Tracing Suffolk wills for Suffolk folk

I’ve recorded a Facebook Live about finding wills for people who lived in Suffolk.

Finding will for Suffolk folk

In my previous live, I talked a lot about finding wills in Essex, but what about Suffolk? In this live, I'll share my tips for finding wills for people who lived – and died – in Suffolk.

Posted by Essex & Suffolk Surnames on Wednesday, 13 May 2020

There’s several handy links I mention, so here goes…

Prerogative Court of Canterbury wills (PCC)

Search on The National Archive’s catalogue, Discovery. It’s £3.50 to download wills unless at a UK university, or public library.

PCC wills are available to view on Ancestry via certain subscriptions. My tip is to search on Discovery first, then look for it on Ancestry if you have the sub that includes PCC. This is because (and I hate to say it, but it’s true…) that some of the personal names and placenames have not been transcribed terribly well on Ancestry (eg. I found someone’s residence of “Gray’s Inn” transcribed as “Crap’s Inn”. Hilarious, but wrong).

The style of handwriting used for PCC wills is very difficult – to start with. When I first encountered one I took one look at it and nearly gave up. But I persevered and learnt how to read the script, and now I find it really easy. You will too if you give it a try, I promise!

Suffolk Record Office – The Hold

All original wills held by SRO’s different sites (Bury St Edmund’s and Ipswich) can be searched for on The Hold. I’m not sure if registered copies appear on there or not. Many have been digitised so you can download those on demand online for £6 each. If the will hasn’t been digitised, you can request a copy and pay online, and the archivists will send you a copy. Note that registered copies of wills are often held on microfilm and are written in the same difficult handwriting as PCC wills!

Some of SRO wills are indexed in Findmypast’s set of printed wills indexes: England & Wales Published Wills & Probate Indexes, 1300-1858. This covers Ipswich wills 1370-1550 and Archdeaconry of Sudbury 1354-1700 and 1800-1858. Contact SRO to ask if they have a will for someone if the time period you’re looking for isn’t included in those books. There might be a charge for a search.

At some point, someone began putting together lists including extracts of wills by parish. So for instance if you search The Hold for “Washbrook wills” you get a record listing the names of people in Washbrook c1384-1600 who left wills, the date and the place the will is held. It also includes wills by people not in Washbrook but who left significant bequests to the parish, so they apparently had a link to the parish. The record is a list of names only, without links to the wills as some will be PCC wills or other and not necessarily held by SRO. These records also pop up if you do a search by name, and that name happens to be one of the ones listed.

Norfolk Record Office

Because Suffolk came under the ecclesiastical auspices of Norwich, some wills for Suffolk folk are in fact held in Norwich. NROCAT (NRO archive’s catalogue) does, I think, include registered copies of wills as well as originals.

Findmypast’s Published Wills & Probate Indexes includes Norwich Consistory Court Wills from 1370-1550.

London Metropolitan Archives

One last place to check: just as Suffolk came under the auspices of Norwich, Essex came under the ecclesiastical auspices of London, hence some wills for people from Essex are held at the London Metropolitan Archives. You may find that someone from Suffolk might have died in Essex (if for instance they were living with friends or family in Essex at the time of their death) and their will might not be at ERO but at the LMA. The wills are available to view as part of one of Ancestry’s subscriptions which includes many London parish registers, school registers, Poor Law records etc.

You can search the LMA’s catalogue at their website as well as order copies of documents. Some documents have been digitised and can viewed on their site, but I’m not sure if this includes wills. Have a plunge and find out!

Unfortunate ways to die in Elmstead

Elmstead’s earliest burials register contains the cause of death for a few of the residents, and they give an insight into how life was lived – and death was… deathed four hundred years ago.

Lydia, wife of Henry Sumerson, died on 6th June 1651, and was buried the next day. She had been killed “ex ustione domus sua” – which appears to translate as being burned in their home. And in January 1643/4, William Kettle was “killed wth the fall of a tree.” In July 1643, Thomas Beure of Wivenhoe “died suddenly in the parish limits of Elmstead.”

