W is for Witnesses, Wills & Workhouses


WMy A2Z 2016 theme is how to pursue an interest in family history/genealogy – I’d love you to join me on the journey.

Some letters have so many possibilities while others, like Q and X, challenge us to find a suitable match. W could be for so many records in family history research but I’ll limit it to a few.

W is for Witnesses

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When we look at documents from certificates to news stories, our tendency is to focus on those we perceive to be the key players ie our ancestral families. All other names tend to blur into the background.

Is this a Wise move? No, not really. After all, think once again of your own life events and transactions, and all those people in your contacts list. We rarely choose some random stranger to witness something unless the law requires us to do so. Quite often the witnesses will be close friends at the time (if not forever friends) or relatives of varying degrees of closeness. Looking closely at the names and trying to identify their connection to your family may open up doors and knock down walls. Similarly the absence of a name you’d expect will make you ask more questions. Had there been a family falling-out or was the person simply living too far away to be there?

For example, my grandfather’s name is not listed among the many names of gift-givers at his sister’s wedding. Was he being difficult and was he Mr “Anonymous” or had their rift already occurred? Similarly was the absence of my maternal grandfather from his parents’ jubilee anniversary indications of the semi-isolation he experienced from marrying a non-Catholic, as I’ve been told, or for another reason? Presumably as he was patched into the photo, his siblings didn’t necessarily feel the same.

Church records are highly likely to include close family. Broadford, Parish Kilseily registers hint at which Reddan family is related to my O’Briens in Co Clare. The disappearance of Bridget and Mary as witnesses gives a clue to their emigration date.

W is for Wills

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Image from Shutterstock.com

As with all other family research, you will find wills in the jurisdiction where your family lived…or you hope you will. If they have so little it’s possible that they won’t require a will to go to probate. If they died unexpectedly, or they were just disorganised, they may have died without a will in which case you will be looking at intestacies. I have a mixed hit-rate with wills but when they’re good, they’re generally very good. You also never quite know what you might find in the packet which comes with the will and you may even get a death certificate as part of the documentation. You can read an earlier post here.

In some instances you may find there are full lists of items owned by the person – particularly when death duties apply and the records have survived (New South Wales is good for this). I have been very lucky with the few family members who lived in NSW after leaving Queensland.

These wills may in turn lead you to land records and previously unknown property assets. If you find the land records too complex there are a number of professional genealogists who specialise in this field.

W is for Workhouses

Did your family ever use the phrase “you’ll end up in the poor house”? The memory of the threat of poverty and ending up in the workhouse remained vivid for many of our Irish ancestors, especially those who left during or soon after the Famine.

I’m not going to elaborate on these records here, but if you find your ancestor listed as a pauper, the workhouse records or the parish records are where you want to look. In Scotland you will also likely find information in the Kirk Sessions. My earlier post on the workhouses is here but the main gateway for information is this one by Peter Higginbotham.

W is also for War but there are so many records available, and most researchers are familiar with them, so I won’t elaborate. Examples of how they can be used will be found under my military history category.

Thank you for visiting me on this journey. I love comments <smile>

There’s a plethora of reading choices on this year’s A to Z Challenge, so my challenge to you is to visit the sign-up page and select one (or more) blogs to read between the numbers 400 to 499.

 

 

 

13 thoughts on “W is for Witnesses, Wills & Workhouses

  1. I discovered that my 2x ggf had another wife, and with her had 2 children in Ireland (never found any more about them, possibly stayed in Ireland) then came to Canada and had 2 daughters and the wife died. The 2 baby girls were given to others of the wife’s famiky to raise. My ancestor married again a few years later and had 1 daughter and 7 sons, one my ggf. The only way I knew that I had found the right older half sister is that 2 of the boys were witnesses at her wedding, saying they were her brothers.
    Very interesting W post.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have found wills to be wonderful sources of information about my enslaved ancestors when I can find one for the slave holders. After that, I’m rarely finding anything yet bu hopeful. Witnesses are always interesting. I have often found relatives witnessing at weddings. My mother used to reference the poor house, as in that was where we were going to end up for some reason or another. When we moved to Lake County Michigan there was an actual poor house still standing. Not being used as a poor house, of course.

    Finding Eliza

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve seen how useful slave owners’ wills have been in your research…a specific, and definitely unpleasant, indicator of “assets”. How interesting that “the poor house” became part of your vernacular as well….I wonder if it was a predominantly Irish thing.

      Like

    • Good point! Interesting to see who is chosen. I really wanted info for the solicitors managing my great-grandfather’s estate until the 1960s but sadly they said they hadn’t retained it.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: A to Z 2016 Summary | Family history across the seas

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