Spotlight on the SoG Collections – Evidences: Miscellaneous Wills and Other Documents
Evidences: Miscellaneous Wills Abstracts and Other Documents
As part of the project to digitise some of the many unique unpublished copies and abstracts of probate documents in the library, our volunteers set about looking at the 15 manuscript volumes housed on the wills shelves in the upper library entitled Evidences: Miscellaneous London will abstracts from before 1500 to 1838. Compiled by Percival Boyd (of marriage index fame) and others, the volume were thought essentially to be scrap books of cuttings and abstracts of documents; mostly relating to wills proved in the Prerogative Curt of Canterbury (PCC) and London Church Courts. The evidences were roughly arranged chronologically in volumes marked “before 1500” or “1700-1749” etc. and each volume was separately indexed. In 2017 all the volumes were scanned, indexed and made available online to members as part of the wills section on the SoG data online in the members area on the SoG website.
Digitisation of these volumes shows that they contain MORE than London wills. While undoubtedly there are handwritten notes and extracts of probate documents from various courts around the country, we have discovered the volumes also include some original 18th century documents such as ale house licences, bastardy examinations, court statements, inquisitions post mortem, and settlement examinations and certificates largely relating to parishes on the Worcestershire/Gloucestershire borders.
Under the old Poor laws a JP could examine a woman who was pregnant with or who had born an illegitimate child to make her name the father who could then be made to provide financial support for his child. These documents can be extremely useful if the father’s name is not recorded in the parish register as we can see here that Mary Smith names John Lawrence as the father of her unborn child.
Under the provision of the Act of Settlement of 1662 a person was only entitled to poor law relief from their parish of settlement. This might, for example, be where they worked or rented property of sufficient value or where they were born or apprenticed. A woman would take her husband’s parish of settlement. Any argument or enquiries about which parish was the place of settlement and had ultimate responsibility were examined before the Justices of the Peace and hence one usually finds records of such settlement examinations in the Quarter Sessions or in the parish chest.
Several of the settlement examinations found in the evidence volumes record examinations made around 1740; sworn before a JP called Bromley. Further research is needed, but our Genealogist Else Churchill believes he is possibly William Bromley 1685-1756 who according to the History of Parliament Website and the Visitation of Worcestershire was made Freeman of Worcester in 1729, became the recorder Tewkesbury 1735 and had served as MP Tewkesbury 1710-13. Presumably the documents came from his personal papers and one would need to check with the local archives to see if they are also recorded in the formal Quarter Sessions records.
A settlement examinations can be remarkably informative as s shown in this document relating to the examination of the widow Mary Arnold which tells us her husband had died in Berrow in Worcestershire leaving her with four children, but she had heard him say he was settled in Lye in Gloucestershire where he had served as an apprentice. His indenture dated 1717 was brought forward as evidence of this
Some of these documents bear a stamp or the mark of the British Record Society (now Association) a body which acts as a clearing house for arranging the care of historical documents, often when solicitors come to clear their offices of unwanted deeds and documents. They are dated 1931 suggesting the documents were transferred to the SoG shortly after that date. The original books are held in the Society's library (accession GE611).
For many years we believed the volume to contain what is written on their cover and that they related to London wills. We realise now that digitisation has added value to this collection by identifying the unique and precious documents contained within that just might help overcome someone’s genealogical brick wall. You never know just what you might find in the Society of Genealogists remarkable library and of course, more and more is going online for our members.
While the full records of digitised books, documents and collections in SoG Data online are available exclusively for our members, non-members may make a free search to see if the names they are interested in appear indexed in the records. Just to peek.