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Wills and Testaments
and testaments are a fantastic resource for the genealogist and historian
alike. They are a treasure trove of information about how people lived
in the past. They let us step back in time and see how our ancestors dressed,
how they furnished their homes, the tools of their trade, what land they
owned etc. Wills can also provide a wealth of detail about family relationships.
You can find names of family members and their relationships. It is worth
remembering, however, that the eldest son in a family may not be mentioned,
because he inherited the heritable property (land and buildings) of his
There is a distinction between a will and a testament. A will was
drawn up by an individual wishing to settle his or her affairs prior to
death giving instructions as to the disposal of his possessions, whereas
testaments were the legal document drawn up after a person died, to let
the court confirm an executor to wind up the deceaseds affairs.
Testaments contain an inventory of the dead persons property, and
some testaments include a will. Those with wills are known as a testament
testamentar, those without as a testament dative.
From the Reformation to the Victorian period commissary courts were responsible
for wills. The geographical areas that they covered were based on the
Pre-Reformation church courts and differ from modern administrative areas.
In 1823 the commissary courts were abolished and from 1824 the responsibility
shifted to the sheriff courts. Registers for both are housed in the National
Archives of Scotland in Edinburgh
the years 1513 to 1901 inclusive have been digitally imaged by the Scottish Archive
Network. You can search the index free of charge at www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk
. Colour images of these documents are available for downloading at a cost of
£5 per document, regardless of the number of pages, from the same website.
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