Reading Old Wills: Chop the wood, son!

Poor old mom, left out in the cold.

I came across this fascinating excerpt from a will while researching my family history.  I am thrilled and amazed to be able to read the will from a relative written in the mid 1600s while sitting in a comfortable chair, drinking coffee, and listening to chamber music in the comfort of my own home.

Reading old wills, with their olde spelling and olde language and olde handwriting can be a rather challenging.  But after struggling through one or two, you start to see patterns and can figure them out. Some, like this one, have already been transcribed by previous historians. These wills can be remarkably simple, or ridiculously extensive.  I love this passage from a will dated 1698 made by the husband giving specific directions to his children that in the case he dies before his wife, the children must provide for their mother.


It is amusing in this day of age to read that they had to spell out:

with so much chamber room and cellar room as she shall have occasion of for her own use

apparently dear old mom doesn’t get the whole house, just a bedroom and part of the pantry??  And you must help feed her:

10 bushels of indian corn, 1 bushel of wheat, 1 bushel of rye, 2 bushels of malt, 20 lbs of pork , 80 lbs of beef, 30 lbs mutton, milk from 2 cows, 3 barrels of cider, 12 bushels of apples (winter or summer)  and it all needs to be edible!

and when you provide firewood, make sure it fits the fireplace!

ten load of wood cut fit for the fire

Obviously, there had been problems in the community before where the son may have brought over some wood, but didn’t bother to cut it up for her.  Perhaps there had been occasions in the past where the eldest son took over the house and farm, but didn’t bother to save a bedroom for good ol’ mom. Maybe those Puritans weren’t so pure of heart!

Fascinating reading, these old wills…..I just love genealogy!



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