Thursday, March 15, 2018

What Are the Chances My Northumberland Ancestor Made a Will?

William Doyle was a coal miner who died in Northumberland, England, in 1838 after being run over by a cart wheel.  He was about 36 years old.  What are the chances he wrote a will?

Reasons a Will Was Created
  1. A person who owned property wanted to declare who was to receive the property after his death.   
  2. A person wrote a will when he anticipated his impending death.

Would William have owned real property?  It's hard to imagine that a coal miner would have accumulated enough money to buy land, or even that he would have worked at the same mine long enough to wish to own property.  He probably owned furniture, dishes, bedding, clothes, perhaps his own tools.  Would his possessions have been "will worthy" --  worth the time, effort, and perhaps expense, to make a will?

Coal mining is and was a dangerous profession.  When miners went underground to their work every day they probably knew it could be the last time they might see the light of day.  At what point would a coal miner have decided it was time to make a will?  

I doubt there's any easy way to know whether William had a will other than to search for one.  And even if he had one, it would have to have been probated for there to be probate records.

I'm on foreign ground with this next question.  Did England have an Orphan's Court and, if so, would a guardian have been assigned to William's five children?  This happened in Pennsylvania after the death of one of my ancestors:  the children were assigned a guardian through the Orphan's Court though their mother was alive and cared for them.  Would that have happened in England in 1838?

And, of course, there's always the question of whether finding a will would help in my search for William's place of birth and his parents' and siblings' names.  Is it worth my time to search or should I move on?

Researching in another country is an interesting experience, especially when it goes beyond indexed census records and birth, marriage, and death records.

Do you have experience researching in England?


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