NSW Will Books to be digitised by FindMyPast Australia

dreamstimefree_6456266_320x240FindMyPast Australia has acquired the rights to digitise and publish the Will Books held by State Records NSW. I don’t usually publish press releases but this is such good news I just had to do it!

The Will Books are hand-written copies of the wills made by the office of the Probate Registrar. They have been on microfilm for some time, and I imagine it is the microfilms which will be digitised. The original will is kept in the probate packet, access to which is restricted until the packets are sent to the archive at State Records NSW. See the entry for this series in Archives Investigator.

Here’s the release in full:

Historical will books from New South Wales to be published for the first time by findmypast.com.au
Findmypast.com.au secures government contract to display NSW will books online

12 June 2013 – Leading family history site, findmypast.com.au, has secured the rights to publish all of the registered wills from New South Wales from 1800 to 1952. As the only genealogy site displaying this information, the tender win is a major coup for findmypast.com.au as it consolidates its strong presence in the Australian market.

The collection of will books will be available later this year and will include handwritten copies of the original wills, from about 1800 to 1924, and typed copies of wills from 1924 to 1952.

The will books are an excellent resource for family history enthusiasts tracing the financial history of their ancestors. Findmypast.com.au users will be able to track exactly where their ancestors’ wealth, estates and belongings were allocated, helping them uncover the past relationships and loyalties their family held.

Findmypast.com.au was awarded the contract by the State Records Authority of New South Wales following a competitive tender process, as findmypast.com.au proved a reliable and credible source to display this critical information.

Findmypast.com.au General Manager Vicki Dawson stated “Successfully securing the contract to display the NSW will books has been a significant milestone for findmypast.com.au. The will books are an invaluable resource to genealogists and only strengthens the already solid offering available from findmypast.com.au. We are continually growing our pool of resources and this win is another prime example of our efforts to become the market leader amongst genealogy websites.”

Jenni Stapleton, Acting Director, at State Records stated, ‘’The will books are one of the most vital sets of records held by State Records and provide a unique insight into the past lives of people in New South Wales. This agreement with findmypast.com.au is an example of increasing access to such valuable resources through new access channels and technologies.”’

For further information on findmypast.com.au or to uncover your family history please visit:
http://www.findmypast.com.au

The picture at the top, by the way, is not a will book, it’s a stock photo from Dreamstime [image 6456266] to show you what a will book might look like.

How to search for probate files at State Records NSW

SRNSW Western Sydney Records CentreProbate is the process of proving that a will left by a deceased person is genuine. Probate files are created by the NSW Supreme Court (or equivalent in other States) and transferred gradually to State Records NSW. They are more commonly called ‘probate packets’, since all the documents are folded in three into an envelope.

Probate packets can contain all sorts of goodies, including a copy of the will, an inventory of assets, affidavits from family members, and sometimes a copy of the death certificate and newspaper notices.

State Records NSW holds probate packets up to the 1960s, but to find them involves searching the index on microfiche created by the NSW Supreme Court.  State Records NSW has been gradually adding each packet to it online catalogue, Archives Investigator, so that we can search from home.

The latest Now and Then, the State Records NSW newsletter, describes the packets that have been listed so far and how to find them, and I can do no better than to quote the article here.

More probate packets listed in Archives Investigator Over 300 000 individual (NRS 13660) Probate Packets are available in Archives Investigator! Listed so far are:

•             Series 1: April 1817 to c. May 1873

•             Series 2: 1873 to 1876

•             Series 3: 1876 to c.1890

•             The years 1928-54 from Series 4 – Series 4-152152 (probate granted June 1928) to Series 4-419994 (probate granted July 1954).

To check if the details of your ancestor’s Probate Packet is now available online just go to Archives Investigator – Simple Search, key in the name of your ancestor followed by the word ‘death’ and click on the ‘Search’ button. If you locate a relevant result you then have the option to order a photocopy of the probate or preorder the probate packet to view in person at the Western Sydney Records Centre (WSRC).

Search for your elusive ancestor today http://investigator.records.nsw.gov.au/

Do a search for all your New South Wales ancestors, male and female, and plan a trip out to the Western Sydney Records Centre (WSRC) at Kingswood. Take your digital camera, or be prepared to pay for photocopies if you can’t deal with the folded up pages. You won’t regret it!

Retrieval orders for probate packets are only sent at certain times of the day, so you can save time by preordering up to four packets a day or two before your visit, to be waiting for you when you arrive.

The last Will and Testament of a WWI soldier

I have previously written about the service file Douglas James Stewart (1899-1918), downloaded from the National Archives of Australia’s website. The file is 61 pages long, and I was unable to do it justice in a single post.

Douglas embarked for England on 10 May 1917 after months of training and medical examinations and inoculations. Ten days before he left he made out his last Will and Testament, lodging it with the Officer in Charge Base Records. A certified copy of the will was kept in his file. I imagine the original was removed on his death.

Certified copy of the Last Will and Testament of Douglas James Stewart

NAA: Base Records Office Australian Imperial Force; B2455, First Australian Imperial Force Personnel Dossiers. 1914-1920; 3013311, Stewart Douglas James : SERN 3718. Certified copy of the Last Will and Testament of Douglas James Stewart.

He left everything he owned to his mother, Annie Stewart. I don’t imagine that his property and effects amounted to much. He was 18, he lived at home with his parents; he was a telegraph messenger. Perhaps he owned a bicycle.

His will was witnessed by W.M. Dorney and A. J. Cowled. A search of the National Archives of Australia RecordSearch reveals the identity of these two witnesses.

William Michael Dorney from Raymond Terrace was a State School teacher who had passed his 2nd Lieutenant’s exam at Duntroon in 1916, before he enlisted, aged 30, in Raymond Terrace, near Newcastle. He sailed from Sydney on board HMAT Port Melbourne on 16 July 1917 with the 33rd Batallion, and was wounded in action in France in April 1918. After two months in hospital he was sent back to France and was killed 12 days later by a direct hit from an enemy 77 [gun] while leading his platoon at ‘Road Wood’ on 30 August 1918. His effects were returned to his wife.

Agustus John Cowled was a farmer who enlisted at Cootamundra on 29 March 1916. He was 22. He was promoted to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant on 1 May 1917 before leaving Australia on 31 October 1917 aboard HMAT Euripides. He lived through the war, despite being wounded and gassed more than once, and returned to Australia on 20 August 1919.

I can’t see that Douglas served with either of these two lieutenants. Douglas had landed in France after training in England on 20 May 1918.

A ‘Certificate re Will’ is also on file. This appears to be a stub from which the will, filled out by the men on a standard form, had been removed. You can see the pin marks on the left hand side. Other men provided their own wills, especially, I suspect, the married ones.

Certificate re Will - Douglas James Stewart

Certificate re Will

The certificate is signed by by the Commanding Officer of the battalion. I would welcome a more accurate explanation of this form.

Sources for witnesses:

National Archives of Australia: Base Records Office Australian Imperial Force; B2455, First Australian Imperial Force Personnel Dossiers, 1914-1920.

Cowled Augustus John : SERN LIEUTENANT : POB Junee NSW : POE N/A : NOK F Cowel Albert Clayton

Dorney William Michael : SERN Lieutenant : POB Raymond Terrace NSW : POE N/A : NOK W Dorney Gertrude Margaret

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