Three years ago, I was in Dartmouth, Devon County, England visiting Churches, Cemetaries and Archives in search of records from the past. My Aunt and I have taken an interest in digging into our family history and trying to map out our geneology. My great-great-great grandfather came from Europe to settle in the community I grew up and currently reside back in 1853. However, we knew nothing of his parents, extended family or reasons why he may have opted to leave.
While in Dartmouth, some of my questions were answered. However, in finding the answers certainly led to more questions. I did find tombstones with those bearing my last name as well met a person with the same last name as mine. I have been able to find the parents and siblings of my ggg-grandad bringing, extending the history to the 1720’s. Furthermore, I was told my relatives moved to a town just a few miles to the south. I will return again this November in search of more answers.
Today, I pulled out a copy of a document that was written more than 110 years ago. It is his last will & testament, which goes:
In the Name of God, AMEN:
I, T.M. being sound of mind do make this my Last Will and Testament.
I give bequeath to my two sons Austin and John, the two dwelling houses situated in G.I.C. together with the bed and bedding therein. (The house in which William Henry now lives to be his and his herein). My stores, stages, puncheons & all my fishing gear I give to my sons Austin, Henry & John:
To William I give my “Spare Bed”. I desire that my wearing apparel and all my books be equally divided among my six sons now residing in G.I.C.
I give bequeath to my three sons Austin, William Henry & John all my cattle to be equally divided between them. All my gardens & hay ground to be worked and owned by my (crossed out) the same three sons as at present. Nut should occasion arise for them to separate, then the ground in question to be equally divided between them.
I hereby revoke all former wills. Dated this 17th day of Match One thousand, eight hundred and ninety-nine.
Signed by the Testator in the presence of us, who thereupon our names in his and each others presence.
My great-great-great-grandfather left his mark, as well as another resident and a Clerk, who would be considered a Justice of the Peace today.
This is such a remarkable document to reflect upon, noting the structure of society. In the past, it is evident that the eldest children received the largest inheritance as they were to take over the family fishing enterprise of their father and continue to carry on a legacy. It is noteworthy, that consideration was given in the document to commonly share property, but if their was disagreement or separation of family members that land be equally divided. It certainly seems like a democratic way to do things. Additionally, this man had three daughters, but there is no mention of them in his will. This is not uncommon, a female living in rural Newfoundland during the 1,800’s were expected to marry and would receive an inheritance through her husband’s family. How times have certainly changed.
The house I now reside is on land used by my forefathers. The community has grown significantly as this man was the first permanent settler. There is limited land in the community for gardening and new housing developments, but new sub-divisions have been created. This man may be gone, but he has left his mark. The family tree continues to grow, with more than 1,200 names connected to its many branches. As we dig deeper, we will find additional roots and as time passes our tree will rapidly expand.
A lot can be understood about society from old letters, wills, church records and other documents. Take some time to think about where you have come from and if you too or your ancestors has experienced something truly rural.