West Kent Wills and Families to 1650
In the last two decades of the 20th century, Jean Fox from Seal, near Sevenoaks in Kent, compiled a complete index of wills in West Kent before 1650. With so much material, over nineteen thousand entries, there were bound to be curiosities, connections and stories in the wills themselves. Then patterns appear regarding the events of the time which ought to be grouped together and put into context, which became the History of Sevenoaks
. Of course wills are a prime source for family historians, but it takes considerable determination and care to construct a reliable family tree, and even then there are likely to be doubts which cannot be resolved by the available material.
This body of work is ideal for novices to the quirks of the period and historians looking for original material. Organising such a large amount of interconnected information can't be perfect but there are searchable indexes, tables of contents, a database explorer and alias cross-reference.
ImportantAll this material is copyright Jean Fox. Extracts for private and scholarly research are of course permitted. Jean Fox does not do any Genealogical research. Please do not ask 'Have you got more information on...'
There are two things you need. A PDF reader, and time. (If this was printed it would be six inches thick!)
PDF skillsIt's worth finding out how to view the contents in a side-bar, searching, and jumping to a particular page.
If you're looking a name then you can try the Index of people or use the database explorer tool to narrow your selection. One important thing to remember about names (of people and places) is that spellings are often not standardised. People often have aliases, so it may be worth using the Aliases tool. Quite often in the text you'll find suggestions to untangle people with the same name. It is important to remember that families seemed to make a point of reusing first names which means you'll probably need to take a careful look at the context before jumping to any conclusions.
Of course from the mass of documentary evidence there are all sorts of general observations that can be made. Having a look at Appendices to History of Sevenoaks and More details might be useful for the novice to place what happens in a specific will into context.
Family Historians Read This
If you have traced your family history back to the second half of the seventeenth century, you will already be familiar with the problems to be encountered. Reading some of the details of large families such as the Olyvers will show the complex set of relationships to be sorted out with incomplete data available. It is like trying to complete a jigsaw puzzle of an unknown size with the knowledge that some of the pieces are missing and you are faced with what appear to be three pieces which you want to put in the same place.
The Index of Wills will show you if any wills have survived from before 1650 for the names in which you are interested. Aliases may help you find the name you want. If so, you may be lucky and a transcript may be included. If not, you may be able to go to the Record Office identified from the reference of the will or, if you contact them, they may be able to send you a copy. For the services provided by the Record Office and the charges they make, please get in touch with them direct.
In assembling details of families decisions have often had to be taken on the basis of flimsy evidence. There is no guarantee that any decision was the correct one but the reasoning behind t is usually given.
If you do trace your family back to the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, the descriptions will give an idea of the times in which they lived and the problems they faced.
Please do not contact Jean about any aspect of genealogical research.
Getting your hands on a copy of a will is not the end of the matter because the handwriting is not the easiest thing in the world to read. These are very old bits of paper which have been literally collecting dust for 400 years which doesn't make reading and photo copying any easier.
Even experienced transcribers find there are unreadable parts or undecipherable words.
If you're lucky there will be a transcript. Jean Fox has done many of these and as time goes by it is hoped that other people will contribute theirs for the benefit of the whole community. Sometimes Jean has only made a partial transcript, but often a bunch of wills relating to a family are investigated together to put them into context with references being made to parish registers where these are available. (This means there isn't always one document per index entry.)
If an index item is marked with a JF transcript here is how to get hold of it.
Look in Details of the wills and families of Sevenoaks.
Look in the Families and Transcripts section under the required appropriate initial letter.
Look in the More Families and Transcripts section under the required appropriate initial letter.
- Unfortunately, as of 2016 Jean cannot respond to requests for more information.
Jean has some more information.
A number of suffixes are used.
- p proved
- d dated
- f filed
- c about
- pd proved and dated the same year
- Source 1: Dates are in the old form, i.e. year begins on 25th March.
- Sources 2 and 3: dates up to 25th March are given in the form 1566/7.
- Sources 4, 5 and 6: only the year is given
Where a name occurs in a variety of forms, the most common form is used as the basic reference with the particular variation in brackets, after the complete name. Thus, all variations can be referenced together in first name order within surname.
For PCC wills, many locations are sometimes given for one testator; in this index the Kent parish is given priority even though it may be subsidiary to other locations. Some can have more than one location within the geographical area covered and, in this case, these are given in the same order as in the source volume but, where there is insufficient space in the Location field, the list is continued under "Notes". Wills where the location is just "Kent" without a parish have not been included.
Occupations in database notes
The first item in this column is occupation or equivalent (e.g. widow, gent.); where none is known, "m;" (man) or "w;" (woman) is given.
