Ancestry.com.au reveals the Last Will and Testament of Wealthy Britons

Ancestry.com.au, Australia’s number one family history website[i], announced the launch of London, England, Wills and Probate, 1525 – 1858, historical records which detail some of the largest inheritances passed down in the early years of the history of the city.

With over one third of all Australians having UK heritage[ii] and almost six per cent of the population being born in the UK[iii], it is likely that anyone able to locate an ancestor in the collection may be able to claim a connection to either royalty, the very wealthy or landed gentry, as the records date from the 15th century, when wills were reserved for members of the upper echelons of society.

In a recent survey, Ancestry.com.au revealed that over four million[iv] Australians could be descended from royalty, aristocracy, a wealthy land owner or a famous historical figure. With so many of us potentially descended from English high society, this challenges the popular belief that ‘all Australians’ are descended from convicts’.

Released in partnership with the London Metropolitan Archives, London, England, Wills and Probate, 1525 – 1858 contains more than 117,000 records. Many exciting discoveries about our family’s fortunes can be discovered, as anyone with an ancestor in this collection will be able to delve further into that person’s life, learning more about their social standing, their worldly possessions and to whom they were bequeathed.

The popular England and Wales National Probate Calendar, 1861-1941 is being made available and is free to search online for the first time from 1 July to 8 July, 2011[iv]. The index includes information on more than six million wills proven across the 19th and 20th centuries, including the wills of more than 4,500 people who died in Australia.

Included in the index are numerous famous names, including:

  • Charles Sturt – left effects under £1500 pounds to his wife Charlotte Christina Sturt (nee Greene) on his death in 1869, which is around AU$1.6 million today[v]. Apparently his financial situation was such that he could not be buried in an ‘appropriate fashion’ and a friend had to provide sufficient funds to cover the funeral costs at the time.
  • William Charles Wentworth – another explorer at the other end of the wage scale left effects under £70,000 to his widow and children (this is in addition to the £96,000 he left them in Australia) in 1872, which is around AU$152 million today.
  • Anthony Trollope – the novelist and public servant left almost £26,000 pounds to his wife and son when he passed away in 1882, which is around AU$25 million.
  • Charles Darwin – the acclaimed naturalist Charles Robert Darwin is listed as having left a personal estate worth £146,911 when he died in 1882, which is around AU$141 million today.
  • Charles Dickens – the famous Victorian author Charles Dickens died leaving ‘effects under £80,000’ when he died in 1870, which is around AU$82 million today.

The records contained in the London, England, Wills and Probate, 1525 – 1858 collection paint a vibrant picture of the lives of millions of London and Surrey residents living during these years, and fall into three main categories:

Wills – giving instructions on the disposition of a person’s estate and goods after death. Details often include names, dates, property, burial information, and indications of family and other relationships amongst the names of beneficiaries, executors and witnesses.

Inventories – listing the deceased possessions, inventories include details of goods and ‘chattel’ such as furniture, household items and heirlooms, giving a unique insight into an ancestor’s wealth or lifestyle.

Letters of Administration – granting someone the right to administer a deceased person’s estate in the event that no will had been created. Often includes additional information on the next of kin.

The records are searchable by a combination of name, date, Parish and county and can even be browsed using an ancestors’ last name and probate year.

Another tremendous resource for those seeking to investigate potential inheritances is The Andrews Collection. This unique card index compiled in England from the 1790s until about 1970 features a collection of notices from newspapers and various official sources, such as the London Gazette. Approximately 250,000 cards include announcements of births, marriages, obituaries, and deaths abroad; also notices of wills, unclaimed estates, and filings under the Colonial Probates Act of 1892 (which recognised probates from courts in British possession).

Brad Argent, Content Director for Ancestry.com.au Australia and New Zealand, said: “Given that such a large number of Australians can trace their roots back to Britain, this is the perfect time to take advantage of these incredible resources to discover the details of your true British heritage – and perhaps come across your own family treasure in the process. It’s true that we often focus on our convict past, but this collection points to new discoveries that could reveal connections to substantial wealth and social standing”.

To find out more about your family’s heritage, please visit www.ancestry.com.au

References:
[i] comScore, 2009, based on genealogy related websites selected from the Family and Parenting sub-category under the Community category
[ii] Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2001 Census
[iii] Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2001 Census
[iv] Access to the England and Wales National Probate Calendar 1861-1941 and England, Andrews Newspaper Index Cards, 1790-1976 will be free from 1 July until 8 July, 2011.
[v] Representative sample of the Australian population in a survey completed by Ancestry.com.au, December 2009
[vi] Lawrence H. Officer, “Five Ways to Compute the Relative Value of a UK Pound Amount, 1830 to Present,” Measuring Worth, 2011. Total amount was calculated using www.xe.com to deduce current day value


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