52 Ancestors: Where There’s A Will

I have a few way to go here in this post for 52 Ancestors. The full phrase, of course, is “Where there’s a will, there’s a way” meaning that if you’re determined enough in the face of adversity then a way forward can be found. Alternatively, it could be used to refer to wills in the sense of probate and legacies. A third option is the name, William.

Determination … Probate … Williams …

Determination. Grit. Pluck. Courage. Perseverance. To my knowledge I don’t have a Marie Curie, a Mary Anning, an Emmeline Pankhurst, a Malala Yousafzai in or aligned with my tree (yet …). However, I am certain that I have a lot of women who persisted. Who bucked the trend. Who suffered silently. Who lived a life at their husband’s whim. I am also certain that I have a lot of women who were supported, who were loved, who were as equitable partners as it was possible. And I have a lot of men who persisted. Who packed up one life in one country at the supposed promise of a golden new life elsewhere, only to find it was theirs to carve up at the end of a pick-axe or a hammer. Is that the post?

Do I talk about one of the 967 times that the name William appears in my tree? (I’m not exaggerating, that’s the amount of times it crops up either as a first or second name – 14 of those alone occur alongside the name Wrexal/Wrexel/Wraxal [and that name occurs a further 6 times without the William – aren’t names fun?!].)

Of course, there are another 144 Guillaumes, 25 Wilhelms (including 5 Wilhelminas) and 25 Willems, 8 Guglielmos, 5 Ulicks (also some Ulrichs, but they don’t count), 3 Willas, a couple of Gwilyms as well as a couple of Willies, and a solitary Uilliam … making 1,182 variants, versions and variations on the theme of William. One of the more recent being my nephew. (I also have an open question on Twitter as to if the name Guigues is more aligned with Hugh/Hugo/Hugues or Guglielmo/Guillaume.)

As for wills … I don’t have any ancestors whose lives were changed by the stroke of a pen. In my nieces’ maternal family, however, one of their 8 x grand uncles married into the (very) wealthy Tempest family. Upon the death of the wife’s uncle, their son changed his surname to inherit the family fortune. And following his father’s death became Sir Henry Vane-Tempest 2nd Baronet. He himself had no male heir and in his will he stipulated that his daughter’s husband must adopt the Vane surname by Royal Licence, which duly happened in 1819 when Lady Frances Anne Vane-Tempest married Charles William Stewart. He then became Charles William Vane, 3rd Marquess of Londonderry, Earl Vane and Viscount Seaham. (I also like the fact that Queen Victoria thought very little of him as a civil servant and mandated that he should not hold any position of any importance as it would be ‘detrimental to the country’.) Their sons were named Vane-Tempest, and their daughters carried the surname Vane – one of whom married John Spencer-Churchill and was Winston Churchill’s grandmother. (Of their 3 youngest children, one eloped with a Reverend, one went insane and one fell in with a press-gang, was bought a commission in the Army and was then cashiered).

Or perhaps the fact that I worked within the field of … probate research and asset reunification for a couple of years. Primarily (but not limited to!) researching the estates of those people who passed away without having a will. Yes, I was a … heir hunter.

No, I didn’t knock on people’s doors and hound or harass them, but to some people I was a glorified ambulance-chaser (and without doubt there are some companies out there who seek to take advantage of that kind of situation). The work was endlessly fascinating and I met – or at least engaged with – a wide aspect of society. I can honestly say that when the phone went, you never knew what was waiting for you at the other end. A client wanting an update? A potential customer wanting a family tree researched? A confused person who had never heard of Great Aunt Hilda? Someone who knew that Great Aunt Hilda had once dated Michael Caine before he was Michael Caine (true story)?

Was I on TV? Technically, yes, but not through heir hunting (it was through finding the birth family of my husband’s adopted aunt back in 2007 which had some press and then was picked up for a documentary – in which you can see my hands! Exciting stuff!). Picking cases off the Bona vacantia list was great (for some reason I picked the weird names, or with links abroad, and also managed to research 3 cases involving trans people), and I also got to do some private work for solicitors which was also very cool.

For the most part I had immense fun, and learned to hone a lot of genealogical skills whilst also dealing with people (which I do like to do!). I have several favourite cases which I worked, and I am extremely pleased to say that I met some wonderful people whilst I worked there (a few that I’m friends with still – and am looking forward to catching up with over copious amounts of gin once … this … is all over!), and got to go to RootsTech in Salt lake City (which also meant that I got to meet one of my amaze-balls paternal cousins who lives there AND went to the Natural History Museum of Utah AND had some awesome pizza).

So I suppose that’s it, that’s the post.




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