References and sources
Since 2000...The physical storage and nature of record offices has changed in various ways in three decades. You may be able to access records electronically. Don't forget the staff are very helpful if you have a clear question and a definite reference.
If you want to look at or obtain a copy of a will you'll have to contact the correct repository.
Whatever the physical form (microfilm to boxes of dusty papers) remember you may have a tough job deciphering the handwriting. Some of the extracts in the book on this CD should give you a clue to the challenge. You may want to find someone who has experience of reading this sort of document.
Getting to the right piece of paper in a short time is tricky but all the record office staff we've dealt with are very helpful and can take you through the necessary rigamarole.
Centre for Kentish studies (CKS)
Now called Kent History and Library Centre in Maidstone holds
- Rochester Consistory Court wills
- Deanery of Shoreham Wills
Public Record Office (PRO)
Now called The National Archives holds
- Prerogative Court of Canterbury wills
- Commissary Court of London wills
Don't ask Jean
how to obtain copies or contact these record offices or find agents to work on your behalf.
She does not do research or transcription work for third parties.
The wills from sources 1, 2 and 3 are held in Kent History and Library Centre, Maidstone, those from sources 4 and 5 in the National Archives, London and those from source 6 in the Guildhall Library, London.
- The Index of Wills Proved in the Rochester Consistory Court 1440-1561 (refered to, in entries, as "the book").
- The card index in CKS, Maidstone of wills proved in the Rochester Consistory Court up to 1653.
- Index to Deanery of Shoreham Wills and Administrations, 1614-1821 (Kent parishes; wills of testators and indication where there is an Act Book entry up to 1653).
- Index of Wills Proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury; London, British Record Society for parishes covered by sources 1, 2 and 3; Volumes 1 & 2 (1383-1558); Volume 3 (1559-83); Volume 4 (1584-1604); Volume 5 (1605-19); Volume 6 (1620-29).
- Abstracts of Probate Acts in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury for parishes covered by sources 1, 2 and 3; Volumes 1, 2, 3 and 4 (1630-49)
- Testamentary Records in the Commissary Court of London; HMSO, for parishes covered by sources 1, 2 and 3.
Source 1 also gives some references to probate acts (pa), administrations (A) and "coll. litterati" (coll). These references are indicated with an * and reference should be made to the source book for details.
Source 3 also gives entries for testamentary information contained in Act Books but with no surviving will. No details of these are held at Maidstone; they are indicated in this index by the reference "AB" and more details can be obtained by reference to the Deanery of Shoreham index.
Source 4 sometimes gives additional information taken from the Public Act Book and this is indicated in the index entries by "P.A.B."
Source 5 gives the name of the person who proved the will, sometimes with extra information.
Different sources have a variety of indexing systems. In the database the sources are designated R,
S, P and L for the following sources.
Held at Kent History and Library Centre.
The first reference is to the probate copy of the will, the second to the original will; in some cases both the probate copy and the original have survived in which case both numbers are given.
- Drb/Pwr" number - microfiche reel and folio of will register. For example 16.128 indicates reel 16, folio 128 and the complete reference is Drb/Pwr 16.128
5*?? and 6*?? are Act Book references.
- generally Drb/Pw - reel number for original will. F if will filed but reference not known.
Occasionally the number is Dra/Pw1. Example : Index entry 13 becomes full reference Drb/Pw 13
Held at Kent History and Library Centre.
Example : Index entry w/1/206 becomes full reference Prs/w/1/206
- Prs/w - reel and folio of will register. AB for Act Book entry only.
- Day and month
Held at National Archives.
- Register. For example Stafforde
- Folio. For example 32
Held at Guildhall library.
Similar to the PCC reference scheme
Changes in this edition
This 2016 edition contains the same material as previous editions but with an updated user interface which will work on any computer with a modern web browser and PDF reader. (The database doesn't need Windows.) Information about the Record Offices has been updated.
Jean would like to thank all family and friends who have helped her in the writing and production of this work. Especially for all the help from the Centre for Kentish Studies at Maidstone and the Sevenoaks Study Centre. Dr. Joan Thirsk who encouraged me to amplify my descriptions of the early wills which have survived for Sevenoaks into a more comprehensive history of the town and its neighbourhood.
The following illustrations are produced with permission:
- Copies of original wills or their probate copies (CKS)
- Pictures of Thomas Miller and his wife, William Hampton and his wife. (Jane Semple,Yvonne Young)
Jean Fox, Peter Fox 2002 - 2016. All rights reserved. (Selected private and scholarly extracts are 'fair use'.)
Errors and issues but not genealogical queries can be sent to @