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Monday, 27 April 2015

A-Z Challenge - W for War, Wills & Weddings

A-Z of Family History Sources & Stories 
Join me on this A-Z journey to explore the fascinating records 
that can  enhance your family history research and writing. 

WAR - military matters must  featured in so many of our ancestor's lives, whether it was in two world wars of the 20th century or earlier in the Boer War, Crimean War, American Civil War or as far back as the Napoleonic Wars. 

All feature in the databases of the main genealogical sites.  They can a provide a rich source of material for family history stores, whether it was as tales of valour, or the experiences of ordinary soldiers, and the contact they had with home - not forgetting the home front and how are parents and grandparents sustained their lives, and the many War Memorials that remember the men who did not return home.

WILLS  - Quite early on in my research, I was delighted to trace,  through the Index at Lancashire Record Office,   two wills relating to my Danson ancestors. 

They not only gave information on their children and grandchildren, including the married name of daughters - some unknown to me previously, but also cast a light on what were considered important possessions at the time. 

My great great great, great grandfather John Danson (1736-1821) made his will in 1813. It conveys something about his standing in the community, his level of education and confirmed the names of grandchildren. It is the little personal touches which give a picture on important possessions at the time -  " I bequeath to my son Henry my desk and all my books...to my daughter Jennet, wife of John Bryning, my corner cupboard now standing in the parlour of my house and my meal chest in the room above".

The will of his son Henry Danson (1767-1839) is dated 1833, six years before his death. It is beautifully written in copperplate but very short on punctuation. The will brought first knowledge of two daughters - Ellen and Margaret (who predeceased her father) and the names of Margaret's five children. It also raised interesting questions as middle son Peter, unlike his brothers John and Henry,  was not named as a legatee or executor.  Was he perhaps not regarded as fit or suitable in some way ?  Peter never married and in the 1841 and 1851 censuses was in the household of his brother Henry until his death in 1855.  

As a follow up to the wills, I traced online an index to Death Duty Records held at the National Archives (www.nationalarchives.gov.uk), and found entries relating to John and Henry Danson.    I had to use someone in London to obtain copies for me and again it is so fascinating to have records relating to an ancestor of so long ago.  The quality of the copies was  not great, but they did confirm the names of the legatees and I am pleased to  add them  to my family archive collection.

My Danson family was related through marriage to the Bryning Family and Internet contacts proved the source of valuable information here.
  • The will of John Bryning was written in 1779 and names four children with some  bequests listed below.  What was unusual here was that the receipts for the legacies had also survived and been passed down through generations. .

    To my daughter Margaret Bradbelt an annuity of £2 of lawful British money.

    £5 each to the children of Margaret Bradbelt at the age of 21.

    To my daughter Margaret and son John  a pair of sheets and the rest of my bedding I give to my daughters Mary Cragg and Aliace Lythm.
  • Another John Bryning died in 1855 at the grand age of 92.  His will notes

    To my grandson Thomas Bryning (the son of my son Richard) one feather bed with the bedsteads and bedding there unto belonging.

So if you are lucky to trace a will, you have a unique resource which can add so much to your family history story. 

WRITING  - how great to have something actually penned by an ancestor, even if it is in a  photocopy - such as the wills mentioned above.  Handwriting is becoming a dead art - will our descendants have this experience?.  

WEDDINGS  - amid these tales of war and death, it is good to end on happy occasions which  feature so much in our family history and family archives collection.  

"Gowned in delphinium blue georgette" was thhe journalistic description of the wedding dress worn by my mother's cousin Annie Danson  who married on 4 October 1928.  The  local press report provided a fascinating picture of the fashion of the day:  

“A member of an old Poulton family Miss Annie M. Danson, daughter of the late Mr and Mrs J.  Danson was married in the Parish Church, Poulton. 

The bride, who was given away by her uncle Mr R. Danson, was gowned in delphinium blue georgette, the sleeveless bodice being plain, while the circular skirt was side slashed and bordered all round with deep silver lace.  Her hat was ruched georgette to tone and she wore silver shoes and hose to tone.  Her bouquet was of pale pink chrysanthemums."  


On to X for  Family History EXperiences


  1. I sometimes feel as though I focus too much on military records. The thing is they provide so many details ...

  2. I use Fold3 for military records, but I always wonder why I can't find records for someone I KNOW served. And wills -- I love those too. You're right about how they can raise as many questions as they answer. I have one in which all the children got an even split except for one who got one dollar. What did that mean?? I don't know where to start figuring that out.

  3. Hello there.
    Interesting information.
    Thanks for sharing. Just stopping by briefly as I journey through the AtoZ list.

    Entrepreneurial Goddess

  4. We went to see the Vietnam Wall. It was very impressive but terribly sad at the same time.

    1. Thank you, Thea, for taking the time to comment. I think all war memorials across the world can have this impact - whether they be simple village crosses, or large scale national memorials, so impressive, but so say.


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