The Last Will And Testament is the legal instrument by which a person may make known his/her wishes as to how he/she desires his/her estate to be disposed of upon his/her demise. Despite the fact that in a few rare cases, certain individuals might have been incompentent at the time that he or she was dying, and the will therefore might have been devised by a close relative and merely signed by the dying person, the Last Will And Testament may be considered as truthful evidence of the individuals wishes.
Over the years, wills have changed in character and format. At the present time it is not fashionable to write wills in which individual items are distributed among family and friends. Nowadays, wills tend to be very simplistic. Wills from the Eighteenth Century and earlier are interesting to read because of the detail that usually went into them.
The homestead property was usually bequeathed to the oldest son. That meant that all the other surviving children and their widowed mother would have to make new living arrangements. Usually the widow remarried soon after the death of her husband because she had nowhere to live. The other children might be taken along by the mother, but oftentimes they were put up for adoption. For that reason, the Orphans Court was established. The oldest daughter quite often received the parents bedstead. The bedstead consisted of the bed itself, usually a tall poster bed which, with its bedclothes, or curtains, was the warmest spot in the house on wintry evenings. In some cases, a dying father would specify particular items to be retained by his soon-to-be widowed wife. If he specified in his will that his wife should receive her spinning wheel, then that item would not be included as part of the widows share in the estate inventory.
Isaac Fickes, Sr died in 1827. In his will Isaac specified that "the Eight day clock and franklin stove is fast to be sold" and that "I then direct that all my wearing apparels be amicably divided among my three sons Solomon Jacob and Valentine." Perhaps Isaac knew his three sons would fight over the clothes and therefore added the word amicably to try to avert trouble. In Isaacs case, he bequeathed "the bed that I now use" to his granddaughter, Rachel. The familys pewterware was to be divided between his three daughters.
Isaac Fickes eldest son, Isaac Jr had died in 1813. At that time, the younger Fickes had bequeathed to his "beloved weif... one hors cretor" and a "horsaddle". Isaac Jr also bequeathed to his wife "30 bushels of buckwit... and the one half of the cren now but in the cround".
Jacob Schmitt, Sr, one of the authors ancestors, specified in his will just about everything that he possessed. To his wife, Rosana, in 1797, he bequeathed "the um of ten pounds in Money and one cow, to have her choie alo fifteen buhels of corn yearly, and two hundred weight of Pork yearly and twelve pounds of hackled flax and Saw of the ame yearly and ix pounds of good Wool and one buhel of alt yearly alo one pinning wheel and bedtead bed and bedcloths compleat alo one table and one chet one little pot and one large pot, and one pan and ix poons two tin cups two Pewter Plates and one pewter Dih and two knives and two forks alo one bucket one pale and One Wahing tub..." Jacob was thinking to the future when he directed in his will that "my daughter Agnes hall have her mothers Riding Sadle at the deceae of her Mother." Jacob could not then know that his daughter Agnes Elizabeth would marry John Mock and move westward to the state of Indiana.
As can be seen in the foregoing examples, the dying persons family life can sometimes be ascertained from the wording of the will. In the will left by Isaac Fickes Sr, it was stated that the water from the deceaseds well that his son-in-laws land was to receive was to be only that which could flow through a one-inch pipe on alternating days. Perhaps Isaac did not particularly care for his daughters choice of husband. Another example shows the love a man had for his wife. In an age when the widow usually was entitled only to her own clothes and one horse saddle when the husband preceeded her in death, another ancestor of the author stated that his eldest son was to construct a house for his widow. And that son was also instructed to leave a certain amount of grain at her door during the harvest season.
The General Assembly of Pennsylvania passed an Act in 1777 to establish the Register of Wills office at the county level.
|An ACT for etablihing in the city of Philadelphia, and in each county of this tate, an office for the probate and regitering of wills, and granting letters of adminitration, and an office for the recording of deeds.
