Top tips for starting out on your family history

Did conversation at your family get togethers over Christmas turn to your family history? Finding out about the lives of your ancestors can be an absorbing and rewarding hobby, and here at the Essex Record Office we can help you get started on your search, whether you visit us in person or use our records online.

 

Tip no. 1: Talk to your relatives and search family papers

Talk to your relatives – particularly older generations. Find out what they know and remember, and write it all down. You could even make a sound or video recording of your conversations.

Look out for any old photographs, birth, marriage and death certificates, military records, medals, or if you’re very lucky, letters or diaries that you or relatives might have.

Use what you find out to start to build your family tree. Write down everything you know so far about when and where people were born/married/died, and any other key information about them. This will help you work out what else you would like to find out.

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Talking to your relatives and searching family papers and photos can be an excellent way to start building your family tree

Tip no. 2: Record where you find your information

Wherever your research takes you, make a note of your sources. It will make life much easier if you ever need to double-check something, and helps you keep track of where you have already looked.

 

Tip no. 3: Birth, marriage and death indexes

Search the civil registration indexes – these are indexes of birth, marriage and death certificates which begin in 1837. The indexes are available on various websites – if you visit the ERO or your local Essex library, you can use www.ancestry.co.uk for free. The indexes will give you the basic information of when and where someone was born/married/died. You can find out more by ordering the full certificate, which you can do through the General Register Office, or for Essex certificates from us at ERO.

 

Tip no. 4: Search the census

Search the census records – census records are available for every ten years between 1841 and 1911. These fascinating records list all the people living in each household in the country, along with their ages and occupations and where they were born. Again, these are available on various websites, but you can search them for free at the ERO or your local Essex library on www.ancestry.co.uk

 

Tip no. 5: Move on to parish registers

Parish registers are church records which record baptisms, marriages and burials. In some cases these can date back to 1538, and so can be used to go back much further in time than censuses and birth/marriage/death records. Parish registers for the historic county of Essex (including parts of greater London which used to be in Essex such as West Ham and Stratford) are all kept at the Essex Record Office. We have digitised all of our parish registers and they are all available to view online at www.essexancestors.co.uk (with the exception of marriages after 1957). You can take out a subscription to view the images from home, or use the service for free in the ERO Searchroom. You can also view images of all 70,000 of our original wills, dating from the 1400s-1858. Double-check that the documents you want to view are available before taking out a subscription.

Parish registers record baptisms, marriages and burials and can date back to 1538. Essex parish registers are kept at ERO - digital images are available on Essex Archives Online

Parish registers record baptisms, marriages and burials and can date back to 1538. Essex parish registers are kept at ERO – digital images are available on Essex Archives Online

Tip no. 6: Ask for advice

If you want further advice or have specific questions about the kinds of records available, talk to our experts either in the Searchroom (find out how to visit us), e-mail us or give us a ring on 033301 32500.

Good luck and happy searching!

A transatlantic team member

This autumn will see an exciting new development for us as we welcome a new member of our team, who just happens to be over 3,000 miles away.

Linda MacIver at Boston Public Library during Neil and Allyson's visit last summer

Linda MacIver at Boston Public Library during Neil and Allyson’s visit last summer

Linda MacIver will be working for us based in Boston, Massachusetts, to help people in New England who want to trace their English, and especially Essex, ancestors. Linda has many years of experience as both a librarian and as a teacher of local history and genealogy, so we are excited that she will be working with us.

Linda will be available to give talks and attend genealogy fairs (and anything else you might want to invite her to!). She will be introducing people to the historical documents from our collection which can be accessed online anywhere in the world through our subscription service, and to talk about some of the connections between Essex and New England.

We first met Linda last summer when two of our number, Neil Wiffen and Allyson Lewis, paid a flying visit to Boston to meet American researchers who use our collections. Linda was then working at Boston Public Library, one of the venues Neil and Allyson gave a talk, and it was from that visit that the idea of her being our representative in New England emerged.

As has become traditional with new members of our team, we thought we would get to know Linda a little better:

 

Hello Linda, tell us a bit about yourself.

