Brightlingsea’s earliest parish register has been lost, which makes it very difficult to trace anyone who lived there before the late 1600s. However, wills can help to plug some of the gaps, so I’m starting a project to put together family groups based on the wills of testators who lived in Brightlingsea and their beneficiaries, for wills proved from the earliest (1496) to 1750.
This is an ongoing project.
As it’s not possible to search the printed will indexes by place, I have instead searched archive catalogues – the Essex Record Office’s and Prorogative Court of Canterbury wills on the National Archives’ “Discovery” , as well the London Metropolitan Archive’s collection of wills on Ancestry. I have checked the Norfolk Record Office’s too. The ERO search has returned original wills only, which are digitised and can be access on their site. The search has returned only one will where the registered copy only has survived. There may well be others which have not yet been entered on ERO’s catalogue, so this shouldn’t be considered exhaustive. If a testator hasn’t stated their abode, they are not included unless other evidence suggests they lived in Brightlingsea.
For the period up to 1750, ERO returned 254 wills, TNA returned 52, the LMA returned 2, and NRO returned none.
The list of wills (name, year, archive – these are not transcriptions) is presented two ways – alphabetically and chronologically. Beneficiaries are grouped by surname, and where possible into family group within that surname. Each beneficiary who appears will be referenced to a will or another source (for instance, if they appear in a parish register for someone other than Brightlingsea and it sheds light on their family group). Married women will appear under both their married name and their maiden name (if known), and will be cross-referenced. eg. Mary Smith who marries and becomes Mrs Brown will appear under both Smith and Brown, and a note in each will refer you to the other name.
Beneficiaries: to follow