A fellow genealogist in Sydney, Australia, reminded me recently that “prior to 1750, it’s anybody’s guess!” as I struggled to tie up a few loose ends in my never-ending quest for ancestors. Parish registers are useful sources of information, despite the occasional pages that have been torn out, nibbled by mice, eaten by worms, or even defaced by mischievous lads such as the one who wrote, in a large childish scrawl on one of the pages for 1657 in Betley Parish Register:
“Roben Stud and Tobey Dean born in nuting time.
Sara dean his born in coucumber time.
Joseph Dean his A very sober young man and mind the
farming Bisnis So that his father dotes him more thin all
his Ribbis and sayes that he will buy him a lit el horse and he
shall ride and up on doben tooe.“
And we complain that modern youngsters can’t spell! I wonder who this lad was? Perhaps Joseph Dean himself? And indeed, did Joseph get his little horse and a ride on Dobbin too?
It’s an occasion for rejoicing when certified Wills and Inventories turn up confirming names, places and dates, so when I discovered the wills of my 9th and 10th great-grandparents I was very excited. So far, practically all of my ancestors have been agricultural labourers or miners, and certainly none of them had enough property to justify making a will.
I was helped by the fact that in the family of my 6th great-grandmother Mary Latham there was – and apparently still is – a tradition of naming the eldest son Colton or Coulton. Coulton Latham is an unusual name, and easily traced. Luckily, the earliest bearer of this name came from a family of yeomen, with property to dispose of, and Coulton Latham was a beneficiary. Any modern day Co(u)lton Lathams reading this, please get in touch. I’ll be happy to share records. And though subsequent generations obviously didn’t prosper as well as their forebears, it is pleasing to know that way back in the days of the later Tudors and early Stuarts some of my family were quite comfortably off.
I love the quaintness of these wills. My tenth great-grandfather, Richard Coulton (whose surname has been preserved for so long among his descendants) says this in 1623:
“To the poorest householders of the parish of Audley by the direction of my executors: 40s. …
To Alice my wife: £50, six kine, my best [feather]bed and everything belonging to it, and another bed (except for the joined bed and bedstock(s)) for a servant to lie on, suitably equipped….
To my son-in-law Henry Wood: my best iron-bound wheels and my best tumbrel…. “
This is the only will of this parish with a philanthropic bequest, and I was touched to see that his widow Alice also left money for the poor when she died 2 years later, in a different parish:
“I give 20s to be distributed at their discretion by my executors to such poor householders who are most in need.“
The inventories cover land, with “lime stone, hey & straw, corne and maulte” livestock (oxen, kine, a bull, a heifer, a bull calfe, stirks and other calves, swine, sheepe & lambes, a mare, a colt, henns & a cocke plus “Manvre or Donge”) as well as household goods and chattels, including “One Carpett” and “Cheires boukes spininge wheles w[i]th other treene woodden ware w[i]th all other things not before valued“.
This couple were buried in the middle aisle of their parish church, clearly a well-respected family. They had no sons so their son-in-law, Thomas Latham, a tanner, husband of their eldest daughter, was the main beneficiary. In homage to his father-in-law he named his eldest son Coulton Latham, thus starting a long family tradition whose origins have been mostly forgotten.