My professional career started as a high school teacher of U.S. and Modern European History.   Unexpectedly I was recruited to serve as the school librarian and my career would take a “librarian train ride” through stops in academic, corporate and, finally, a public library with research library status, one of only two such public libraries in the U.S., New York and Boston.  That move brought all of my intellectual background together, using subject expertise in business and social sciences areas, as a frontline librarian and as a researcher.  It was my original interest in history that turned my attention to local history and, finally, family history.  For the past five years I have developed the Library’s genealogy program, not only through two very successful lecture series, but by teaching genealogy classes for our patrons, bringing me back full circle to my teaching roots.

 

What is your favourite period of history?

As a teen I was enthralled with ancient history and the rise of civilization, partly because I thought I wanted to be an archaeologist and partly because I had great teacher in the subject.  Then I took Modern European History and had another great teacher.  Both had taught with the Socratic method, making us think through the reasons that caused cultural development and change.  This critical thinking process made history come alive.  As a young teacher myself, I started travelling, mostly to England a baker’s dozen times.  London became my home away from home, and my favourite period became the evolution of the constitutional monarchy and democratic movements in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries.

 

Do you know if you have English Ancestors yourself?

From my “Mac” name, we know I have mainly Scottish and Irish DNA.  Historically, the MacIvers left Uig in the Hebrides in the early 1800’s for Quebec province, my direct line crossing the border to northern New Hampshire just before 1900.  My maternal heritage is Anglo-Saxon.  Today the surname is Arlin, deriving from Harland or Hoarland.  Family folklore says we come from the Great Migration immigrant George Harland of Virginia, but I have yet to make the connection.  It is more likely that I do, in fact, have Essex connections since the 1891 census actually finds more Arlins in Essex and Suffolk than in any other part of England!  My English connections are many:  one of my favourite spots in the world is Salisbury Cathedral; I spent a summer in England studying the “History of the Book” and visiting many English libraries and printers; and I was born in Manchester, New Hampshire, the “Manchester of America.”

 

How are you going to be helping people in New England discover their English and Essex ancestors?

It is no secret that there is great interest for New Englanders to make connections to their English roots.  Neil and Allyson’s whirlwind visit last year was proof of that.  I hope to further encourage that interest by bringing them news of the ways they can make those connections as I lecture around the region, exhibit at genealogy conferences and perhaps even do some “hands on” training of the free and subscription services of ERO.

 

What do you like to do outside of work?

Actually, what I do outside of work is quite similar to what I do for work.  Working on my own family history can sometimes be a rare event since I am so often working on others or teaching them how to research.  I hope to do more of my own.  I am also Secretary of the Massachusetts Genealogical Council. In the fall I will start to volunteer at the Boston Registry where I will be surrounded by Boston civil records from the 1600s on.  Not quite as old as some of ERO’s holdings, but impressive from this side of the pond.  Otherwise, from Boston, one MUST BE a sports addict!  We tend to live and die with our teams; for me especially the Red Sox and New England Patriots.  But I am fortunate to live in one of the cultural meccas of the world and enjoy the Boston Symphony and Pops, musical theatre, and folk and “Big Band” concerts.

 

If you are in the Boston, Massachusetts area and would like to book Linda for a talk on Tracing Your English Ancestors, get in touch with us on ero.enquiry@essex.gov.uk

Who is more Essex? Stuart Bingham vs Ali Carter

There are many things for us Essexians to be proud of, and it seems that one of them is our county’s tendency to produce incredibly talented snooker players, most famously Ronnie O’Sullivan.

In more recent years two more top-ranked players have come out of our county – Basildon-born Stuart Bingham and Colchester-born Ali Carter. Bingham is the current World Snooker Champion, and as the 2016 competition gets underway tomorrow he will be defending his title in his first match of the competition – against Carter.

As these two Essex giants of snooker go head-to-head, we thought we would see which of them has the best Essex credentials.

Stuart Bingham

Stuart Bingham at the 2013 German Masters

Current World Snooker Champion Stuart was born in Basildon – but how far back can his ancestral roots be traced in Essex?

ERO specialist Sarah Ensor has traced his family back over 200 years in the county, to his 5x great-grandfather Thomas Moules. The Moules family lived and worked in the rural villages of Marks Tey and Little Tey, and their baptisms, marriages and burials can be found in the parish registers we look after at ERO.

