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My cousins and I have been trying unsuccessfully to solve an inheritance mystery and are hoping you will be able to point us in the right direction.

My father’s maternal grandfather, John WINTER, was left an inheritance by Jonathan BANKS, which he never received. The story we have been told is that John WINTER had been a groom/coachman when he made a runaway marriage with Eleanor MOWBRAY. They married on 16th May 1814 in Ruskington. She was 19 years old and the daughter of the deceased Edward MOWBRAY and Mary BANKS, who married on 24th March 1788 in Harmston. She was then disinherited by her guardian, her mother’s brother, Jonathan BANKS (as defined in the administration of her father, Edward, who died intestate).

Mary was later reconciled with her uncle, and her share of the family inheritance was duly left to her husband, John WINTER, as I believe, being a married woman, she could not inherit herself.

We would like to try to find out where we go from here to find out why he wasn’t entitled to his inheritance. It seems some debt was involved, but as we understand the will, this should have been paid by the other beneficiary, John PRESTWOOD. We know John WINTER was very poor and worked for the rest of his life as a shepherd, but think the person that benefited paid John WINTER a small annuity and also paid for an apprenticeship in carpentry for his son (my grandfather) Jonathan WINTER.

Can you please advise where we should now be looking for further evidence to continue our research?

Sylvia Booth


Jonathan BANKS’ will was made on 24th November 1820 and proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury on 17th May 1821. The immediate question is, how do you know that John WINTER did not receive his inheritance?

From 1796 to 1903, information about the payment of legacies and other details about the winding up of the estate can be found in the Death Duty Registers, now held at The National Archives in series IR 26. The indexes to the registers (IR 27) are arranged annually by surname of the testator and give the court in which the probate was handled. The Registers are in several separate series, each with its own associated indexes: PCC wills 1796–1811; PCC administrations 1796–1857; Country Court wills and administrations 1796–1811; Country Court administrations 1812–57; all wills 1812–81; all administrations 1858–81 (no indexes for 1864–81); all wills and administrations 1882–1903 (many registers, for 1894 to1899, were badly damaged or destroyed by a fire).

The practice of keeping registers ended in 1903, when they were replaced by a system of individual personal files, but these records were destroyed after 30 years. The registers up to 1858 are on microfilm but these, because of the often numerous annotations in pencil or coloured inks in the original, can be difficult to read on the black and white film. Until 1812 a separate index for each court was created. However, the Death Duty Registers for the Country Courts (this excludes the Prerogative Court of Canterbury) 1796–1811 have been digitised and are fully searchable on The National Archives’ Documents Online site ( The indexes 1796–1903 are also on film but are, additionally, available as digitised images on the FindMyPast website (

If there is some evidence that a law suit may have been conducted then there are several series of records that could provide information. On the whole, these records are not easy to use or access, and if you need to go down that route then I would suggest that you ask for more advice at TNA. Wills and Other Probate Records by Karen Grannum and Guy Taylor (TNA 2004) will give you a great deal of advice. Wills, Inventories and Death Duties by Jane Cox (PRO 1988) has long been out of print but remains one of the best guides available.

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