Tuesday 29 November 2016

What can you find out from a will? – Part 1

My Great-Aunt Emma Jane Wray (nee Pearson) left a will when she died in 1951. Actually her original will was signed in 1946. She added two codicils, one in 1947 and another in 1949. She left property and sums of money to several nieces and nephews as well as to some of their children.

I think Emma had favourites among her siblings, nephews and nieces. She singled out only a few of them for bequests, generally the younger ones and many of them unmarried.

For this time period, mid-20th century, it is often difficult to specifically identify people. There is no census data. The 1939 Register has names redacted if they are still possibly alive. BMD records can be confusing especially when names are common. The will was very helpful in confirming some people and even in adding some names to the family tree. I will describe how I was able to sort out some of the people and their relationships in successive posts rather than try to tell the whole story at once.

Emma Jane was an older sister to my great-grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Pearson who married James Shepheard in Devon, in 1890. Emma did not marry until 1916, at the age of 55. She did not have any children so much of her family life appears to have centred on her siblings and their children. I have a copy of a wonderful coloured photograph taken of Emma and her new husband, Stephen Wray that was given to my grandfather. He kept in touch with her for many years after he immigrated to Canada in 1907. She also sent him letters and photos which I have as well.
1916 Wedding photo of Stephen Wray and Emma Jane Pearson
Emma was very community-minded. She turned to two friends, one a solicitor, to manage the affairs of her estate. She was generous and supportive of institutions important to her during her life. In her original will, Emma provided funds for: the Vicar and Churchwardens to assist them in the maintenance of the graves of her grandparents, parents and a brother buried in the Leamington Spa Cemetery and of a chapel in the cemetery (£300); the churchwardens of two churches for general expenses (£25 each); a convalescent Home for Consumptives (£25; her sister, my great-grandmother had died of the same disease); the local British Legion for the benefit of ex-servicemen (£25); a Home for Incurables (£25); her doctor (£25) and a local minister (£25).

She left personal cash bequests to only a few family members including:
  • ·         niece Elsie Pearson, in the form of an annuity (£26/an)
  • ·         nephew Alfred Pearson (£100)
  • ·         nephew James Pearson Shepheard (£100)
  • ·         nephew Charles Pearson (£25)
  • ·         niece Evelyn Pearson (£100)
  • ·         niece Annie Walton (£100)

The residue of Emma’s estate was then to be divided among:
  • ·         niece Annie Overton
  • ·         Winifred, the widow of her late nephew Thomas
  • ·         two daughters of her late nephew Thomas – Pamela and Joyce

Details about the first group, shown in the original will are as follows:

Elsie Pearson was Elsie Norris Pearson, a daughter of Emma’s brother, Henry Thomas Pearson (or Thomas Henry as many documents have his forenames in a different order). The address given for Elsie in the will, #16 Adelaide Square, Windsor, was his family’s residence in 1911 and which also helped me find them on the 1939 Register on FindMyPast. I had to just the address as the FMP database had the surname spelled as Perrson. You cannot read Elsie’s name on the register, though, because of an inkblot over most of it. The fact that funds were set up as an annuity suggested she may have been institutionalized at some point or incapacitated in some manner. That led me back to the 1911 census where I found her living at the Royal Deaf & Dumb Asylum, Victoria Road, in Margate, Kent, with 349 other students. The story of this school is very interesting and I will write about it in a later post.

Alfred Pearson was undoubtedly Alfred Christopher Pearson, the son of Emma’s brother, James and his wife, Isabella (Atkinson) Pearson. Isabella and her children had moved to Rhyl, Wales, shortly after the death of her husband in 1897. James is the sibling buried in Leamington Spa Cemetery whose monument Emma provided funds for maintenance. Alfred was living at home in Rhyl, Wales, on both the 1901 and 1911 censuses. I also found him on the 1939 Register, still living in Rhyl, then with a wife, Mary J. They were married in 1923.

James Pearson Shepheard was my grandfather. He had always been a favourite of his aunt Emma after his mother died when he was only an infant. He came to live with his grandparents in Leamington Spa for a time where Emma likely saw him often. They stayed in touch until her death, well after he had immigrated to Canada.

I have not found nephew Charles Pearson. In an attempt to locate him on various records I did several searches of the GRO Online Index. There are 518 names on the birth list between 1880 and 1904, the date range for the births of most of Emma’s nieces and nephews. One of them could/should be him. I am looking first to see if any of the mothers’ maiden names match up with those who married any of Emma’s brothers. There a few possibilities but I have not confirmed which one is the right Charles. What the will did tell me is that one of her brothers did have a son of that name, so that is a start.

Evelyn was probably another daughter of Henry Thomas. We can infer from her name in the will that she was still unmarried in 1946. There are several women on the 1939 Register that could be her. Perhaps when I obtain a birth certificate and learn her actual birth date, I may be able to narrow down which one is the most likely to be my ancestor.

Annie Walton would have been Annie Isabella (Pearson) Walton, a daughter of James and Isabella (Atkinson) Pearson. She married Jack Walton in 1944. In a codicil signed in 1949, Emma revoked the bequest to Annie. I wonder what the story was for that change. The will did at least tell me that Annie had married and that her husband’s name was Walton, so that helped to find the marriage date and place. I have not yet confirmed her or Jack’s residence on the 1939 Register.

The contents of the will led me to important documents and information about many Pearson family members. As a result of additional searches I even found some others who were not named as beneficiaries.

In my next post I will describe some of the other information I discovered from an analysis of Emma Jane’s will and codicils.

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