Marriage of Stuart Bingham's 5x great-grandparents, Thomas Moule (here recorded as Mole) and Mary Smith, in Great Tey in 1803 (D/DP 305/1/4)

Marriage of Stuart Bingham’s 5x great-grandparents, Thomas Moule (here recorded as Mole) and Mary Smith, in Great Tey in 1803 (D/DP 305/1/4)

Outside the towns Essex was very rural and the Moules lived in a farming community; until the latter part of the nineteenth century they worked as labourers on the land but later described themselves as horsemen – no doubt a step up the farming ladder.

The tradition of agricultural work was broken by Stuart’s great-great-grandfather Walter Moules (b.1869 in Great Tey), who started his working life as a labourer but joined the Royal Artillery, serving in India and Aden.

So far we have traced Stuart’s family back over 7 generations in Essex. A ‘widow Moule’ of Great Tey is named to in a deed of 1773 (D.DAt 45), so it is likely that Stuart’s roots in the parish reach back even further. With such deep roots in the county, Stuart can definitely claim to be a true Essex man.

 

Ali Carter

Ali Carter at the 2013 German Masters

Ali was born in Colchester and now lives near Chelmsford. He has twice been runner-up in the World Championship, losing to Ronnie O’Sullivan in 2008 and 2012. According to BBC Sport, he is ‘one of the sport’s best-loved and most-respected players, having twice overcome cancer and still been able to maintain his place among the world’s best despite a constant battle with Crohn’s disease.

Ali’s Essex ancestry can also be traced back to the nineteenth century and beyond. Two of his great-great grandparents, William Hawdon and Emma Long, were both born in Loughton. Their daughter Aimee, Ali’s great-grandmother, was baptised in St Mary’s church in Loughton on 9 December 1898. William’s profession was given as a commercial clerk.

Baptism of Aimee Hawdown (D/P 571/1/1)

Baptism of Aimee Hawdon, Ali’s great-grandmother, in 1898 in Loughton (D/P 571/1/1)

Another branch of Ali’s family tree takes us back to his four-times-great-grandfather James Piper, who was born in Colchester in about 1796. James is described in the 1841 and 1851 census returns as a labourer, but in 1861 he is recorded as an ‘itinerant bookseller’.

James and his wife Sarah had a daughter, Priscilla, born in Colchester in about 1826, who married Thomas Stoton, another Colchester man and a tailor by trade. In 1871 Thomas and Priscilla were living at 42 St Botolph’s Street, and Thomas employed 1 man and 2 women in his business.

Their daughter, another Priscilla Stoton, married William Waigh, originally from Bethnal Green, but he had moved his family to Woodfood by the time of the 1901 census, when he was recorded as a builder and rent collector.

The verdict

In terms of the depth of their Essex roots, these two giants of snooker are very closely matched. Will they be as closely matched when they step up to the green baize tomorrow?

If you would like to discover how far back you can trace your Essex roots, contact us or visit our Searchroom to start your journey.

Major Essex Ancestors update: remaining wills now all online

Essex Ancestors, our online subscription service which allows users to view digital images of historic parish registers and wills, has undergone its latest major update.

Our collections include about 70,000 original wills which date from the 1400s to 1858 – images of all of which are now available on Essex Ancestors.

Where wills exist, they can be of great help in establishing family connections and for finding out about people’s property and belongings.  As we have indexed the testators’ occupations and their places of residence as well as their names these images are also a goldmine for social and local history.

This is the third and final batch of the original wills that we have uploaded to Essex Ancestors and represents many months of work by our digitisers, conservators and archivists.

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This batch of wills included some extra large documents which had to be flattened in our Conservation Studio before they could be digitised

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The ERO Digitsation Studio has been hard at work preparing the latest upload

With all the parish registers and wills digitised, the total number of images on Essex Ancestors is now over 750,000. We hope that researchers all over the world will enjoy using this resource to find out about the lives of all the thousands of Essex people past who are included within these fascinating records.

