Tuesday, 6 December 2016

What can you find out from a will? – Part 2

In my last post I summarized some information I found about my Pearson ancestors after analyzing the original will of my Great-Grandaunt Emma Jane (Pearson) Wray (1861-1951). In this post I will set out some interesting discoveries I made about others named as beneficiaries.

Emma Jane kept in contact with her siblings and many nieces and nephews. I have copies of a few letters and cards from which I have been able to extract information about several family members. The will added to this library of data.
Photos taken at 23 Priory Terrace: left -1909; right - present day, from Google street view
Note on the back of the snapshot, later sent to my grandfather, James Pearson Shepheard, says - "My house where I lived when you came to visit me before you went to Canada"; Emma is standing in front of the residence; photo was taken by James Henry (Jim) Pearson, one of Emma's nephews, who was killed in action in WWI
I stated before that several family members were remembered with cash bequests. There was another group named who were to receive the residue of Emma’s estate:
  • ·         niece Annie Overton
  • ·         Winifred, the widow of her late nephew Thomas
  • ·         two daughters of her late nephew Thomas – Pamela and Joyce

For the second group, named in the original will:

Annie Overton was Annie Louise (Slinn) Overton, a daughter of Sarah Ann Pearson and George Albert Slinn. She married Walter John Overton in 1910. They had three children between 1911 and 1915. In the first codicil to Emma’s will, signed in 1947, she left a house in Leamington Spa to Annie and her husband. One might conclude that Annie and her family had been very supportive of Emma in order to receive that kind of bequest. The will showed Annie’s address at the time – Bishops Itchington in Warwickshire – which allowed me to easily find her and Walter on the 1939 Register living in the same place.

Results from 1837 onward come up with the mother’s maiden name. Thus I thought I might be able to match the wives of Emma’s married brothers. The birth dates of the nieces and nephews I knew about began in the 1880s and extended into the early 1900s, so that gave me a range of years for the searches.

The will gave me a lot of information about Thomas Pearson’s family from which I could track them down. He was born in 1892 and had obviously died before 1946 and his daughter would have been born before that year. I figured he would not have married before 1910, at the age of 18. So I did a search of FreeBMD for the births of Joyce and Pamela Pearson between 1910 and 1946, looking for people with mothers with the same maiden name. You can do that for births from 1911 onward on FreeBMD. You can also now search the entire GRO index from 1837 using a maiden name of a mother which really helps in deciding which person might be the best fit for your family.

Anyway, between 1910 and 1946 I found 285 girls named Joyce Pearson and 83 named Pamela Pearson. A computer search narrowed down several on both lists with the same maiden names for the mother. But only one resulted in girls born within a few years and a few miles of each other. Their mother’s name was Jenkinson: Joyce in 1920 and Pamela in 1924 and both in London. A FreeBMD search of marriages for Thomas Pearson and a lady named Winifred resulted in only one with a surname of Jenkinson and it was also close in time and proximity to the birth places of the children – in London, in 1918. I was now very sure I was on the right track. A search of the death index resulted in deaths for both in the same locality, Thomas in 1942 and Winifred in 1955, both in Wallington, London. That was also where I found the couple on the 1939 Register. Starting with names listed on a will, facts about a whole family emerged.

In 1949, Emma’s codicil to her will took away the bequest to Annie Walton and divided it among my grandfather, my grandmother and their three children, all living in Canada.

Emma Jane’s will was only 2 ½ pages long and each of the codicils were less than a page each. But they were crammed with information about many individuals and allowed me to add significant details about my Pearson family ancestors. The information also left me with several unanswered questions and some new trails to follow.

Family historians would be well-advised to obtain copies of wills of any and all ancestors. Some may come up short but others will be rich with information about people you may not have even thought about.

Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy in several family history society journals. He has also served as an editor of two such publications. Wayne provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated