Boston trip: some documents are coming with us

We have even more exciting news about our Boston trip – we will be taking some original documents with us.

Two historic wills will be making the trip across the Atlantic for visitors to our events in Boston to come and see, one made by Richard Knight in 1703 and the other by Richard Fitzsymonds in 1663.

Knight was an innkeeper from Rochford. His will (D/AEW 30/7) was made on 3 January 1703 and he died a few days later (he was buried in Rochford churchyard on 15 January).

Burial of Richard Knight, 15 January 1703 in Rochford (D/P 129/1/1 image 27)

Burial of Richard Knight, 15 January 1703 in Rochford (D/P 129/1/1 image 27)

He was a prosperous man, and left his mother Love Wood a hundred pounds and three houses for life.

These houses – and two more in Moulsham, Chelmsford – were to pass after his mother’s death to his brother George Knight of ‘Herford in New England’, the place now known as Hartford, Connecticut.

Extract from Richard Knight's will, leaving his brother George Knight in Connecticut five houses, and his brother John Wood 1 shilling (D/AEW 30/7)

Extract from Richard Knight’s will, leaving his brother George Knight in Connecticut five houses, and his brother John Wood 1 shilling (D/AEW 30/7)

Court records show that the will was contested by Richard’s half-brother John Wood, who had been left just one shilling (5p.). Trouble was brewing even before Richard’s death. On 9 January, under pressure from Wood, the executor gathered together three extra witnesses, led by a local gentleman, Thomas Wheeler. Asked whether he was willing to have the will read over to him, the dying man replied ‘noe it is well enough’. Later he allowed Wheeler to break open the sealed will and to read its contents – but only after John Wood’s wife had left the room. Richard then confirmed his original intentions, ‘putting his forefinger upon the marke by him before made’, and the three new witnesses signed the will as it was re-sealed.

Sadly we do not have the Woods’ side of the story, but the court of probate found for the will as written. Whether George in Connecticut ever got his houses remains to be discovered.

The other will is of Richard Fitzsymonds of Great Yeldham, gentleman (D/AMW 9/1).  He made his will in 1663 but did not die until 1680, which is an unusually long gap between a will being made and the testator’s death. The will has a particularly fulsome religious preamble and includes bequests to the poor of three parishes where he owned property.

Will of Richard Fitzsymonds 1663

The detailed religious preamble to the will of Richard Fitzsymonds and bequests to the local poor (D/AMW 9/1)

He also leaves a bequest to his brother and those of his nephews and nieces who were born in England and went out to New England with their father.  He mentions a number of other brothers, nephews, nieces and kinsmen and leaves money for them all to have a gold ring worth twenty shillings.

Extract from the will of Richard Fitzsymonds, 1663, leaving property to his brother Samuel Symonds and his nieces and nephews in New England

Extract from the will of Richard Fitzsymonds, 1663, leaving property to his brother Samuel Symonds and his nieces and nephews in New England

 

The family was clearly wealthy and had lands in several parishes and two seal rings.  He also asks for a jewel to be purchased for his daughter in law as a token of his love for her.

If you’re in the Boston area next week (3-7 August 2015), do pop in to see ERO staff and these original documents at one of the locations they will be going to – all the details are here.

Both of these wills, along with 70,000 others, are available to view online on our subscription service Essex Ancestors.

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!

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: 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.

New team member: Andy Morgan

Our Digitisation Studio is one of those hidden but vital parts of the Record Office. The Studio does all of the digitisation work for Essex Ancestors as well as processing public orders, and creates hundreds of thousands of images of our documents each year. We are glad to be welcoming a new staff member to the Studio, and here we get to know him a little better.

Name: Andy Morgan

Role: Digitiser

New Digitiser Andy Morgan at work in ERO's Digitisation Studio

New Digitiser Andy Morgan at work in ERO’s Digitisation Studio

Why did you want to work at ERO?

Having worked at ERO for a short period 3 years ago, I was interested in the historical documents that I have photographed and converted to digital images and that they may now be more accessible for the general public to research.

 

Describe an average day at ERO for you:

The day may vary from photographing public documents, wills and books, recording births deaths and marriages, some of them date back over 400 years, beautifully written with quill and ink and many describe in detail how life was many years ago.

 

What do you do when you’re not at ERO?

I enjoy sailing during the warm weather and restoring my classic car.

 

Can you tell us about an interesting document you have come across while at ERO?

I have not had the chance to photograph some of the oldest documents in the collection but just copying some of the early marriage certificates gives you a clue to what life was like between the two world wars with all the different types of jobs that people had at that time that are not around now like cabinet makers, Bakelite moulders, stokers and car men.

From 1939 when the second world war commenced you can clearly see how life changed for women, replacing the men away at war by working in industry, women’s land army, to transporting replacement aircraft across the country. It can all come to life when you see it in black and white apart from the fact that the book may not have been opened since the day the happy wedding day took place!