A particularly ornate opening to a will belonging to John Gardener of Little Bromley (D/ACW 25/18)

A particularly ornate opening to a will belonging to John Gardener of Little Bromley (D/ACW 25/18)

You can access Essex Ancestors from home as a subscriber, or for free in the ERO Searchroom in Chelmsford or at our Archive Access Points in Saffron Walden and Harlow. Opening hours vary so please check before you visit.

Before you subscribe please check that the documents you are interested in exist and have been digitised by searching Seax. You can view a handy video guide to using Essex Ancestors here.

We will continue to add to and improve Essex Ancestors, so watch out for more material being added in the future. Happy searching!

Bowled over: Graham Napier discovers his Essex roots

Graham Napier in action for Essex County Cricket Club (Photo: Nick Wood/Essex Cricket)

Graham Napier in action for Essex County Cricket Club (Photo: Nick Wood/Essex Cricket)

Just as the 2015 cricket season is about to get underway, we were excited to welcome Essex County Cricket Club star Graham Napier to the ERO to discover his Essex roots.

Graham’s family has a long history in Essex, going back at least to the 1700s. Several of his ancestors were from the Tilbury area, and include agricultural workers, gamekeepers and blacksmiths. Apparently blacksmiths were reputed to be so strong they could hit a cricket ball out of the ground! Graham discovered that one of his great-grandfathers, Edward Chatten was killed in the First World War in September 1918, just two months before the Armistice. He is now planning to visit Edward’s grave in France when he gets the opportunity.

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Graham finding out about his Essex ancestors with Archive Assistant Sarah Ensor

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A baptism record for Pte Edward Chatten’s daughter recording that Chatten had already died before his daughter was baptised

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The marriage record for Thomas Mott and Jane Swan, ancestors of Graham Napier who married in Wickford in 1799

Just like his ancestors, Graham is in the archive himself, amongst the records deposited by Essex County Cricket Club. We dug out some scorebooks to show him, including one from 1997 which includes his very first professional games for Essex, and one from 2008 which records his famous innings in a Twenty20 cup match against Sussex when he scored 152 not out from 58 balls – the highest individual score in a T20 innings in England at the time, and the highest number of sixes in an individual T20 innings.

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Graham looking at an Essex County Cricket Club scorebook from 1997 which records his earliest professional matches

We also shared with Graham some of the older records of Essex County Cricket Club which are looked after here dating back to the nineteenth century.

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During our research we also came across this photo of a cricket team in Chelmsford c.1870, taken on Fair Field with the railway viaduct in the background. Cricketing style has changed somewhat since then!

Cricket team 1870 watermarked

Graham said: ‘It’s safe to say I’m truly from Essex, going back several generations. What a great experience to come to the ERO and trace back my family history, it’s something I’d recommend more people do’.

We wish Graham and the Essex team the very best of luck as the new season gets underway.

Looted treasure and a family history discovery

The Essex Record Office offers a Search Service for researchers unable to visit the archives in person, and our resident searcher recently came across a fascinating account of a customer’s family history research, and helped to add to her findings, which are shared here with the customer’s permission.

Conducting historical research is like attempting a large and complex jigsaw, with fragments of the whole picture to be found scattered around in various family stories and memorabilia and in public collections. We were interested to hear this customer’s story, and are pleased to have been able to add a piece to the puzzle.

We were asked to search for the baptism of Thomas Davies, born around 1790 in West Ham. As a young lad Thomas joined the Royal Navy, and was assigned to the HMS Polyphemus. Part of the ship’s business was capturing Spanish treasure ships, and on 21 January 1805 Thomas Davies was court-martialled for looting valuables from one of these prize ships, the Santa Gertrude. For this he could have been hanged but given his youth received instead 200 lashes, was fined all pay and prize money, and was sentenced to one year in solitary confinement.

From the Marshalsea Naval Prisoners Entry Book (not held here) we know that that Thomas was ‘aged 18, a Seaman, about 5ft 5in high, brown complexion, light hair and eyes, rather slim and very youthful boy-like appearance, born at Stratford in Essex’.

From this information given to us the Search Service found a very likely match in the baptism register for West Ham, All Saints Church for the baptism of ‘Thomas Davis son of Richard & Phebe’ on August 5, 1787.

