Thursday, 22 January 2015

First experience ordering UK wills online

Even though I had told myself "no research until my software is ready" I had to break this rule the other day. My father is interested in our family history, but he does not know (no care) how to do any research, so he is content to just read through the material put together by myself and my cousin. (My cousin put together a book tracing the BANNISTER line back to around 1732 - unfortunately with few sources.) Every now and then dad will pester me to show him some of the documents I have and occasionally he will ask for something I do not yet have. This happened a few days ago.

My great-great-grandfather, George Amos BANNISTER, came to Australia in 1856. We still do not know why he emigrated, but he came alone and settled in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia and within a few years was married and started a family. He had two children, Anne Rose (who I can only find two brief mentions of in other documents) and Amos Parker, my great-grandfather. When I was growing up, I heard stories about my great-grandfather being entitled to a guinea a week. The story was that he was an annuitant, receiving money from either the family business back in Stretford or a deceased rich relative. For some unknown and unexplained reason he refused to collect this money and that was a constant cause for family speculation - could we be rich?

When my cousin started researching our family tree, he turned up a number of unexpected details that caused a lot of consternation amongst the family, especially when his findings contradicted the "facts" of our family history. One detail my cousin seemed to dig up was that it was George Amos who was the annuitant, not Amos Parker, his son. Then I stuck my nose in and pointed out that George Amos's profession was listed as "accountant" on his marriage certificate, not "annuitant". Given the poor copy of the document we had and the family stories, my cousin had mis-read the profession - an honest mistake.

Later in my research however, I dug up some details that may lend some credence to the annuitant theory. I found a series of advertisements in the London Gazette, naming a large number of my relatives, including my gg-grandfather, his brothers and sisters and all their children in a case before the courts. These legal advertisements appear to be related to the will of a relative, Stephen RAINGILL. I found a copy of Stephen RAINGILL's will and he seems to have left each person named a annuity of £50 a year - close enough to a guinea a week to raise a few eyebrows! I still need to try and obtain any records of the court case to be sure what this was about, but it may yet prove that the family tale has some roots in truth after all.

I showed my father a copy of Stephen RAINGILL's will (and my transcription, because it is a bit hard to read) and that seems to have piqued his interest in family history and wills again. A few days ago dad asked if I had a copy of my ggg-grandfather's will - George Amos's father, Amos BANNISTER. I didn't have it because to the best of my knowledge UK wills have not been easily accessible online. However a few weeks ago the UK government launched their Find a Will service where you can order a digital copy of wills from 1858 to 1996 online for only £10.

My initial impression of this site was not favourable. To search for a will, you are asked for two pieces of information, surname and year of death. You cannot browse through entries, you cannot use wildcards, you must enter the surname exactly and the year of death. I already had the date of death for Amos BANNISTER (1861), so I entered BANNISTER and 1861 into the relevant fields and was presented with two pages from the Index of Wills and Administrations book for that year. Neither page had my ggg-grandfather. There is an option to browse forward or backward by year, so I scanned forward and back a few years but could not find Amos BANNISTER from Stretford at all. I did find his wife, Matilda who died in 1879. Disappointed but not deterred, dad agreed that Matilda's will could still prove useful, so I filled in the form to order her will. (Instead of a simple button to order the will directly, you must instead fill in date of probate, date of death, surname, first name, registry and optionally a folio number - most of the details are shown in a scanned image in the search results.)

A few days later I was in our local library and thought I would do a quick search on Ancestry to see if I could find any reference to Amos BANNISTER's will or probate there. Bingo! Ancestry returned the relevant page from the Index of Wills and Administrations - the very same index that the Find a Will service searches use! For some bizarre reason, the Find a Will search does not return all matches. I copied the details from Ancestry and entered them into the order form on Find a Will and have now ordered my ggg-grandfather's will.

I promptly fired of a long email to the feedback address for Find a Will outlining my frustration at the restrictive and incomplete search functionality. To my surprise I received a reply within a few hours thanking me for my feedback and explaining that they are working on improving the search and offering help should I have trouble locating a will in the future. While the experience of finding and ordering a will was far from pleasant, the quick response to my complaint/feedback was reassuring. Hopefully the functionality is going to be improved, but until such time I will be searching for details on Ancestry and using those details to order any wills.

Now I just have to sit tight and wait for the wills to arrive.


  1. Bill Sumner25/1/15 11:28 am

    Ten minutes to Midnight 24.01.15. My name is Bill Sumner and I have a great interest in the History of Stretford, my home town and where I still live. My wife fortunately shares this interest and has been helping me this evening with some research, I started off researching Inmans Rustic Garden Building Company of Edge Lane Stretford, the same Edge Lane where Parker Raingill lived at Beech House. I knew of him and his land holdings and that the streets off Edge Lane were named after his family-Harriet Street, Steven St, and so on, all later renamed when John Rylands bought the Estates. Anyway, t'internet as we say here in Lancashire led me to an item next to an entry for Inmans - the death of Esmsa Ann Bannister in a pond in Blackheath at 25yrs of age. Further research brought up the name as Emma Ann Bannister nee Lomax originally from Chorlton cum Hardy (Edge Lane leads to Chorlton). She was married in 1858 to Parker Bannister (b.1832 d.1869) and she died in the last quarter of 1864. This led to further reading and I found somehow found your search for information and the court case around 1875. Now we have found a reference in Samuel Masseys Book 'A History of Stretford' to the founding of Stretford Gas Works in 1852 and its first chairman George Bannister and co Director Amos Bannister Junior. Prior to 1880 there had been complaints about the Directors and it went to litigation and it was found against them and monies had to be returned to the Company. The names you mention as involved in the case you are trying to research are nearly all familiar to us and it struck me that with the intertwining of the Bannister and Raingill families that they may all have been shareholders in the Gasworks which was on the banks of the Bridgewater Canal and a very big concern at the time( it is still there). I know of Bannisters timber yard further down the canal, long since became a council housing estate.Hope some of this ramble is of use to you, I am falling asleep at the keyboard at the moment, yours Bill Sumner -email

    1. Thank you for your reply! My direct ancestors owned the timer yard you mention, having been timer merchants and wheelwrights in the town for many generations. I have already discovered a number of interesting stories about the timber yard, including a substantial fire and one unfortunate death.

      I haven't (yet) followed up on any information about the gas works however. I do have a copy of Massey's book "A History of Stretford" but my father has it at the moment so I've not had a chance to read much. I knew of the formation of the gasworks, but not the story of the complaints about the misuse of dividends - I will definitely be following that up when I restart my research efforts properly.

      So far I have found several connections between my Bannisters, and the Raingill and Brundritt families in Stretford, not only via marriage, but in various business and church dealings. Part of my research efforts have been devoted to learning more about this area and where my family fits in the grand scheme of things.

      Anyway, thanks again for your comment - I am always only too happy to hear from anyone with any knowledge of Stretford and/or the Bannister family. 8^)

      Amos Bannister

    2. I forgot to mention: I have found some newspaper reports of Emma's death and it seems she had a very unhappy life. Emma and Parker's son, Raingill Parker actually came out to Australia several years after his father's life and appears to have spent some time with my gg-grandfather shortly before his (my gg-gf's) death before moving to Broken Hill in New South Wales and running a pub for a few years.

      One of my research goals is to learn more about this family as I believe they (Emma and Parker) had a very rough time of it and I would like to learn what went wrong in their lives for so much tragedy to befall them. 8^(

      Amos Bannister