I think that wills can sometimes be the most helpful documents in a family historian’s armamentarium. Here is an example of milking every last drop of information from such a document.
Knowing that a possible ancestor of mine (John Ridout) married Mary Symonds on 20th September 1727, I decided to search for a Symonds family in Sherborne. I found a will for Robert Symonds, written on the 15t March 1667/68 which went to probate on the 30th June 1668. Below is a transcript of the will and some conclusions drawn with further research added:
“I Robert Symonds of Sherborne in the County of Dorsett yeoman… I give devise and bequeath unto my loveing wife Mary one Coppyhold Tenement which I now live in with the appurtenances thereunto belonging with one parcel of Land adjoining unto the Coppyhold tenement dureing her widowhood and to take with her after my decease all such goods or household stuffe as she brought with her before her marriage unto mee without trouble or molystacon of my executor here after named.
Item I give devise and bequeath unto my daughter Elizabeth thirty pounds in money and thirty pounds more upon bound which Mary Avoake widow and William Avoake her sonne owe me. Also I give her my house called by the name of the Shipp in Castletown during the terme I have uppon it. Likewise I give her one Brasse pan and halfe the goods and household stuff which was late her grandmother Roe’s.
Item I give unto my daughter Katherine thirty pounds in money and halfe such goods as her mother Anne left at her decease and one Brasse pann.
Item I give unto my daughter Joane Thirty pounds in money and the bed with the Bolster and Rugg and Blanketts belonging which I now lye uponn and the other halfe parte of the goods which her mother left at her decease which shee brought unto mee at my marriage with her. Alsoe I give unto her one brasse pann.
Item I give unto my granchilde William Symonds Tenn Acres of Arable Land upon Lease Lyeing in severall fields in Sherborne.
Item I give unto my sonne William Symonds one shilling to be paid by my Executor hereafter named.
Item I give devise and bequeath unto my sonne Robert Symonds All my Corne now growing upon ground lyeing in severall fields in Sherborne And two Cottages in Cold Harbour with the appurtenances belonging and the ground lyeing unto. Also I give unto him one dwelling house with the appurtenances belonging lyeing at the Corner in Castleton neare the Mill Lane. Also I give unto him one Yoake of Oxen four horse Beastes. I do likewise give unto him after his mother in Law Maryes widowhood the Coppyhold Tenement which I now live in during his Life with the Land adjoining unto him and his heires for ever and in default of such issue then I give the said Land unto my daughter Elizabeth and her heires and in default of such issue then unto my daughter Joane and her heires and in the want of such issue then I give the said Land unto my Sonne William and his heires.
And I make my sonne Robert Symonds Executor of this my last will Testament. Also I doe intreate my Brother in Law William Ridout and Arthur Bridges to be Guardians unto my sonne Robert Symonds during his minority and to see the Legacies paid and performed as aforesaid by my Executor.
And in case either of my two daughters should dye, Katherine or Joane then the portion to remaine to the other that shall be Living and if both should dye before they attaine unto the age of one and Twenty yeares then the said portion to remaine unto my sonne Robert and my daughter Elizabeth. In witness whereof I have putt my hand and seale the fifteenth day of March one thousand six hundred sixty seven.
Also I give unto my daughters Katherine and Joane ffoure score and foure pounds equally divided betweene them which now lyes in my sister in Law Mary Nailes hands and if both should dye then to remayne as aforesaid. Robert Symonds. Signed Sealed Read published and declared to be the last will and Testament of Robert Symonds of Sherborne in the presence of Mary Higgins her mark. Nicholas Parsons.”
- Robert died between 15th March and 30th June 1668. He was a yeoman. There is a likely burial of ‘Robert Simmones, uxoratus’ in Sherborne on 14th April 1668.
- Robert first married Ann and after her death (? ‘Ann Simmond buried 31st March 1663, wife of Robert’ in Sherborne) he married Mary.
- Robert and Anne had two daughters Katherine & Joan. Son Robert may be Anne’s son (because Mary, Robert’s second wife, was described as Robert’s ‘mother-in-law’ which commonly meant stepmother.
- Robert’s daughter Elizabeth and son William could have been born to either Ann or Mary.