Continue reading →

Updates to “Goings on in Dedham”

The tower of Dedham's church. It's grey (probably the flint) with beige stone detail.
The tower of Dedham’s church

Back in July last year, I was transcribing Dedham’s second oldest surviving parish register and found some interesting goings on among the baptisms. You can read about these in Goings in Dedham’s baptisms. Now that I’ve transcribed Dedham’s baptisms and burials up to 1812, and marriages up to 1753 (marriages 1754-1812 is in progress) it seemed like time to update those “goings on”.

First of all, we had Daniel, the illegitimate son of Daniel Fairs from Suffolk and Lingwood Ponder, a woman living in Dedham at the time. He was baptised on 12 January 1725/6. A burial for “Daniel Fairs” took place in Dedham a month later on 16 February 1725/6. There’s nothing other than a name, so I don’t know if it’s the child or the father. It might be more likely to be the father than the child as illegitimate children generally took their mother’s name (unless she married the father later, or perhaps another man and the child took their stepfather’s name). However, given that infant mortality wasn’t unusual at the time, it might be the case that the baby died aged about a month old.

Other people called Daniel Fairs appear in other parishes – in 1743, Daniel Fairs of Beaumont-cum-Moze married Mary Dunstill in Brightlingsea, and the Essex Record Office have the marriage licence bond and allegation (the bride’s name is transcribed as Dunshill). So anyone researching Daniel would be wise to get hold of a copy as it might offer a clue that would held you to work out if it was the Daniel born in Dedham who got married – or was he even the illegitimate child’s father? Another Daniel Fairs, a single man, married in Ramsey 1747. Was he the one born in Dedham? This must for now remain a mystery. And as for Lingwood Ponder – she only appears in that one baptism entry.

The entry drew my attention as it said that Lingwood, Daniel’s mother, was “living with” George Cock at the time. In modern parlance, we might assume they were a couple but it probably didn’t mean that then. George had married Susan Bibby in 1718. They had three children before Susan died in 1724, a month before her daughter. Then in 1730, it looks as if he married Elizabeth Podd in Dedham – so at the time when Lingwood was “living with” George, he was a widower. It seems that George died in Dedham in 1748 – the register says he was a “barber, middle-aged.” Only a couple of months later, Rebecca, George’s posthumous child by Elizabeth was baptised.

Michael Crow, an illegitimate child “born in incest” because his mother was the widow of his father’s brother, doesn’t appear in the registers around Dedham following his baptism, so I don’t know what happened next (yet, at least!). It’s entirely possible that his parents decided to move away from Dedham, so that they could marry where their relationship was unknown. His parents’ relationship would not be considered incestuous these days, but because the Bible states that a married couple become of “one flesh”, historically a marriage between a brother-in-law and a sister-in-law fell in the prohibited degrees, as much as if they were close blood relatives. The law changed in the early 20th century.

As for Patience Prescott – she and her family don’t seem to make further appearances in the parish registers so far transcribed around Dedham, nor in the Essex Record Office’s index, the National Archives’ index or on Findmypast. Where did they go? Will we ever know?

“An Aethiopian of Ginny”

Jean Jeggo, transcribing Gosfield’s baptism register for FreeREG, found the following entry:

Thomas an Aethiopian of Ginny in Africa beeing about twelve years of age made confession of his fayth in Jesus christ & was baptized July 13 1671.

Sadly there isn’t any further known information on Thomas besides this entry in the register. That he came from “Ginny” suggests he came from Guinea in West Africa, and implies that he might have been a slave. It might seem odd that he was described as an “Aethiopian” when Guinea and Ethiopia are on opposite sides of the African continent (about 3,500 miles apart) but at the time, the term referred to someone who was black.

There was legal disagreement for many years as to the status of someone who was bought as a slave outside Britain, then brought into the country. Thomas may have worked as a household servant, but whether he was paid a salary isn’t clear. He might have worked at Gosfield Hall – built by Sir John Wentworth in 1545, according to Philip Morant it was owned by the Grey family between 1653 and 1691 after a Wentworth daughter married a Grey. So if Thomas worked at Gosfield Hall, he would have been in the employ of the Greys. Did he later take their surname as his own, or choose something else?

It’s obviously sad to think of a child of twelve being so far from home, possibly a slave and forced into work. However, in the register he survives as Thomas – although perhaps not the name he was given by his parents, he’s not defined by his status, only by his place of origin and by the faith he professed to. Although we can’t know how willingly he accepted it, of course.

