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Wills can provide an extraordinary amount of information about your forebears, but most people probably have never had the chance to delve into these documents to see what they can learn. But now Oxfordshire wills from the 16th century up to 1858 - nearly 30,000 of them - are available online, at www.origins.net.
What can the original wills tell me?
Prior to census returns, meaning before 1841, wills can be the best source of family relationship information. The list of what you may find is impressive.
The potential value of this information in furthering your research is high, particularly if more commonly consulted records such as parish registers have drawn a blank. The information in wills goes beyond immediate family, many wills name nieces and nephews, godchildren, husbands of sisters and wives of brothers and distant kin. Usually the relationships are defined and the place of residence may be stated.
- Names of heirs and beneficiaries
- Places of residence and origin of testators
- Places of residence of the heirs and beneficiaries
- Properties and whether freehold, copyhold or lease
- Debts owed and due
- Business arrangements
- Inventories of personal property
- Personal comments about heirs and beneficiaries
One example illustrating Eighteenth Century Women's Wills:
It's often stated that before the late 19th century only unmarried women and widows made wills as married women and their possessions were deemed to belong to their husbands. This is not actually true, as can be seen from the 1756 Oxfordshire will of Mary Abbott, wife of Benjamin Abbott, Shipton-under-Whichwood, tobacco-pipe-maker, she refers to her right under her marriage settlement to dispose of her own estate.
Mary's cottage in Ramsden, with garden and orchard, peviously occupied by Edward Fletcher and now occupied by John Wire, she leaves to her husband during his lifetime, after which it is to go to Gabriel Brown, son of the late William Brown, of Stonesfield, yeoman, and his wife, Mary, and after their deaths to their heirs forever. She leaves several pieces of leasehold land in Ramsden tenanted by William Collins to her husband during his lifetime then to her niece, Elizabeth Brown, daughter of William Brown. Another cottage and garden on the Heath in Ramsden, now occupied by Widow Reeves, she leaves to another niece, Mary Wire and her husband John. Further bequests go to her kinsmen Thomas Lardner of Ducklington, yeoman, John Dix, son of John Dix of St Thomas the Apostle, Oxford, tobacco-pipe-maker, Henry Langford, Finstock, narrow weaver. Mary's will also refers to property she had tenanted in Finstock, Manor of Charlbury. She appoints her husband executor, and as overseers Henry Langford and Robert Spendlove, Charlbury, baker.