Using wills to break down brickwalls

What happens when you find out perhaps from a census or a marriage record that an ancestor came from a particular parish but the records for that parish no longer survive?  Does the trail go cold?  Well, sometimes yes, but not always.

Downholme Church (2)

This is what happened with Miles Pickersgill.  In 1686 he married Jane Outhwaite in Hornby by Bedale giving his parish of residence as Downholme.  This seemed like a breakthrough as the couple had settled in Skelton Cote, near Bellerby and baptised their children in Spennithorne though there was no record of the family living there before that.  But this is where I came to a standstill: although the church in Downholme dates from around 1180, the registers only survive from 1737, with some Bishop’s Transcripts – copies of the register entries sent to the Bishop each year – surviving from 1678. This was too late to trace Miles who must have been born by 1670 at the very latest, and much too late to trace his parents.  However, there was a burial of Barbary Pickersgill, widow, in Downholme on 8 November 1689 and Miles’ daughter was also called Barbary.  Not proof of a connection but enough to suggest a potential link.

So what next?  Probate records proved very useful.  There are a number of probate records for Pickersgills living in Downholme among the Archdeaconry of Richmond Court records, and they include wills, administrations, tuition bonds and inventories.  They show that there were Pickersgills living in Downholme by at least 1624.  A tuition bond for Miles Pickersgill of Crow Hills who died in 1665 binds Barbary Pickersgill to bring up Miles’ children ‘with meate drinke apparrell and other necessarys Dureinge their minoritis’.  The names of the children are John, Thomas, Miles, Jane and Katherine.  As they are all under 21 years of age this would mean that they were born between 1644 and 1665 and as Miles appears to be the third son he was probably born no earlier than 1648. If this is the Miles who married Jane Outhwaite in 1686, he would have been between 21 and 42 at his marriage.

The other two sons of Miles and Barbary, John and Thomas, remained in Crow Hills and both made wills which mention their brother Miles.  Does the evidence tie up with what we know about Miles?  Thomas Pickersgill made his will on 11 March 1729/1730 and mentions his brothers Miles and John and his sister Jane Hawkswell but gives few details about Miles other than that he was of Garniston.  But John’s will written on 28 July 1732 provides crucial information: he mentions the children of his brother Miles, and names them as Miles, John, Barbary and Mary which matches the names and birth order of the children of Miles and Jane.  His will also tells us that Miles, the son of Miles and Jane, was living in Bellerby which is confirmed by other records.   John mentions other relatives: his sister Katherine Fowler and nephews Miles and John Hawkswell, and following up on these names in parish registers and wills has enabled me to fill out those branches of the family.

Going back still further, two other Pickersgills of Downholme are recorded in probate documents.  George Pickersgill of Crawe Hills in Downholme made his will on 10 December 1623 and mentions his nephew John Pickersgill who had a son called Miles.

Jeane Pickersgill, widow of George, made her will on 28 October 1633 and left bequests to Miles and Jeane Pickersgill but did not specify their relationship to her.  They must have been adults as she did not mention them receiving their bequests at age 18 or 21 which was normal when leaving legacies to those under age at that period.  One of the witnesses to the will is John Pickersgill.

Could this be the Miles who died in 1665?  He seems to be an adult as he appears to be carrying out property transactions in his own right in 1623.  This means he was probably born in 1602 or before, which would make him at least 63 at his death in 1665. He would have been relatively old when he had his children (perhaps between 42 and 64) so it is possible there is another generation between this Miles and the Miles who died in 1665.

Neither George nor Jeane mention that Miles had any children and for him to be the father of the Miles who died in 1665 he would need to have had children by 1633. But it may just be that George and Jeane didn’t mention his children or there is yet another Miles.

What next?  It’s likely that further back the family came from Ripon: George mentions a Marke Pickersgill of Ripon in his will as well as a Simond Pickersgill who had a son called George. Manorial records for Downholme may help untangle the various Miles. Trying to trace the Jeane Pickersgill mentioned in the will of Jeane Pickersgill in 1633 may be another line of enquiry.  So this is where my research will focus next. But wills have enabled me to go back at least another generation in this family and opened up further avenues for research.  Wills are often overlooked but can contain a wealth of information and help confirm family relationships.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close