D-P 256-1-3 image 171 Thomas Davis baptism

If you would like to search a document in our collections but are not able to visit in person, the Search Service may be able to help. Just let us know which documents you would like us to search in and for what information and we will send you the results. More information, including charges, can be obtained by e-mailing ero.searchservice@essex.gov.uk or by telephoning 01245 244644. Please note that we can only undertake specific and not general searches.

Where there’s a will: Margaret Lathum of Upminster, 1668

To continue to mark the upload of digital images of a further 22,500 wills to our Essex Ancestors online subscription service (more on this here), here is a brilliant example of the kind of detail wills can give us about life in the past…

We have mentioned previously in this series that some bequests in wills can seem strange to our  modern eyes.  More examples can be found in the will of Margaret Lathum of Upminster whose will is dated 25 February 1667/8 (D/AEW 24/110).  This must have been left until close to her death as it does not begin with the usual sentence In the name of God Amen but rather by listing her next of kin and the possessions she wished to give them.  A will of this type is known as a nuncupative will or an oral will and would have been written down as soon as possible.

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Will of Margaret Lathum. She begins by leaving her son Peter ‘a heave [hive] of bees’ (D/AEW 24/110)

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Will of Margaret Lathum (D/AEW 24/110)

Margaret appears to have been the widow of Ralph Lathum, who had died the previous year.  In his will (D/AEW 24/95) he left her fower howses.  These may be mentioned in the deed referred to on the last page of her will; she held more property than would be clear from this will alone.

In between more mundane requests she leaves to her daughter Phillips (no first name is given) my herbal my still … my pece of unicorns horne and my mandrake… According to the Oxford English Dictionary, herbal could mean either a book on herbs or plants, or a collection of them.  It seems more likely that it was the latter as her still would be used for extracting the essences of plants.  The ‘unicorn’s horn’ (really a narwhal or rhinoceros horn) and mandrake would have been used for medicinal purposes.

It wasn’t unusual for testators to bequeath items with conditions attached.  Those for Margaret’s grandson Ralph were to be kept by his Unckle Peter until he came of age rather than carry them into Iarland [Ireland].  This of course raises the question of why he was going to Ireland, which the will can’t answer.  

You can access Essex Ancestors from home as a subscriber, or for free in the Searchroom at the ERO in Chelmsford or at our Archive Access Points in Saffron Walden and Harlow.  It will shortly be provided at Waltham Forest Archives.  Opening hours vary, so please check before you visit.

Before you subscribe please check that the documents you need exist and have been digitised at http://seax.essexcc.gov.uk/

You can view a handy video guide to using Essex Ancestors here.

Where there’s a will: the Dutch in Essex

Following the recent upload of images of an additional 22,500 wills to Essex Ancestors, Archivist Katharine Schofield takes a look at some of the wills of the Dutch population of Essex…

Among the wills recently added to Essex Ancestors are a number of wills from the Dutch population of Essex, almost all of which are from testators in Colchester.

From the 1560s onwards Flemish and Dutch Protestants, fearing religious persecution, came to England.  Flemish weavers had first settled in Colchester in the 14th century, and many of the new refugees chose to settle in the town.  They brought with them the techniques of bay and say weaving which revitalised the town’s cloth industry and brought prosperity to Colchester for the next 150 years.

The Dutch wills can be found on Essex Ancestors by using the search term ‘Dutch will’. They are either written in Flemish or record testators with Flemish names.  These wills often have a distinctive style, clearly differentiating them from others of the same date.

The will of Andries de Haene dated 19 May 1587 (D/ACW 2/254) is typical of these wills.  It was proved in the archdeaconry of Colchester, and although no parish is recorded for the testator, it is very likely that he was resident in Colchester.  There are two versions of the will, one in English and one in Flemish.

The English version of ... will (D/ACW 2/254)

The English version of Andries de Haene’s will (D/ACW 2/254)

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The Dutch version of Andries de Haene’s will (D/ACW 2/254)

It begins:

‘for because that wee have nothinge more surer then death and that the houre of death is most uncertein’.

