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Source material: Probate inventories

Probate inventories are lists of possessions of deceased persons, drawn up by executors or administrators, not only for the protection of the deceased, but also for the calculation of ecclesiastical court fees. Like wills, they belong to the class of records known as testamentary papers. They exist for the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries and (for the Calderdale area) form part of the York diocesan archives, housed at the Borthwick Institute of Historical Research in York. They also survive occasionally in local collections, scattered amongst family and estate papers. A few of the inventories are available in published transcript form.


Before a will was proved, executors were obliged to have drawn up 'a true and perfect inventory of the goods, chattels, credits and debts' of the deceased. The documents are written on either paper or parchment. They are in English, but the spelling is often phonetic, and obscure dialect words are often to be found in them.


Although they are largely restricted to the middle and upper ranks of society, probate inventories are indispensable for the study of domestic crafts, the history of furniture, clothing, agriculture, the general standard of living and the rise and decline of industries. The information obtained from inventories is not easily gained from other sources and, when these documents are used in combination, they make it possible to build up a picture of of the social and economic structure of a given community for much of the early modern period.

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