Historical Wills of Scottish Soldiers Go Online
The wills of 31,000 Scottish soldiers are being made available online by the National Records of Scotland as part of commemorations of the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War. The poignant documents include the last wishes of 26,000 ordinary Scottish soldiers who died in the Great War and there are almost 5,000 from Scots soldiers serving in all theatres during the Second World War. There are also several hundred from the Boer War and Korean War, and others from conflicts between 1857 and 1964.
About the Soldiers' Wills
The soldiers' wills were usually found in pay books retrieved on the battlefield, recorded on forms in Army record offices in Britain, or in the absence of a will, in letters home in which soldiers might mention their last wishes.
After the War Office had settled the estate of a soldier who died on active service, including entitlements to pay and pension, they sent the will to the civil authorities. For soldiers with a Scottish domicile this was the Commissary Office in Edinburgh. After 1940, the wills were transmitted to Register House in Edinburgh, where they are now preserved by the National Records of Scotland.
Are these wills from all the ranks?
On the whole, most of the wills are for rank and file soldiers. The records are for soldiers up to the rank of warrant officer who were domiciled in Scotland, although they also include men who were promoted from the ranks.
Did all soldiers leave wills?
Not all soldiers made out wills, and not all have survived. The new release is of wills that the War Office had finished processing, most of which were not recorded like the wills of civilians. However, some were recorded in the relevant sheriff court records, and so can be found among the 10,000 or so wills of officers and men who died in World War One in the main wills in ScotlandsPeople.
What can I learn from these records?
You can find out the battalion, regiment, rank and service number of the soldier, as well as the name of the person who is the beneficiary of the will. You can also find out the date when the will was made and the date of death of the soldier.
Unlike recorded wills elsewhere in ScotlandsPeople, you can also see the handwriting of the person who made the will – something that many family history researchers find extremely poignant. And as is so often the case with historical records, the handwriting in these documents is often hauntingly beautiful.
The new records contain the wills for ancestors of some famous Scots. For instance, John Feeley, the great-great-grandfather of the Paisley musician, Paolo Nutini, is included. Private Feeley served in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and died of wounds sustained during the Battle of Arras on 23 April 1917. Feeley left all of his property and effects to his wife, Annie, who lived until 1964.
Researchers at the National Records of Scotland have also discovered the will of Andrew Cox, the uncle of Dundee-born actor, Brian Cox. A rope-worker before the war, Private Andrew Cox served with the Highland Light Infantry and was killed in the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, aged 22 - sadly, his body was never identified. Like many unmarried soldiers, Andrew Cox left all of his possessions to his mother, Elizabeth.
The records are drawn from all the Scottish infantry and cavalry regiments, as well as the Royal Artillery, Royal Army Medical Corps, Royal Army Service Corps, the Machine Gun Corps and other units, and a few who served in the Royal Flying Corps and the RAF. Almost all the wills were written by soldiers below officer rank, but some wills for commissioned officers are also included.
In addition to the wills from the Great War, there are almost 5,000 from Scots soldiers serving in all theatres during the Second World War, several hundred from the Boer War and Korean War, and wills from other conflicts between 1857 and 1964.
Are the records free to search, and how much does it cost to view one will?
The wills are free to search. The cost to view one Soldiers' Will is 10 credits (2.44GBP), or a 2.50GBP separate transaction. Typically, a Soldiers' Will document contains four images, including the envelope, but some records do contain more.
Doing a search for wills earlier than 1914 and later than 1948
The vast majority (26,000) of the Soldiers' Wills are from the First World War, and there are also nearly 5,000 from World War Two. There are also around 300 wills from pre-1914 conflicts, and a handful of wills for conflicts that took place after 1945.
You'll notice that the drop-down menu for dates on the search page for the Soldiers' Wills only runs from 1914 to 1948. The reason for this is that in some of the pre-1914 wills, the soldier's date of death was not given. While the date of death is given in some of the post-1948 wills, not all of these later wills contain the soldier's date of death.
In turn, this affects how ScotlandsPeople will index them and make them searchable on the website. So if you wish to search the wills from 1874 to 1914 and from 1948 to 1964, please just leave the date fields in 'default' mode – that is, do not choose any dates at all.
In due course, the search data for the pre-1914 and post-1948 Soldiers' Wills will be updated, as well as the accompanying guidance notes. Updates will be announce it in the Scotlandspeople monthly newsletter.
Where do I start searching the Soldiers' Wills?
To start searching these new records, just visit the ScotlandsPeople website. You will see the link to the Soldiers' Wills page near the bottom of the menu on the left side of the page, in the 'Free Search Records' section. Just login to the site (or register, if you're not already registered – it's free, and just takes a few seconds) to start your search of the Soldiers' Wills.