 

Similar phrases to this often appear in the Dutch wills in contrast to English wills of the same date. The first bequest is of 10s. ‘for Love and brotherlye charitys sake to the poore of oure duytch congregation’. Charitable bequests were quite common at this date and the Dutch wills usually include bequests to the Dutch congregation in Colchester.

The next bequest is to his wife who was unnamed but described as his ‘lovinge bedfellowe’.  He left her ‘all her clothes Lynen and Wollen apartayninge to her body and also the best bedde wyth all thinges longing to the same’, together with £10.

Bequests to wives of their clothes and a bed appear to be a Flemish custom, in the will of Nicolas de Hane of 1584 (D/ABW 12/181) he specified that if his widow were to remarry she would retain the bed and appurtenances ‘According to the custome of the towne of Helle’ [Halle, Belgium].

Andries de Haene continued by dividing the remainder of his goods into two parts, one part for his wife and the other for his children.  In most such cases the wife was given custody of any children and to keep their inheritance safe for them until they married when they would inherit.

Theodorus van den Berghe (the second minister of the Dutch church in Colchester) in his will of 1598 (D/ACW 3/166) specified that children should be given their inheritance on their wedding day ‘or when they come to yeares off great discretion’. William Casier, son of Malius, who was born in Meenen in Flanders [Menen, Belgium] specifically stated in his will of 1588 (D/ABW 9/259) that this was the ‘use of … Meenen’.  He also required that if his wife had to leave the country while still a widow, then any unmarried children should ‘helpe to beare the chardges of the voyage’.

It would seem that his widow Katherine did not have to leave and did not remarry as her will of 1590, when she was resident in the parish of Holy Trinity, Colchester also survives (D/ABW 9/287).  She left all her possessions to their four children Walter, Maliard, Josentge and Annanais (the executor).

Over the course of the 150 years, many of the Dutch names became anglicised many married into English families. Almost a century after the Dutch arrived Abigail Hedgethorne, a widow of St. Martin’s parish in Colchester (in the heart of the present-day Dutch Quarter of the town) left a will in 1666 (D/ACW 17/185).  As well as the English copy there is a version in Dutch where the family name was given as Hagedorn.

You can access Essex Ancestors from home as a subscriber, or for free in the Searchroom at the ERO in Chelmsford or at our Archive Access Points in Saffron Walden and Harlow.  It will shortly be provided at Waltham Forest Archives.  Opening hours vary, so please check before you visit.

Before you subscribe please check that the documents you need exist and have been digitised at http://seax.essexcc.gov.uk/

You can view a handy video guide to using Essex Ancestors here.

Where there’s a will: Richard Leget of Hornchuch

We have just uploaded digital images of a further 22,500 wills to our Essex Ancestors online subscription service (more on this here), and to mark the occasion here we take a look at one of our earliest wills…

Most medieval Essex wills relate to the nobility and major landowners.  These were proved at the courts of the Bishop of London and the Archbishop of Canterbury and are not deposited in the Essex Record Office.

However, during the 15th century, making a will became more common and a small number of 15th century wills survive among the records of the archdeaconry of Essex (D/AEW).

Among these is the will of Richard Leget of Hornchurch, dated 10 September 1484 (D/AEW 1/212).  The will itself is in Latin and Leget begins by leaving his soul to God, the Blessed [Virgin] Mary and all the saints and his body to buried in the parish church of St. Andrew.  He made a bequest of 8d. to the ‘Lord Abbot’ there [at Hornchurch] (there had been a priory in the parish until it was dissolved and granted to New College, Oxford in 1391).  He left to John Hubbart a mattress, two blankets, two linen sheets and a coverlet, requested that all his debts be paid and left everything else to his wife Alice.

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The first page of the will of Richard Leget, 1484 (D/AEW 1/212)

On the reverse of the will is a list of his debts, giving names and amounts.  There are two further lists in English stitched to the will.  The first of these is a list of money spent on the burial by Thomas Herde, one of the executors.  A total of 12s. 9d. was spent and amounts included 16d. for a ‘wyndyng cloth’, 14d. to the priest and clerk for the ‘deyrge’ [dirge] and mass, 4d. for ‘lyth’ [light], 8d. for the knell and priest, 8d. for bread and 12d. for ale, 21d. for ‘month mynde’ paid to the priest and clerk and 12d. to the sexton for the grave.

