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
Ann youngest daughter of Matt. & Sarah [Wilson] m. George Boreston of Hodgehill Nr Kidder. Ann Boreston died at Hodgehill & was buried at Kidder. issue 2 sons & 1 daughter George John Catherine
This extract makes several claims: the marriage, the residence location, Ann’s burial, and the couple’s children. Can these claims be confirmed?
A check on the FamilySearch index yields a likely marriage:
Bride: Ann Wilson
Groom: George Boraston
Date: 2 July 1778
Location: Kidderminster, Worcestershire
Family wills provide evidence of the timing of the marriage and identity of Ann’s spouse. The will of Ann’s father Matthew Wilson, proved in 1776, makes no mention of any husband, which suggests that Ann had not yet married:
I give to my four children, viz, Mary, Ann, Thomas and Joseph the sum of one hundred pounds to be paid within one year next after my decease.
The will of Ann’s uncle, William Wilson, who died in 1889, calls her Nancy (a pet form of the name Ann) and gives her husband’s surname, Boraston:
I give to my Nephews John Matthew William Thomas and Joseph Wilson (Sons of my late Brother Matthew Wilson deceased) the Sum of twenty pounds each, and to my Nieces Sarah (Wife of Crowder), Mary (Wife of Edward Pratt) and Nancy (Wife of Boraston) who are the Daughters of my late Brother Matthew Wilson the Sum of twenty pounds each
Finally Ann’s mother, Sarah, explicitly named Ann’s husband, George Boraston, in her will in 1895:
give and bequeath unto my four youngest children viz Mary the wife of Edward Pratt, Ann the wife of George Boraston, Thomas and Joseph the said sum of one hundred pounds each
A second search of the FamilySearch index, on parents named George Boraston and Ann, and filtering out all results except baptisms in Kidderminster, Worcestershire gives these children:
|William Boraston||6 October 1779|
|George Boraston||17 February 1781|
|John Boraston||30 January 1783|
|Elizabeth Boraston||24 February 1785|
|Ann Boroston||19 June 1786|
|Betty Boraston||29 April 1788|
|Catharine Boraston||28 February 1791|
|Mary Boraston||12 January 1793|
Given the marriage in 1778, these 8 baptisms commence the year after and are spaced at about 2 yearly intervals. The timing pattern of baptisms reflecting births is what I would expect to see for George and Ann. The three children named in the family history are also in the correct birth order. Further research to show that the other 5 children did not survive to adulthood would add credence to the inherited family history.
The location of George Boraston’s residence, Hodge Hill, near Kidderminster can be found on a modern map, on the eastern outskirts of the town.
Place names may persist over long periods of time, but we should check that Hodge Hill is associated with this location at earlier times. An interactive version of the 1842 tithe map is available at the Worcestershire Tithe Mapping website. The land parcel at this location, recorded as ‘Hedge Hill Farm’, refers to a farmstead owned by the Earl of Derby’s estate and occupied by a tenant, George Wilson. The farmstead is named as Hodge Hill Farm on earlier estate map created for a sale in 1833. If the tenant George Wilson is a relative of George and Ann, it would support the claim of their residence at Hodge Hill. Property records may also contain further evidence.
© Sue Adams 2013
 “England Marriages, 1538–1973”, database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/NKS8-2YL : accessed 28 Jun 2013), George Boraston and Anne Wilson, 02 Jul 1778. citing Family History Library film no. 435263. citing Church of England. St. Mary’s Church (Kidderminster, Worcestershire), Marriages, 1767-1789.
 Will of Matthew Wilson of Kidderminster, Worcester, made 2 Feb 1776, proved 16 July 1776. Worcestershire County Records Office.
 Will of William Wilson the Elder of Walton, Clent, Worcestershire, made 15 May 1788, proved 7 Feb 1789. Worcestershire County Records Office.
 Will of Sarah Wilson of Wannerton, made 19 January 1795, proved 2 February 1795. Worcestershire County Records Office.
 Sale plan of Park Hall mansion & estate (in Churchill & Blakedown) 1833. Worcestershire County Records Office, 705:554 BA4813.
Early in my genealogical career, I was given a copy of a hand-written narrative of the Wilson family, a snippet of which is shown here.
Richard [Wilson] m. Miss Wathing of Lower Chaddesley, sister of Mrs Wilks of Tanwood, Chaddesley. They went to live at Hill Pool Nr Chaddesley. Issue 2 sons & one daughter viz. John Mary & Richard. They were leaving Hill Pool for Aston Hall, Claverley when Richard died rather suddenly, his wife went with her 3 children to Aston Hall, she afterwards married John Perry issue 2 daughters, Elizabeth & Ann.
This is an intriguing story, but can I corroborate it? Although rich in relationship and place details the narrative is short on dates.
Set the time frame
A published transcript of the Claverley parish registers confirms Mary was a widowed before her 1805 marriage to John Perry and sets the events in a time frame.
1805 June 28. John Perry, widr., & Mary Wilson, wid., lic.
Wit: Adah Heynes, John Wilson.
On a visit to Claverley, I found this gravestone:
In memory of
____ of Upper Aston
in this parish
___r_ary 28 th 1840
__ed 78 years
of the above
who departed this l[ife]
___ry 15 18
a___ 80 y____
in the [p]arish of Wor[field]
son [in law] of the above
named John Perry
and son of Mary Perry
by a former marriage
who died Augt [3 r]d 18__
This confirms Mary had been married to a Wilson prior to her marriage to John Perry and sets the couple’s lifespans at 1765-1845 for Mary and 1762-1840 for John. Mary’s 3 children by her first husband should all have been born before 1805. Sadly the parts of the inscription that indicate her son, Richard Wilson’s age and death date have been worn away. However, a place of residence is legible, Ackleton, a small hamlet, in the neighbouring parish of Worsfield.
Set the location
Did a Richard Wilson born before 1805, live at Ackleton? Yes, he did. The 1841 and 1851 record farmer Richard Wilson, aged 40 (rounded down) and 53 respectively, with a wife, Mary and children. Both of this couple share a place of birth on the 1851 census, but it is indistinct, so has been indexed as Chacesley, Worcestershire. By 1861, this Mary had been widowed, and her place of birth is clearly Chaddesley Corbett. So, Richard’s date of birth ca. 1798 and place of birth, Chaddesley, are consistent with the family story.
Did any of this Wilson family live at Aston Hall, Claverley? Again the answer is yes. John Wilson, born ca. 1793 at Chaddesley, Worcestershire was recorded at Aston Hall on the 1841, 1852 and 1861 censuses. In case you were wondering, we met him in an earlier post Three Wilson-Wilson marriages and the Family History Library Experience. John died in 1862 and appointed nephew Richard Wilson of Ackleton as one of his executors. Yes, you guessed it. Richard junior was a son of Richard Wilson of Ackleton recorded on the 1851 and 1861 censuses.
Given that so much of this story can be corroborated, would you be tempted to believe the other details, such as Mary’s maiden name?
© Sue Adams 2013