment reading it!

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What can you discover about ancestors in Wills and Probate records and why are these important resources?

I discovered a daughters married name from a second husband, the daughters step father, to explain their link. With “step” relatives sometimes being omitted from inheritances, this was nice find

Didn’t learn too much that was unexpected. The one long will I saw from the early 20th century was extensive. Hard to read – in legal jargon, with no full stops. It gave me contact to a person I knew nothing about as his son had abandoned his family.

I ended up transcribing my gxgrandfather’s will so it made sense to me even though it was typed up.

Names of married daughters and sons-in-law. Other complex relationships. How wealthy they were. Where they lived. And their signatures.

wills can provide more personal details like what items were passed to various relatives and friends too.

Who had fallen out with whom!!

Not for my family I was researching for the @WikiTreers challenge and found out someone was married twice led me to search for second wife and death of first

Contesting of Wills found in Probate records can be extremely interesting.

You’ve reminded me, I have an ancestor who contested the will of his ex wife. It went to the High Court, but he lost. She left him a small portion with the rest to her children. He thought he should get more.

It can answer questions like, of all the brothers/sisters why did Pa inherit the house? The will showed Pa inherited house only if he continued to care for his disabled brother in that house.

I discovered a daughters married name from a second husband, the daughters step father, to explain their link. With “step” relatives sometimes being omitted from inheritances, this was nice find.

You can discover information about their descendants e.g. who’s still alive when they died and their relationships. You can find out about property. And you can get an idea of their lifestyle from what is listed in the inventory.

Finding wills or probate can give great details about their property & financial circumstances and may tell of family conflicts or previous $ support. Combined with other documents gives a comprehensive view.

Wills can show family relationships, and missing people. The wealth and assets left by a person can show the type of lifestyle they lived

Have found land being passed to children and directions of where that land is or what it is called in wills.

What related records have you used? ie Intestacy, Administration, Guardianship, Deceased Estate Files? Can you think of similar resources?

I’ve looked in death duty registers (England) for more details of an ancestor’s beneficiaries: nationalarchives.gov.uk/help-with-your… Sadly in my case, the “eldest daughter of my son George” was still not named!

I agree death duty registers can lead to more questions. Revealed a trust indicating which side of the family the wealth came from.

Witnesses signatures are also treasured finds

I also like that they touched the wills and then I have touched them. Though my photos from Archives in NZ are not as nice as the digital copies. Many are off centre

Agree Fran, that’s what makes holding originals so special.

Probate Packets can contain the Will, Court documents, a death certificate, an inventory of the estate and more

If deceased estate files survive/exist (as for NSW) they can be a gold mine detailing the person’s household effects. It makes you curious where the paintings & other assets went.

Intestacies (and wills) may reveal a residence far away, provide a death certificate and perhaps more info on the death

I have used Wills, Probate and Intestacy Files. Sometimes newspapers will tell you if a Will was contested so you know to go looking for the Probate records

The NZ High Court documents have probate material along with the will although nothing no exciting discoveries from this material for me.

I found about 33 pages of documents about one ancestor here. Completely and utterly unexpected that anyone in my family had been in NZ. archives.govt.nz Also, probatesearch.service.gov.uk/#wills

geralt / Pixabay

Where can we find Wills, Probate, Administration Files, Intestacy Records and Deceased Estate Records? Suggest resources for understanding these records.

You can search for NZ records at @FamilySearch: familysearch.org/search/collect… or Archway archway.archives.govt.nz/Home.do

Just had a quick search on Archway and found will for my 3xgreat uncle and his son, woop..

’10 Tips for Finding & Using Wills, Intestacies, Probate records & Related Documents for Genealogy’: bit.ly/332wkrO. I’m not online right now but I scheduled this to be posted

I am just so used to all Tassie records being online, will need to check where probate records can be found

For finalised probate records from 1825 to 1995, enquire with the Tasmanian Archives and Heritage Office

In Tasmania, wills and letters of administration are online at the Tasmanian Names Index at Libraries Tasmania website

A summary from @nswarchives detailing what could be in the probate packets for #ANZAncestryTime NRS-13660 , Probate packets search.records.nsw.gov.au/primo-explore/…

Title Deeds to houses and land often contain information about deaths and inheritance. It can be worth searching the Land Registry website and Title records

I was looking through some 18th century title deeds for a property and came across a will for the earliest known owner. What a bonus!

I found some wills here, but not for my families AJCP research trove.nla.gov.au/search/categor…

I found the result of a will discussed in a letter that was sent from my family in Scotland to my family in the USA. The siblings were the inheritors. As my gggfather wasn’t included, he must have already died. Narrows down when.

Margaret I have a family letter from the 1800’s from Scotland explaining why a son was left out of the Will. He was Illegitimate. But for the letter the family didn’t know

you can search for SA wills on FamilySearch

Transmission of property indexes by death can be helpful. Land transfers before death may give a clue why there isn’t a will.

