Where There’s a Will…

Most of you by now are aware of my ongoing interest in my Allen ancestors, from the parish of Colwall, on the Herefordshire side of the Malvern Hills. The fact that I live nowhere near the area makes onsite research – including a visit to the Hereford Records Office, where the parish records are currently kept- an impossible task! And so, you will understand why recently I leapt at the chance to have four copies of ancestors’ wills and testaments sent to me for the price of three!

I started off by doing a search on the Hereford Records Office website of available wills for the parish of Colwall. Choosing the documents I wanted copied was not too difficult – it seems not many of my ancestor left a will- but I could still have my pick among several possibilities. I already had a copy of the will left by my most remote Allen ancestor, the ‘husbandman’ Richard Allen, which was probated on 24th May 1716 – that’s a whopping three centuries ago. I remember finding the document very useful, as it not only confirmed the names of Richard’s four sons, but also gave me the name of an additional daughter, Mary, whose existence I had entirely overlooked.

In the same spirit, desirous to confirm and gather further information about my most distant ancestors, I went on to order the next will, chronologically speaking. I had been fortunate enough to find the will of the aforementioned Richard’s son William on Ancestry.co.uk, and as the latter died without issue, the document was doubly useful to identify nieces of nephews whose position in the family tree had been somewhat confusing up till then. Not only did he leave varying amounts of money to two of his surviving brothers, but also to several of his nieces and nephews and other relatives further removed, among whom we can count Elizabeth Pitt (widow of his nephew Richard), the young Margaret King (daughter of his late niece Elizabeth King, née Allen), the recently-married Hannah Wall (daughter of his late nephew Richard Allen), his Harwood cousins, the Blackways, and many others. I was rather happily surprised to see that he named his nephew and namesake, my ancestor William Allen, as his executor and the beneficiary of his will, once all other legacies to his remaining heirs had been paid. With such generous gifts as his last will in this earth, it is little wonder William Allen Sr. is described as a ‘gentleman’ on his gravestone.

And so, we come to the 1802 will of my own ancestor William Allen, nephew of the latter, grandson of the former, and only son of another Richard Allen – you will understand how confusing these repetitious names become after a couple of generations.  The will in itself is perhaps not as detailed as that of his uncle, as it only mentions the children who are alive at the time – which, luckily, matches my earlier research which confirms his son Joseph died at 15. It is also proof that two sons, William and John, whose date of death I had as yet not discovered, were alive at the time, and goes on to mention the youngest daughter by her married name – a new revelation and a prospective door to a new branch of relatives.

The third will I uncovered this past week is that of (yet another!) William Allen, a first cousin of the William Allen whose will we have just analysed. This new William Allen, a contemporary of my own ancestor, seems to have been widowed toward the end of his long life. His marriage to his late wife Anne produced at least ten children, of whom at least two died in infancy. His will is helpful, in that it mentions several of his surviving children by name, but perhaps the most exciting revelation was that he mentions leaving some money to his daughter Lucy, the wife of Henry Turner. Now, a long time ago I had tried to find a link between this Lucy Allen and my own family, as her descendants emigrated to America in the 1800’s and converted to Mormonism, as detailed in one of my older blog posts. The problem originally was that all sources I have found describe Lucy as being the daughter of “William and Mary” – however, William’s will confirms her to be his daughter, and knowing his wife was called Anne, I can safely assume the mother’s name on the baptism record is wrong (it wouldn’t be the first time such an error comes up in my research). One further point of interest is that old William Allen left some of his possessions to Philip, the illegitimate son of his daughter Lucy. I had not yet made a link between Philip Allen and my own family, but I now know that before marrying Henry Turner, Lucy had a son out of wedlock. What became of him is a mystery, but I can’t wait to unearth more information about him, and whether he went to America with his half-siblings too.

The final will which is of relevance to my Allen research is that of Thomas Allen, a son of the one of the William Allens listed above. Once again, the will is particularly useful not only because it gives us the names of his living sons at the time, but also because it goes on to confirm the married name of one of his daughters – one whose marriage I had completely overlooked! Also, interestingly, the document mentions Thomas’s wish to be buried next to the grave of his great-uncle William Allen (that generous man we analysed at the beginning of this article) – a wish I am happy to say was finally granted as the below photographs shows.

My overall conclusion after reading these different wills is that not only do you get an idea of a family’s fortunes over the course of time, but you also learn a lot about the people whose names you have discovered via parish records. You get a feeling of their relationships, of how close people were to their wider family, and naturally you discover new identities, married names and living relatives at the time the will was made. A goldmine of information if ever there was one!


Me standing behind the graves of my 4x great-grandfather Thomas Allen (r), whose 1842 will reveals he wished to be buried next to the grave of his great-uncle William (l), who died in 1765 after leaving generous amounts of money to his extended family.

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