Did your ancestor have an inheritance? Was their benefactor from Essex? Find out in the Essex wills beneficiaries index 1675-1858. You will find beneficiaries who did not share the family name of the person who made the will. This is a great way to find connections between different branches of a family, to find female ancestors who may have changed their name or even confirm family secrets like illegitimate children. There are over 150,000 names in this record set taken from over 36,000 wills in a fascinating resource that can serve as a valuable census substitute in earlier centuries.
Each record contains a transcript and an image of the index. The amount of information can vary but you can find out the following about your ancestor:
Beneficiary’s first name(s)
Beneficiary’s last name
Beneficiary’s relationship to the testator (person whose will it is)
Testator’s first name(s)
Testator’s last name
Compiled over 15 years by researcher Thora Broughton, this index has been a valuable source for genealogists for more than 25 years.
The index records all people mentioned in a will, with the exception of witnesses and those with the same name as the testator - therefore not only beneficiaries and relatives appear but also executors, trustees, occupiers of property and adjacent landowners and so on.
The wills are dated between 1505 and 1916 for the following probate courts:
Peculiar of the Deanery of Bocking (testators from various Essex parishes plus Hadleigh, Monks Eleigh and Moulton in Suffolk)
Bishop of London’s Commissary (Essex & Hertfordshire jurisdiction – testators from 39 parishes in west and north Essex and 25 parishes in east Herts)
Archdeacon of Colchester (testators from 107 parishes in south west, south and south east Essex)
Archdeacon of Essex (testators from 140 parishes in north east and north west Essex)
Peculiar of Good Easter
Archdeacon of Middlesex (Essex & Hertfordshire jurisdiction – testators from 101 parishes in all parts of Essex and 6 in west Herts)
Peculiar of the Sokens
Peculiar of Writtle with Roxwell
It would not have been unusual for a non-Essex resident who held property or financial interests in the county to have their wills proved in any of the above courts.
A more detailed explanation of the layout and jurisdiction of the Ecclesiastical courts, which handled probate and marriage licences before 1858, is available in the Useful links and resources.
A few notes on the index
Date is the date of making the will rather than of probate, which might have been proved years later.
The index groups names found in the same will together, which can be seen in the image. This can help you find other family members.
Sons or brothers of the testator who share the same surname are not indexed but they may be found in the wills of various relations such as maternal grandparents, married sisters or in-laws.