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Part of the inventory of Richard Legets possessions which is included with his will of 1484 (D/AEW 1/212)

There is also an inventory of his goods, beginning with his clothes – a gown of murray worth 5s. 4d., a blue gown worth 3s., a doublet worth 8d., a pair of hose worth 12d., an ‘olde cloke of blak’ valued at 8d..  It continues with household goods including a kettle valued at 2s. 4d., a brass pot, 2s., a ‘fryyng panne’ 8d., and also includes a brass posset (8d.), 31lbs. of pewter (5s. 2d.), three candlesticks (6d.), a ‘lanterne’ (3d.), a mattock (8d.) and a cart (2s. 8d.).

The recent upload of 22,500 wills to Essex Ancestors means that images of all our wills before c.1720 are now available online. You can access Essex Ancestors from home as a subscriber, or for free in the Searchroom at the ERO in Chelmsford or at our Archive Access Points in Saffron Walden and Harlow.  It will shortly be provided at Waltham Forest Archives.  Opening hours vary, so please check before you visit.

Before you subscribe please check that the documents you need exist and have been digitised at http://seax.essexcc.gov.uk/

You can view a handy video guide to using Essex Ancestors here.

Where there’s a will: major update to Essex Ancestors

We love wills here at ERO. These fascinating and incredibly useful documents can tell us all sorts of things about the lives of people in the past, and are a brilliant resource for genealogists and social and economic historians alike.

The majority of the population did not leave a will, but where these documents exist, they can be of great help in establishing family connections (particularly before census returns begin in 1841) and for researching the amount of personal property people owned.

It can be surprising to see what testators valued; in 1641 Elizabeth Fuller of Chigwell left her eldest son Henry my longe carte and dunge carte, my ponderinge crose my furnace, my mault quarne. We think the crose must be for religious contemplation and the quarne for grinding grain but it seems an odd mix of bequests. Her second son Robert received my best chest and my best brace [brass] pot which to modern eyes would seem to be the better bequest (D/AEW 21/71).

It can be surprising to see what testators valued; in 1641 Elizabeth Fuller of Chigwell left her eldest son Henry ‘my longe carte and dunge carte, my ponderinge crose my furnace, my mault quarne’. We think the crose must be for religious contemplation and the quarne for grinding grain but it seems an odd mix of bequests. Her second son Robert received ‘my best chest and my best brace [brass] pot’ which to modern eyes might seem to be the better bequest (D/AEW 21/71).

Our collections include about 70,000 wills which date from the 1400s to 1858. Digital images of about 20,000 of these wills have been available on our online subscription service Essex Ancestors for some time, and we have just uploaded a further 22,500.

This is a project we have been working on for many months, with our digitisers spending about 375 hours photographing the wills, our conservators spending about 44 hours conserving them, and our archivists spending about 752 hours checking all the images against their catalogue entries to get ready for the upload.

It can be surprising to see what testators valued; in 1641 Elizabeth Fuller of Chigwell left her eldest son Henry my longe carte and dunge carte, my ponderinge crose my furnace, my mault quarne.  We think the crose must be for religious contemplation and the quarne for grinding grain but it seems an odd mix of bequests.  Her second son Robert received my best chest and my best brace [brass] pot which to modern eyes would seem to be the better bequest (D/AEW 21/71).

A portion of our wills collection in storage

This upload will mean that digital images of all of our wills dating to c.1720 will be available on Essex Ancestors. We will now press on with working on the rest of the wills, which date from c.1720-1858, for upload in the next few months.

To celebrate the upload, our archivists will be choosing some of their favourite wills to share on the blog over the next few days and weeks.

You can access Essex Ancestors from home as a subscriber, or for free in the Searchroom at the ERO in Chelmsford or at our Archive Access Points in Saffron Walden and Harlow.  It will shortly be provided at Waltham Forest Archives.  Opening hours vary, so please check before you visit.

Before you subscribe please check that the documents you need exist and have been digitised at http://seax.essexcc.gov.uk/

You can view a handy video guide to using Essex Ancestors here.