A CHANGE of government in the tate of Pennylvania having taken place, the powers of the everal officers under the late government have thereby ceaed, and become void: It therefore becomes necesary, for the ecurity and well-being of this commonwealth, that an office of record, for the probate of wills and granting letters of adminitration, commonly called the Regiter's office, and an office of record, for recording of deeds, hould be at all times kept in each city and county, as the preent contitution directs:
[II. And be it further enacted, That Samuel Morris, Equire, be, and he is hereby, contituted and appointed Regiter for the probate of wills and granting letters of adminitration, for the city and county of Philadelphia; and that John Morris, the younger, Equire, be, and he is hereby, contituted and appointed Recorder of deeds, for the aid city and county of Philadelphia: And that the following perons be, and they are hereby, contituted and appointed Regiters for the probate of wills and granting letters of adminitration, and Recorders of deeds, for the everal counties following, repectively, that is to ay; Joeph Hart, Equire, for the county of Bucks; Thomas Taylor, Equire, for the county of Cheter; Peter Hoofnagle, Equire, for the county of Lancater; Archibald McClean, Equire, for the county of York; John Creigh, Equire, for the county of Cumberland; Henry Chrit, Equire, for the county of Berks; John Orndt, Equire, for the county of Northampton; Robert Galbraith, Equire, for the county of Bedford; John Simpon, Equire, for the county of Northumberland; and James Kinkead, Equire, for the county of Wetmoreland; every of which aid officers is to be commisioned as the contitution of this tate directs.]
III. And be it further enacted, That the perons herein and hereby appointed to the offices aforeaid, before they can enter on the duties of their repective offices, hall everally take the oath of affirmation agreeable to theaid contitution, and give bond to the Speaker of the Houe of Asembly for the time being, with one or more ufficient ureties, in the following ums repectively, that is to ay: the Regiter for the city and county of Philadelphia, in the um of one thouand pounds; the Recorder of deeds for the aid city and county of Philadelphia, in the um of fifteen hundred pounds; the Regiter and Recorder of deeds for the county of Bucks, in the um of one thouand pounds; the Regiter and Recorder of deeds for the county of Cheter, in the um of fifteen hundred pounds; the Regiter and Recorder of deeds for the county of Lancater, in the um of fifteen hundred pounds; the Regiter and Recorder of deeds for the county of York, in the um of twelve hundred pounds; the Regiter and Recorder of deeds for the county of Cumberland, the um of twelve hundred pounds; the Regiter and Recorder of deeds for the county of Berks, in the um of one thouand pounds; the Regiter and Recorder of deeds for the county of Northampton, in the um of one thouand pounds; the Regiter and Recorder of deeds for the county of Bedford, in the um of ix hundred pounds; the Regiter and Recorder of deeds for the County of Northumberland, in the um of ix hundred pounds; and the Regiter and Recorder of deeds for the county of Wetmoreland, in the um of ix hundred pounds; which aid bonds hall everally be conditioned for the true and faithful execution of their everal and repective offices, and for delivering up the records and other writings belonging to the aid repective office's whole, afe and undefaced, to their uccesors in the aid offices.
And be it further enacted, That the everal and repective officers, appointed by this act, hall have, ue and exercie all the powers, and be ubject to, and governed by, the laws of this tate, in all things concerning their aid offices repectively; and may take and receive the ame fees, as by the aid laws the late Regiters and Recorders of deeds ought or might have received and taken.
V. And be it further enacted, That each and every of the Regiters and Recorders of deeds herein appointed, and their heirs, executors and adminitrators, and every of them, are hereby required and enjoined to deliver up to the peron who hall be appointed to ucceed them in the aid offices repectively, all the records and other writings, and alo the eals, belonging to the everal offices aforeaid, whole, afe and undefaced, under the penalty of three thouand pounds, to be recovered as other fines are directed to be recovered within this tate.
VI. And be it further enacted, That every Regiter for the probate of wills, and granting letters of adminitration, by this act appointed, or that may be hereafter appointed, may and hall keep a deputy, to officiate in his abence, for whoe conduct the Regiter, that hall o appoint him, hall be accountable. And every uch deputy is hereby declared to be able and capable in law to take probate of wills and grant letters of adminitration as aforeaid, and to do whatever ele by the laws of this tate appertains to the aid office: And if any Regiter or Recorder of deeds, by this act appointed, hall reign his office, remove out of the county, die, or otherwie become incapable of executing both or either of the aid offices, as directed by the laws aforeaid, then, in either of the aid caes, the Preident and Council, for the time being, hall, as oon as may be, appoint and commisionate another peron to be Regiter and Recorder in the tead of uch Regiter and Recorder, as hall o reign, remove, die, or otherwie become incapable as aforeaid; and every peron, o appointed and commisioned as aforeaid, hall be deemed and taken to be the proper Regiter and Recorder for the county for which he hall be o appointed and commisioned, until further order be taken in the premies by the General Asembly of this tate.