Advertisements in newspapers will alert you to a will under probate. News stories may detail info on the property, if large. Advertisements for sale of property after death.

I find it handy to have a currency converter at hand when reading Wills. I really like this one nationalarchives.gov.uk/currency-conve…

this webinar might be helpful. records.nsw.gov.au/archives/webin…

They will mostly be in archives, including Public Curator files. Newspaper advertisements will provide clues to a will being probated and who is the primary inheritor.

In Victoria Wills Files can be found at the Public Records Office Many but not all are online @PRO_Vic

Readers: What is a fascinating discovery you have made while searching wills etc?

What do you do to earn a quid?

We had our regular tweeters but also joined by a few more who had specific information relating to this week’s topic.


Questions were: 

  1. Share the resources and repositories that helped you discover ancestors’ occupations and put their work & life in context?
  2. Tell us about an ancestor with an unusual or dangerous occupation, child labour or a now-uncommon job?
  3. Are there occupations in your family that have passed down to the next generations?
  4. What resources do you review to find out more on businesses & business owners, self employed or financially independent ancestors?

Format for the post will be resources to check out, then occupations relating to our ancestors and finally some questions about unusual occupations and where to find the answers.

Resources to find information relating to occupations and context in life

  • Directories and electoral rolls
  • Census records
  • Newspapers including advertisements, articles and family notices
  • Pre UK census try UK Register of Duties Paid for Apprentices’ Indentures 1710-1811 (National Archives & Ancestry)
  • Public Record Offices for Government occupations
  • Birth, death and marriage records
  • Obituaries but as Sue said they are only as accurate as the informants knowledge – pioneers of the district could have been convicts in reality
  • Title Deeds to property owned list the occupation of owners
  • Apprentice records
  • Military records
  • Wills and probate records
  • 1939 register
  • UK Merchant Navy records: Register of Seamen at TNA or on FMP, Seamen’s tickets, Voyage details for crew lists.
  • Academic journals (JSTOR) through the National Library of Australia
  • Gale newspaper access for occupation background and risks of jobs.
  • Books, books, books and reading
  • Regional Archives
  • Regional and local family history society newsletters
  • Guild records from apprentice to master
  • Immigration passenger lists
  • Council Records
  • Employment lists for businesses
  • Lately bankruptcy records have been adding lots to research on employers.

Specific links

Personal responses

Angela: Census records that revealed I am descended from a ‘Herd’ and a ‘Brush’ . (I kid you not)

Fran: My Cornish miners jobs could be dangerous. The average age of death was 28th years and 4 months. So young.

Pauleen: My dad was a numbertaker – say what, an undertaker? Nope, a numbertaker or tally clerk working with freight distribution in the railway shunting yards. Not quite as dangerous as shunting but still very hazardous.

Sharn: The most dangerous occupation my ancestors had was MINING. I discovered a g g uncle was killed in a mining accident ‘killed by an explosion of fie damp’ on the Scottish Mining Website.

Jane: My ancestors all seem to have fairly standard occupations … Farmers, agricultural labourers, domestic servants, Bricklayers and other tradesmen … Although I do have a rat catcher!

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Hilary: my husband’s grandfather died after a fall working in an Ironstone quarry; my gt uncle was killed whilst working in the docks a cargo fell on him

Allie: I have lots of newspaper compositors and handloom weavers in my family, not unusual at the time but definitely rare today. Not aware of any work accidents, but I’m sure much of the work my ancestors did was dangerous or hazardous to health in the long term.

Sue: My Great great grandmothers sister married RG Winters who was a pianoforte maker. Married in England, migrated to Tasmania, Had a pianoforte factory in Elizabeth Street Hobart

ANZ: And quarry workers and stonemasons often had lung diseases….this asbestosis. Occupations were so hazardous before OH&S awareness but there are still random injuries.

Seonaid: A lot of my ancestors were ag labs, carpenters, navy or army, cab drivers, fruit and veg sales. I do have a female ancestor who took over her husband’s butchery business when he died. Although I expect that’s not unusual.

Pauleen: Generations ago I had miners in Northumberland – another dangerous occupation with the possibility of child labour though I’ve found none

Sue: I have three brothers, one my great grandfather, who survived the 1912 Mt Lyell mining disaster

ANZ: Who remembers when the rat catchers from the council would come round with their fox terriers checking for rats when people still had backyard dunnies?

Fiona: Inspector of Nuisances in a clients family. Image of one here.

Jennifer: My friend’s ancestor worked in a tiny building in the forest in Belgium checking undetonated bombs

OPS: Earlier this year our response to the A-Z Blogging Challenge featured contributions from members on a range of occupations, including Apple Crusher, Dominatrix, Jester, Number Taker, Pig-jobber and Tabernarius!

