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Source material: Wills

A will is a document by means of which a person disposes of property after his or her death. Before 1858 wills were proved in ecclesiastical courts, usually in the appropriate diocesan court. In 1858 a Principal Probate Registry was established, together with district registries, and the ecclesiastical control of wills was abolished. Wills for Halifax during most of the ecclesiastical period are lodged with York Diocesan Archives at the Borthwick Institute of Historical Research at York, though copies occasionally survive amongst local family and estate papers. Fortunately, many of the local wills are in print for the period 1389-1559.

Format and layout

After acknowledgement to the deity, the will usually records the testator's name, township and parish of residence, status or occupation. This may be followed by a theological preamble. The main focus of the will,however, is on details of all the real estate and personal estate which the testator wishes to leave to family, servants, friends, charities, etc.


Wills cast light on social, domestic and trade conditions by highlighting individual bequests of furniture, clothing, occupational tools, farming equipment, weapons, books and other goods. Reference will also be found to the founding of charities, the repair of highways and the building of bridges. The theological preamble in wills during the period of the Reformation, moreover, provides valuable clues to the theological leanings of individual testators and entire communities.

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