Suffolk parish register transcriptions at Findmypast

Detail from "The Comforts of Matrimony". Copyright Trustees of the British Museum
Detail from “The Comforts of Matrimony”. Copyright Trustees of the British Museum

You may or may not be aware that there’s a lot of Suffolk parish register transcriptions available at commercial genealogy site Findmypast.

They have a great deal of them which are from FamilySearch, but the set called “Suffolk Baptism Index 1538-1911” has been transcribed by volunteers of the Suffolk Family History Society.

It can sometimes be difficult finding accurate coverage information for online transcriptions – so you might find a set of records for a county you’re interested in, but how do you know if the year you need for a particular county has been transcribed, or even if the parish is included at all?

So you can find that information for the Suffolk Baptism Index 1538-1911 on Findmypast here. If you’re looking for marriages, coverage can be found on Findmypast here.

And if you’re wondering what years are available for a parish in Suffolk, regardless of whether it’s been transcribed or not, check the Suffolk Record Office’s list – while many parish registers survive with records from the 1500s, there are many for which the earliest register hasn’t survived and so records only begin in the 1600s or in some cases even the 1700s (for instance, Great Ashfield – unfortunately the earliest surviving marriages are from 1754, and baptism and burials only survive from 1765).

To search the records on Findmypast, go to A to Z of records and type in Suffolk. You’ll see several other record sets for Suffolk there as well. Of course, you can search across all sets easily, but I sometimes find I can search in a more targeted way by going straight to one record set.

Findmypast does have Suffolk burials, but they are in the National Burial Index For England and Wales (which, should you be wondering, is quite good for Essex burials) and in FamilySearch records, rather than a separate Suffolk burial index comparable to the baptism and marriage sets. The largest collection of Suffolk burial transcriptions available is the excellent Suffolk Burial Index available to buy on CD from SFHS.

Goings on in Dedham’s baptisms

Tristram Shandy’s baptism, by Hogarth

Most of the children who appear in Dedham‘s baptism register in the early/mid-eighteenth century are born to married parents, with only a few illegitimate children. The vicar gives us extra information for some of the illegitimate children, which show us some rather interesting family arrangements and in one case how marriage law has since changed.

Continue reading →

Suckling’s Essex

An illustration of Greensted church in Essex
I’ve found something rather fun on Google Books – Suckling’s Memorials etc of Essex, published in 1845. He went round many of the parish churches of Essex, recording memorial inscriptions inside the churches, reproduced brasses, and takes includes information from Morant’s books as well.
And aside from all of that, there’s some lovely illustrations of some of the churches too – such as this one, of Greensted near Ongar. It’s a lovely image, with an almost-empty graveyard! As well as figures in the images – some might be your ancestors, perhaps! There’s sketches of the interiors too, some of which might look quite different now, and some which have barely changed (except for the tea urn and biscuit tin at the back!).
Do take a look. 

Snippets of life in Langham, part 2

Another blog based on the notes in Langham‘s parish register.

A certaine person

When Nathaniel Hinds got married in 1702, rather than just state that his wife was Martha Harris, the vicar instead phrased it as “Nathaniell Hinds & a Certaine person called Martha Harris.” When their child was baptised the following year, again, the usual format wasn’t used. The entry doesn’t say “Martha of Nathaniell and Martha Hinds” but “Martha of Nathaniell Hinds whose wife is called by ye name of Martha.”

It sounds to me like the vicar is deliberately throwing shade Martha’s way. There were several couples called Harris living in Langham at the time, with children being baptised from 1645 onwards. But no Martha. Perhaps her family weren’t living there then or perhaps Martha hadn’t been baptised, hence the vicar’s recourse to calling her “a certaine person” and going round the houses to say her name is Martha. Was she a Quaker? I’ve checked the Quaker records and can’t find a suitable candidate, but it’s a possibility. But it wasn’t uncommon for people to not be baptised – the rules of the Commonwealth in the mid-1600s were that baptisms were no longer to be carried out and only births recorded, and Anabaptism had its adherents – people who don’t baptise infants as they believe that the person being baptised needs to be old enough to confess their faith and agree to their baptism.

