The first will I ever tried to read was written in 1850 by my 3rd great-grandfather, John Snow. I remember feeling overwhelmed because I didn’t know what to expect, couldn’t read the writing and didn’t have a clue as to what I was really looking for. Fortunately, Phyllis Quarg, president of the San Diego Genealogical Society, held my hand and walked me through the process.
One of the most interesting conditions of the will had to do with the administration of one of the daughter’s inheritance. The money, John stated, was to be controlled by her brother. At first I thought John didn’t trust his daughter with the money, but Phyllis explained it was more likely that John didn’t trust his daughter’s husband!
Since then, I’ve read many wills, and found several sites on the Internet to help with deciphering old handwriting such as www.amberskyline.com/treasuremaps/oldhand.html, and knowing what to expect in wills written during specific periods of time.
If you’d like to know more about the genealogical clues in wills, here are a few favorites:
• Wills on the Web
This excellent site contains authentic wills dating from 1615 (Martin Christian) to 1997 (Princess Diana). If you’ve never read a will, pick one from this Web site that’s from about the same period as yours to get a ballpark idea of what to expect.
• Wills and Testaments
Learn what a will looks like, where to find them, and what you can learn from them.
• Glossary of Unusual Words Found in Wills
• Wills of the Mayflower Passengers
• Analyzing Wills for Useful Clues (from the Board for Certification of Genealogists)
Hendrickson is a contributing editor for Family Tree Magazine. She also is a family historian, freelance writer and the author of two astronomy books. Her Web site is at www.ancestornews.com. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org