29 Mar 2017

Mary Squire - discovering her will

Mary Squire's Almshouses

This is the fourth post in my series reporting my research into Mary Squire's Almshouses in Walthamstow, London, formerly in the county of Essex; and Mary Squire herself. Official name: The Squire's Almshouses.

I queried the online catalogue of the National Archives in Kew and found a few Mary Squire wills, and one for 1797 that turned out to be the right one.  This was incredibly lucky but then the conditions were right for it to be included (let me know if you want to know more about these conditions).

I paid to initially download the transcript of Mary's will from the National Archives website.  It was very exciting when I could tell that I had found the correct will: it mentions the almshouses in Walthamstow! This was really tremendous and deeply satisfying.  So often you'll find an interesting record but there is no way to be sure that it is the right one.  I copied out the whole text in my previous blog post here.

I had gone wrong before I found the right will because I looked at a will of a Mary Squire in Bedford.  Please don't ask me why I thought that the first Mary Squire will I found could be the right one?  In my defence I can merely say that I literally only just started the research a few days earlier. Very much a novice researcher.  Ahem.  I learned at least this much since then: don't assume.
I am thinking of writing a separate post on the red herrings that I went after, each for a while. It might be amusing and might also help someone who is doing their own research.
The up-the-wrong-garden-path post would show Clerkenwell, King George the III's map collection, a different Mary Squire and husband in the Oxford Street and Kensington area (including a magazine subscription!), some Parrotts and their wills, and a Carter or two. But that's for then, this is now.

The download was of a clerk's transcript - all wills were rewritten in these big ole' ledgers that must be massive: you only get to download/print whatever pages you want, but you don't get access to these ledgers. These have a different code [PROB 11] than the actual original wills [PROB 10 - bundled by first letter of last name].  If you get someone telling you that you CANNOT look at the original then do make sure that whoever you are talking to isn't thinking of the ledgers. You can indeed see the original will if it is at TNA - quote the PROB 10 code reference to try and break through the misunderstanding.

It happened to me and this lady kept arguing with me (I had already seen the will once!). It took me ages to clear up that we were at cross purposes, and her reaction in the end was of being rather miffed that I hadn't been clearer. I guess you get to meet all sorts of people.

Page 1 of Mary Squire's original will

The big reason why I wanted to see her original will, and this justified why I needed to see it, was to see and photograph* Mary's original signature.  That cannot be seen by looking at the transcripts, so I got to handle her actual, real-life will. Wow. I found this really moving and so very thrilling! This is the document that Mary herself handled in 1797!  And that's 220 years ago this year.

The map room is very strict about what they let you walk in with (and obviously that what you walk out with), the security person will let you know. There are more lockers at this level so you don't have to run all the way back downstairs to the main lockers.  Staff there will tell you what you need to do and look out for, and what you can't do.

I must also say that I only realised in the last few weeks how fortunate I was that I found Mary Squire's original will at all and at the National Archives, London. Not all original wills can be found there, many original wills were returned to the executors by the court.  These original wills do not have individual reference numbers, they are bundled by the first letter of the last name. I am extremely lucky that the 'S' bundle yielded her original will!

I was incredibly excited to see her signature and take a photo of it. Here's where a thinking error slipped in that hindered me for a while: I wasn't sure how many people were educated enough to be able to read and write, and do things like sign official documents. I had seen marriage registers that carried a big X mark, but not all that many.

Mary's signature was quite wobbly in the two down strokes: the 'y' of Mary and also the 'q' of Squire.  It didn't look like the signature of someone who was much used to signing her name - I even wondered if she needed to write much in her daily life.  But to think that the wobbliness was related to her level of education was a logical misstep. It made me look for signatures in parish registers where the bride signed her name just as unevenly as she did in 1797.

Wrong. At least I think so. I still need to figure out if I now know her age in 1797, I think she was in her sixties or seventies - she could have easily had a mild stroke or arthritis which made it difficult for her to write evenly.

It is a shame I committed to this assumption at the time, what would turn out to be the beginning of three years looking for the parish register entry of her marriage!  

When I decided to research her I wanted to know all kinds of things about her, where she was born, how old she got, how old she was when she married and where she came from. For that I needed her maiden name which I would only know once I found her marriage record.  And that turned out to be rather difficult and made me spend three years on this project.

I now think that I had come across the right record, I just didn't recognise it at the time. I was still missing the vital bit of information that allows me to identify it now.  More about that later!

My next blog post will be about what I discovered in the parish registers about her husband's family when going to the local Walthamstow archive in the beautiful Vestry House Museum.

*: I am very sorry, my photos of the original will are fuzzy.  I didn't know how to use the macro function properly. This is why I want to go back and revisit this, hopefully a bit later this year.

Research tip:  look at the research guides on the National Archive website. There is a lot of information there that may help you narrow things down, and inform your decision about whether you need to go visit the archive in person.

If you are wondering why I am researching and writing about Mary Squire's Almshouses then take a look at this first blog post.

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