VII. Provided always, and be it further enacted, That the officers, by this act appointed, and called Regiters, in each county repectively, hall not be accountable to any other Regiter as their uperior; and that o much of the laws of this tate as relates to the Regiter-Generals office, which by this act is altered and upplied, is hereby declared to be repealed, and made null and void. And in as much as the detention of the books, records and other papers, and eals, in the office of Regiter and in the office of Recorder of deeds, may be very injurious to many of the inhabitants:
VII. Be it therefore enacted, That if any or either of the officers that have lat held and kept the aid office or offices, hall refue to deliver up the aid books, records and other papers, and eals office, afe, and in good order, to the perons by this act for each county, repectively appointed, and complaint hall be thereof made to any one Jutice of the county where uch refual hall be made, uch Jutice hall isue his warrant, in the nature of a capias, cauing uch officer to be brought before him; and if the complaint hall be upported with good evidence, the aid Jutice hall commit the aid Regiter or Recorder to the common gaol of the county, there to remain, without bail or main-prize, until the aid books, records and other papers, and the aid eals of office, hall be delivered up as aforeaid.
IX. And be it further enacted, That if any of the officers named in this act hall neglect or refue to take the oaths or affirmations precribed by the contitution of this tate, and otherwie qualify himelf as is by this act directed, for the pace of ten days after he hall be informed of his appointment, if on the eat ide of the river Suquehanna, and within thirty days, if on the wet ide of aid river, the Preident and Council hall appoint and commisionate ome fit peron to be the officer in his tead.
Pased 14th March, 1777. - Recorded in Law Book voI. I. page 93.
The generally accepted procedure for settling an estate in which a will has been written and filed at the county court house is for the will to be submitted to the Register of Wills for probate. In the act of probating the will, it is checked for legal correctness, and if everything is in order, it is approved. In most cases, the Register of Wills will grant Letters Testamentary and/or Letters of Administration to the man named as executor or the woman named as executrix of the estate. It is the executor/executrixs duty to make sure that the estate is divided up and distributed according to the wishes of the deceased. The distribution of the estate is often performed by a lawyer hired by the executor/executrix of the estate. It can only be assumed that those wishes have been followed precisely as the deceased person wished.
If no executor/executrix was named in the will, or if the deceased died intestate (i.e. without having written and filed a will in the court house), then the settlement of the estate is forwarded to, and handled by the Clerk of the Orphans Court. (See the sections titled, Intestate Proceedings, and Orphans Court Records above.)
A genealogical or historical researcher will find a number of records when searching for a will. The original will is normally kept by the person for whom it is written. A copy is transcribed, or otherwise enterred in the countys Will Book dockets and a reference to its location therein is recorded in the Will Book Index. (At the present time, much of this process is performed on the computer.) The records which accompany the probate of the will, including the letters testamentary and of administration, and possibly a renunciation (i.e. a statement by an executor or executrix refusing to serve in that capacity) will normally be filed with a copy of the will in the estate files. An estate inventory might also be included in the file. The estate files can usually be found in the Register and Recorders office of the court house. In some court houses the estate files are filed in the prothonotary office.
Traditionally, wills were not usually written out too long before the persons death. Because of the fact that the will was often written at the last minute, due to the fact that the person was dying, and wanted to make sure his/her estate was settled among a spouse and children, the date of the filing of the will at the court house and the date that it was probated are often very close together. Also it was natural for the surviving spouse and/or children to want to settle the estate as quickly as possible after their loved ones demise. Therefore, in the absence of an exact date of death, a death date can be assumed to be some time between the date of the writing of the will and the date it was probated, normally closer to the date of the wills probate.
The books listed below are indexes to the wills filed in some of the present-day counties of Old~Bedford. Will indexes are usually just that - an index of the wills, noting the persons name, the date of the probate of the will and the docket volume and page number where the will was recorded. In some will indexes, the persons date of death might also be included.