Around this time of year many cultures celebrate the passing of ancestors. Death records are often not seen as important as births and marriages, but without them the picture of past lives is incomplete. The here-say nature of much information in civil death registration and lack of detail typically recorded in church burial registers contribute to the perception of these sources as inferior. A consequence of this view is that indexing and digitisation of death records lags behind birth and marriage records, which in turn makes them less accessible. Like most people researching British ancestors I paid less attention to death and burial records than I should have. So it is time to assess my death data.
All the major genealogy programs include calendar reports, but these are based on birthdays and marriage anniversaries, excluding death anniversaries. For the 50 Marriage Mondays series, I used an anniversary calendar as a blogging prompt, but found the lack of calendar functions and print format outputs (pdf, rtf) limiting.
DearMYRTLE recently demonstrated how to create a calendar and make repeating events in ‘30 Ways in 30 Days to SHARE A MEMORY – Perpetual Family Calendar‘. Then she showed how to share a calendar by allowing access to other Google calendar users or by embedding a calendar in a website in ‘Tweaking that Google Calendar‘.
Myrt added events one by one for her demonstration. My death events are already recorded in my genealogy software, so I didn’t want to re-enter them. Google Calendar can import data from a csv file containing many events. The first step was to extract the data from Family Tree Maker 2010. I used a custom report that contained the name, date and place of death, exported as a csv file. Then used excel to sort out which entries had complete death dates, partial and estimated dates, and some horrors I’ll say no more about. I am not going to go into detail on the extraction and data preparation as each genealogy program has different export options. I will warn you that excel is not friendly to dates prior to 1900, and that you have to carefully manipulate formats to get the dates in the correct form. Finally, I exported a single excel sheet as a csv file ready for Google Calendar.
Google Calendar requires columns with the headings:
|Subject||Start Date||Start Time||End Date||End Time||All Day Event||Description||Location||Private|
If you have got that far, the rest is easy. Here is how:
And here is the Days of the Dead Calendar:
© Sue Adams 2015
This probate document comes without any provenance, other than it was purchased on EBay in April 2013 from a seller with an Norwich postcode (NR8). It relates to the settlement of an estate in the county of Somerset, but surfaced in Norfolk clear across the other side of England, so there is no apparent connection. The chain of custody for this document is totally unknown, so how do you tell if it is real and genuine?
The risk of forgery is very low as the purchase price was less than £10, and the people involved were not notable. Documents that are decorative, connected with famous persons or grant significant privileges may command prices that would make forgery profitable.
The legal and administrative procedures that produced this document have left clues about its authenticity in the form of a seal, tax stamp, content and materials used.
The document is made up of several parts. A strip of paper passes through slits in the vellum and two paper sheets and is embedded in the wax seal, holding the parts together.
A Seal of Authority
In England, prior to 1858, the ecclesiastical or church courts dealt with probate matters. This will was proved in the Archdeaconry of Taunton. That is why it carries the seal of the Archdeacon of Taunton, John Turner. John Turner was first ordained as a deacon in 1756 and as a priest in 1758, by which time he had been qualified with an M. A. (Master of Arts) from Hertford College, Oxford University. He became Archdeacon of Taunton on 19 September 1780 and vacated the position on his death on 19 April 1817. The seal is embossed with “THE SEAL OF JOHN TURNER M . A . ARCHDEACON OF TAUNTON * 1780 *”.
Although probate was granted on the authority of the Archdeacon, the case was brought before Reverend Francis Hunt Clapp who acted as a surrogate or deputy judge. Francis Hunt Clapp was first ordained in 1786 and became a curate at Taunton St Mary Magdalen in 1786 and served as vicar there between 1803 and 1818.
The careers of John Turner and Francis Hunt Clapp indicate that they served in Taunton at the time of probate, 7 July 1810. This is consistent with the document being genuine.
Procedure and materials
William Stuckey made his will on 9 April 1810, in which he appointed his wife, Ann, as sole executrix. William signed the original will and two witnesses, James Thompson and Nicholas Thomas, authenticated it with their signatures and seals in William’s presence. These formalities guarded against concealment of the will or fraudulent substitution of it. After his death Ann presented the original will at the probate court. The court accepted that the will was valid and granted Ann the right to distribute the estate according to its terms.
The grant of probate is recorded on the vellum sheet. The will, recorded on paper, is a copy. It is written entirely by one hand, and does not have any signatures or seals. Original wills were either retained by the ecclesiastical court, or copied into the court’s records and returned to the executor. In this case, the former is more likely.
Vellum or parchment, made by curing calf or sheep skin, has long been regarded as a durable writing substrate suitable for important legal documents. The probate grant is an important original legal document. Vellum was more expensive than paper, so that may account for its use for the copy of the will. The paper used is hand-made laid paper, which bears a watermark: GOLDING & SNELGROVE 1808. Laid paper was made from rags (usually linen) which were pulped. The pulp was strained through a wire sieve in a mold, which leaves the impression of the sieve in the paper. Manufacturers of high quality paper incorporated watermark patterns in the sieve.
The use of vellum and laid paper dated to 1808 is consistent with a genuine document produced in 1810.
The Stamp Act of 1694 first introduced the use of embossed paper stamps as a means of proving the tax on legal instruments had been paid. Without a valid official stamp legal documents could be rendered invalid. Vellum can’t be stamped, so the blue paper stamp was glued and stapled to the front and the paper cipher glued to the back covering the metal staple.
The Coat of Arms on blue tax stamp appears to be the one used by George III between 1760 -1801. This is a few years earlier than the date of probate, but could still have been valid.
Overall, there is substantial evidence that demonstrates this probate is authentic.
 Kings College London. 2008. ‘Turner, John (1756-1817) (CCEd Person ID: 20125)’, The Clergy of the Church of England Database 1540–1835. http://db.theclergydatabase.org.uk/jsp/persons/DisplayCcePerson.jsp?PersonID=20125 , accessed 14 Oct 2015
 Kings College London. 2008. ‘Clapp, Francis Hunt (1786 – 1819) (CCEd Person ID: 27187), The Clergy of the Church of England Database 1540–1835. http://db.theclergydatabase.org.uk/jsp/persons/CreatePersonFrames.jsp?PersonID=27187 , accessed 14 Oct 2015
© Sue Adams 2015