Living Relatives Archives

Wills – an Important Source


One of the most useful sources for family historians is probate documents. If an ancestor left a will, it will often contain information about members of the extended family, such as this one written by Henrietta Jones of New Southgate in 1945. Henrietta  left monetary bequests to a whole list of relatives and friends.

We might also gain an insight into what kind of life the testator lived, what their occupation was, any property they owned, as well as details of  their personal estate such as jewellery and household effects.

Even if an ancestor died without leaving a will, the next of kin or their representative would have had to apply for a grant of administration in order to dispose of the assets of the deceased.

Since 12 January 1858, all wills in England and Wales have been proved and letters of administration granted by a civil probate court, replacing the rather complicated hierarchy of ecclesiastical courts which had been operating since medieval times. Copies were sent from district registries to the Principal Probate Registry (PPR) and they compiled annual calendars.

These calendars can be searched at First Avenue House, 42-49 High Holborn, WC1V 6NP, with most of the more recent entries now available on computer, back to about 1920. Calendars for 1861 – 1941 (with a few years missing) have also been digitised by Ancestry and can therefore be searched online.






Copies can then be ordered, either by visiting PPR or by post. Full instructions are available on their website. Until September 2011, it was possible to get a same-day copy of any will or administration at PPR. This service was extensively used by intestacy professionals and ‘heir hunting’ firms. Unfortunately, the so-called one-hour service has now been withdrawn and the quickest option is to collect documents a week later.

It would be a mistake to assume that only our more wealthy ancestors left wills. This example shows that in 1948, George Ernest Tertius Swinfield left to his daughter, Frances Olive Payne, “one pair of steps, one deck chair, the hearth rug from my front room, one lamb wool bed cover, pots and saucepans and my ring…”. His other daughter, Sylvia, inherited her father’s bird cage.










Tracing a Silversmith’s Family


We were recently commissioned to do some research by Geoffrey Munn, managing director of  Wartski of Grafton Street, London W1 and jewellery expert on the Antiques Roadshow. He had an interest in the work of Gilbert Leigh Marks (1861-1905) and wanted to find relatives alive today who might have information or perhaps photos of him.


Marks was a talented silversmith and metalworker who, despite his career being cut short by ill health and an early death, produced perhaps 700-800 pieces. His work is recognisable by its use of patterns taken from nature and he was considered one of the finest art silversmiths working in the Arts and Crafts tradition. Marks lived in Croydon and married Florence Elizabeth Ford (1864-1917) in 1888. The couple had no children and the aim of our research was to find living relatives of Florence’s large familyof brothers and sisters, some of whom had been left pieces of Marks’s work in his wife’s will.





We then went on to trace descendants of Marks’s assistant, Louis Movio, an accomplished metal worker and silversmith in his own right. Movio was born in Milan in about 1857/8 and also died young, aged only 43, in Birmingham.

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Diary Dates for 2011

I am giving the following family history talks during 2011. All are welcome to attend. Please click the links for more details.

Wed 11 May 7.30pm

Woolwich Family History Society DNA Tests for Family Historians

Wed 18 May 2pm

Society of Genealogists Parish Registers and Parish Chest Records Online

Sat 28 May 10.30am

Society of Genealogists

I’m Stuck

Sat 4 Jun 10.30am

Society of Genealogists My Ancestor Came From London

Tue 21 Jun 7.15pm

Shropshire Family History Society Finding Living and Missing People

Wed 19 Oct 2pm

Society of Genealogists

Tracing Living Relatives and Missing People

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