Martha may well come from a Langham family who objected to infant baptism.

There’s a baptism in 1701 in Langham for “Anna of James Went & his wife called Ann who was afterwards Baptized herself.” It’s possible that the vicar didn’t see people as “named” until they had been baptised. Ann Went was baptised along with two other “adult persons” – Dorothy Cave and Mary Harris. Mary was about 24-years old, the daughter of William Harris. I wonder if Mary was Martha’s sister?

It wasn’t until July 1718 that Martha was baptised, on the same day as her son Jonathan. The register tells us that she was “about ye age of 40,” which would mean she was born in about 1678. And that would make her the same age as Mary Harris, and therefore likely they were sisters. They might even be twins, as female sets were sometimes called “Mary and Martha”, after the Biblical sisters.


That same year, three adult members of the Talbot family were baptised: Grace, aged 60, William aged 40 and Grace junior aged 30. Three years earlier, six members of the Appleby family were baptised – 47-year-old Mary, then Elizabeth, Edmund, Daniel, Sary [Sarah], and Mary junior, as well as 33-year-old Susan Harris – perhaps a sister of Martha.

Adult baptisms are not uncommon in the late 1600s and early 1700s. They can present problems as they often don’t have the parents’ names, but sometimes you might be lucky and other documents like wills, Poor Law records, property records etc might throw some light on who their parents were so that you can take your family another generation back.

Snippets of life in Langham, part 1

A photograph of St Mary's, Langham.
Photo © Peter Stack (cc-by-sa/2.0)

There’s some very interesting notes in Langham‘s parish registers, which revive moments in the lives of Langham’s long-dead inhabitants. This is the first in a series of blogs based on some of these finds.

Two weddings and a baptism

In November 1697, Ambrose, son of Splanden Rand and his wife Sarah was baptised at the age of 20. Aside from his father having a somewhat unusual first name (possibly a family surname), there’s nothing that unusual about adult baptisms, especially around this period for people who were babies at the time of great upheaval around the time of the Civil War and Commonwealth. Although Ambrose would have been born in the 1670s, ten years after the Restoration, his parents might still have expressed issues with for the form of baptism.

But in November 1697, Ambrose was baptised – possibly at home, as the register tells us that he “was Baptized being about 20 yeares of age & very sick.” His father had died by this time, and the register helpfully tells us that his mother had remarried and was now the wife of Joseph Downes. A useful additional piece of information for anyone researching this family, who might have had trouble tracing what became of Splanden’s widow.

I expected to see Ambrose Rand’s burial not long after his emergency adult baptism, but it seems he recovered from being “very sick” – he is likely to be the Ambrose Rand, single man of Langham, who in October 1699 married Susannah Shearman, a spinster from the neighbouring parish of Dedham.

A very old man… and his comparatively young wife

On 31 October 1699, Robert Wenlock was buried in Langham. We’re told he was “aged about” one hundred. A remarkable age to reach at this period. And the very next entry, on 6 March 1699/1700 is the burial of Jane, his widow – aged 55!

I wonder if the name in the burial register is wrong and it should actually be Richard Wenlock. He and his wife Jane appear multiple times in the baptism register between 1668 and 1686. There is a Richard Wenlock of Langham who wrote his will in 1693 and it wasn’t proved until 1701. The will left everything to his wife Jane “for her natural life” and it might be that if she died very soon after him, before his will could be probated, it caused a further delay in the will being proved.

If Robert and Jane should in fact be Richard and Jane, then it means that Jane was born in about 1644 and was about 24 at the time of the baptism of her first child by Richard. And he was 69.

A deed at the Essex Record Office from 1655 admits Jane Wenlock, under the will of her previous husband William Starling, to an 8-acre property called Pilburrow and Moores which was copyhold of the Manor of Langham. Could she be Richard Wenlock’s wife? But the deed gives no information on who Jane’s husband is, and in 1693, Jane wife of Ralph Wenlock was buried in Langham – aged 75. Looking at the baptisms again, we can see Ralph and Jane Wenlock baptising their children in 1657 and 1659, which suggests that William Starling’s widow, Jane, may have married Ralph. And if Richard’s widow really was 55 in early 1700, then she would only have been 11 at the time that the deed was written – extremely unlikely therefore to be her.