In the many years I’ve been researching my ancestors, Wills have never figured as a source of information. I’m not sure if it was lack of money, lack of education, or lack of trust in lawyers, but the fact is, my early Anglo-Jewish ancestors didn’t go in for them. They were, in the main, without specialised trades, only marginally literate and, seemingly, played no significant role in Community affairs: Mr & Mrs nobody-very-much, grubbing a living and getting by. So no Wills; no entries in trade directories (The London Jews Database (pre-1850) Compiled by Jeffrey Maynard). But, equally, since they were not criminals – or if they were, they didn’t get caught – no juicy reports from the Old Bailey. In a word – no paper trail.
But a recently released cache of more than 1000 Wills held at the London Metropolitan Archive has given me hope. Many of the Testators and witnesses were clearly not literate: some make their mark, others sign in Hebrew script. Indeed, sometimes, whole documents are written in cursive Hebrew, with accompanying English texts. These are people who lived in the narrow streets and courts where my ancestors lived : Fireball Court, Fleur de Lys Lane, Harrow Alley, Bell Lane. And they worked in mundane occupations: General Dealer; Old Clothes Dealer; Hawker. Maybe, among the thousand, I’ll finally find one of mine!
Abstracts from these wills are gradually being added to our dedicated database SynagogueScribes.com Secular records