Today, New Zealand’s leading family history website, Ancestry.com.au, has announced the launch of London, England, Wills and Probate, 1525-1858, historical records which detail some of the largest inheritances passed down in the early years of the city’s documented history.
With an estimated 80 percent of New Zealanders having UK heritage, it is likely that those able to locate an ancestor in the collection may be able to claim a connection to either royalty, the very wealthy or landed gentry, as the records date from the 15th century, when wills were reserved for members of the upper echelons of society.
Released in partnership with the London Metropolitan Archives, London, England, Wills and Probate, 1525 – 1858 contains more than 117,000 records. Many exciting findings about our family fortunes can be discovered, as anyone with an ancestor in this collection will be able to delve further into that person’s life, learning more about their social standing, their worldly possessions and to whom they were bequeathed.
The records contained in the collection paint a vibrant picture of the lives of millions of London and Surrey residents living during these years, and fall into three main categories:
Wills – giving instructions on the disposition of a person's estate and goods after death. Details often include names, dates, property, burial information, and indications of family and other relationships amongst the names of beneficiaries, executors and witnesses.
Inventories – listing the deceased possessions, inventories include details of goods and ‘chattel’ such as furniture, household items and heirlooms, giving a unique insight into an ancestor's wealth or lifestyle.
Letters of Administration – granting someone the right to administer a deceased person's estate in the event that no will had been created. Often includes additional information on the next of kin.
The records are searchable by a combination of name, date, parish and county and can even be browsed using an ancestors’ last name and probate year.
The popular England and Wales National Probate Calendar, 1861-1941 is being made available and is free to search online for the first time from 1 July to 8 July 2011. The index includes information on more than six million wills proven across the 19th and 20th centuries.
Included in the index are numerous famous names, including:
George Marsden Waterhouse – (7th Premier of NZ) died in 1906 and left £61,000 (NZ$12.2 million today) to his wife and Percy Leslie Waterhouse, but there was no mention of his two adopted daughters. Whereas Henry Sewell (1st Premier) died in 1879, leaving a personal estate of less than £450 (NZ$90,000 today).
Ernest Rutherford – When Rutherford, the father of nuclear physics, died in 1937, he left an estate of over £7,000 (NZ$1.4 million today). This went to Ralph Howard Fowler (Physicist and Son-in-law), Henry Thirkill (one time collaborator in Rutherford student days) and Walter Maclaren Francis (Solicitor).
Charles Darwin – the acclaimed naturalist Charles Robert Darwin is listed as having left a personal estate worth £146,911 (around NZ$29.3 million today) when he died in 1882.
Charles Dickens – the famous Victorian author Charles Dickens died leaving ‘effects under £80,000’ (around NZ$16 million today) when he died in 1870.
Karl Marx – fittingly, the anti-capitalist died poor in 1883, leaving just £250 (NZ$47,800 today) to his youngest daughter Eleanor.
Another tremendous resource for those seeking to investigate potential inheritances is The Andrews Collection. This unique card index compiled in England from the 1790s until about 1970 features a collection of notices from newspapers and various official sources, such as the London Gazette. Approximately 250,000 cards include announcements of births, marriages, obituaries, and deaths abroad; also notices of wills, unclaimed estates, and filings under the Colonial Probates Act of 1892 (which recognised probates from courts in British possession).
Brad Argent, Content Director for Ancestry.com.au Australia and New Zealand, comments: “Given that such a large number of Australians can trace their roots back to Britain, this is the perfect time to take advantage of these incredible resources to discover the details of your true British heritage – and perhaps come across your own family treasure in the process.
“It’s true that we often focus on our convict past, but this collection points to new discoveries that could reveal connections to substantial wealth and social standing”.
To find out more about your family’s heritage, please visit www.ancestry.com.au