Dara: My GG-grandfather was a coachman, a servant in a big house. I love the idea of him hitching up the horses and strolling, or racing, through the streets, taking his master to where-ever. Probably my imagination pictures a more romantic version of his job.

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Jill: Husband’s ancestor, Francis Jollie Gowans, was appointed Honorary Surgeon to the King in 1937

Mining the Past: One of the next door neighbours to my miner ancestor was a pit pony driver, aged 13.  My family were miners right up until my maternal grandfather. He suffered from miners lung and had to stop hewing. He was elected pithead weighman on behalf of the miners ie checking the company weighman was weighing the coal accurately so they got paid fairly.

Sue: My great great grandfather had a fairly easy life as head gardener to the Governor of Tasmania in the 1860s and 1870s. Lots of write ups in paper about winning competitions etc

Sue: My other great great grandfather (before he was proved by DNA not to be mine) was a whaling captain and many of his descendants still keep jobs to do with water

Seonaid: Navy & army were pretty regular patterns in my family on both sides. My 3xgr gfather & 2x gr gfather were paper stainers. Found a wallpaper factory near where they lived. I do wonder how 1 ancestor went from a candle & soap worker to planemaker in 10 years.

Angela: have generations of railway workers …porters, station masters. Wonderful that their homes are listed in the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage

Sharn: I have used newspaper advertisements and calls tender to find the buildings, houses and rail carriages a gg grandfather constructed in Sydney NSW

Jennifer: Have found business ads on Trove, Wills, Rate books

Pauleen: Court cases can tell you where someone was and who they knew. My George Kunkel was called as a witness to an equity case revealing he was a pork butcher on the gold fields at Tooloom, NSW, travelling from Ipswich Qld.


Brooke: When reading census records this list of old English occupations may come in handy. Researching the COLLIDGE family, I came across the occupation CLICKER; someone who worked in the shoe trade cutting out the lowers.

Sophie: One of the things I’ve been struck by in preparing the Occupations tweet series is what a range of dreadful health hazards were associated with so many jobs in yesteryear – hand planking one example

Dara: I struggle to find much information concerning many ancestors’ occupations, that is specific to their own job, other than on BMDs. Trade directories help for some tradesmen.

Pauleen: I found references to my carpenter ancestor in Ipswich burial registers. Fires, flood and disasters can bring up news stories of how my self-employed ancestors were impacted

Fran: Thinking you need to verify the occupations. On the first property we purchased the bank wrote “wife” for me and Stephen made them change it to “Product Manager” so like all sources – CHECK

Carmel: The back of directories for business advertisers

Jennifer: I do have a few ancestors who stated their occupation as ‘gentleman’. Wishful thinking I’m sure

Fran: On passenger lists I have found a number of ancestors occupations. It’s good for people that travelled often as you can see changes in roles, promotions, etc

Dara: Funnily enough, when my GGG-grandfather, who left Ireland a plasterer, became a successful building contractor in Australia, he claimed he was a Gentleman on some records.

Mining the Past: I have an ancestor in Gateshead who worked at the ‘railway staithes’. From maps identified as Dunston Staithes, the largest existing wooden structure in Europe and a visitor attraction!! Guess where I’ll be visiting next UK trip 🙂

TryJimmy / Pixabay

Society of OPS: The Gazette is another great source of business / company info for the UK

Fiona: Check @ArchivesNZ for files on the stations. Have been looking at these in the last week and have found house plans for the houses being rented and sold at the end of their use by railways.

Allie: Mostly censuses and vital records. Otherwise I’ve found a few newspaper reports and adverts that have mentioned employers or business locations, and I’ve also used street and business directories. FindMyPast is good for trade union records

Occupations often passed down through the generations included:

shoemakers, gardeners, coachmen, schoolmasters, coal miners, ag labs, merchant marines, weavers, lacemakers, railway workers, butchers, blacksmithing, tailor, pipers, compositors, watchmakers

Things to follow up on: videos, other twitter chats, competition

  • Today will be of interest to @OnePlaceStudies members engaged in our 2020 Shared Endeavour of Employment and Occupations in our #OnePlaceStudies!
  • Videos to check out from OPS , the twitter chat from the OPS Conference 2020 including occupations
  • Dr Sophie Kay has an Occupation of the day twitter hashtag. Follow it here and learn more about unusual occupations.
  • Also from Dr Sophie Kay: just a little heads-up for those of you who enjoy competitions: keep an eye out for a Twitter/blog announcement from me next month, as I’ll be running a little Xmas Quiz competition themed around the #OccupationOfTheDay strand!

Readers: Check out the OccupationOfTheDay hashtag to find out the answers to these unusual occupations.

Jacker off, Keel Fleeter, Equilibrist or Knife shaver