- Elizabeth’s maternal grandmother was a Roe i.e. this is the maiden name of one of Robert’s wives.
- Robert’s children Robert, Katherine and Joan were born after ~1647 as they were under the age of 21 when he wrote his will. If William and Elizabeth were Mary’s children they would be small children (5 years or under) but they could be older if they were Ann’s.
- Elizabeth is the child first named in the will which might imply that she was the eldest – that and the fact that she is left a quite large sum of money, half of her grandmother Roe’s goods and a house. William is given a shilling, a token amount showing that he is Robert’s son; perhaps Robert had already given money or property to William before he made his will. I think it likely that Elizabeth and William are Robert’s first two children who may have been born to Anne.
- One son (Robert, William, or an unmentioned son) had a son William who inherited 10 acres of land in Sherborne. There is a baptism of William on the 25th September 1666 to ‘William and Joan Simmones’ in Sherborne which may be of relevance.
- Robert had a copyhold lease (presumably) in Sherborne, a leasehold tenancy of The Shipp in Castleton, two leasehold cottages in Coldharbour and a house in Castleton.
- Either a sister of Robert’s married a William Ridout or one of Robert’s wives was formerly a Ridout as Robert names William as his brother-in-law**
Entries from 1677 Sherborne Manor Survey:
- Westbury: Mary Symonds (46) for her widowhood, Robert Symonds (28) her son – cottage and appurtenances, late Roes. 10 acres, mixed but mostly arable. Rent 4s 2½d (believed copyhold)
- Barton Farm: William Ridout of Hyle in trust for the Symonds for 99 years if: in reversion Elizabeth Parsons (99) widow Lives: Katherine Symonds, Joan Symonds (now wife of Thomas GODSON of London), Mary daughter of the said Elizabeth Parsons and Sara, daughter of Robert Symonds. 10 acres arable. Rent 5s
- Barton Farm: Robert Symonds, assignee of his father Robert, deceased. He 28 (plus others). Five yards of land with the houses thereupon erected, late William Roe’s. A cottage late FRY’s and PRIDE, part of the stable erected. Rent £3 3s
- Primsley: Mary Symonds, widow crossed out. Joseph Parsons written in.
- Robert Symonds Jr was born ~1649. By 1677 he was married and had a daughter Sara.
- There is a baptism of twins, Joseph and Robert Symonds, sons of Robert and Elizabeth in Sherborne on the 1st January 1648/49. Joseph was buried on the 21st September 1649. If this is the same Robert, he was the son of Elizabeth, not Anne.
- ‘Elizabeth Simonds, wife of Robert Simonds’ was buried 17th April 1654 at Sherborne
- William Roe, yeoman of Sherborne, made his will on the 18th January 1653. He left his estate to wife Julian and daughter Elizabeth ‘now wife of Robert Symonds’ and their children Robert, John, William and Elizabeth – all under 21 years.
- This shows that ‘grandmother Roe’ mentioned in Robert’s will was Elizabeth’s late mother, Julian Roe. Robert, William and Elizabeth were all born to Robert’s first wife Elizabeth. As Robert’s other two daughters were born of his second wife Ann, he probably had no children with third wife Mary. They were married for ~5 years.
- Robert Jr’s stepmother, Mary, was born ~1631.
- The Westbury cottage is the copyhold tenancy which Robert left his wife; it was ‘late Roe’s’.
- William of Hyle (1627-1690) is more than likely the ‘brother-in-law’ to which Robert refers. William married a Frances, so either she was Robert’s sister i.e. Frances Symonds or Robert’s second wife Ann, or third wife Mary was William Ridout’s sibling.**
- William was the son of William Ridout and Ann Toogood – this couple only had two children: William and Ann, therefore Robert’s second wife could well have been Ann Ridout. Hence Robert’s wives and children could have been:
Unfortunately, not one of the marriages are to be found in the Sherborne registers, where there are no marriage entries between November 1654 and March 1658/9. If any of the couples married in Castleton, there are no registers before 1710. Of course, Robert may have married in any parish, according to where his bride called home.
**Research into whether or not William Ridout of Hyle’s wife was formerly Symonds is underway…