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Death and taxes: understanding the death duty registers

For over 100 years, from 1796 to 1903, the Inland Revenue maintained a series of registers recording the payments of death duties. These registers are now held by The National Archives and represent one of family history’s best kept secrets. This talk looks at the surviving records in detail and explains how they can be used to uncover some fascinating facts about the lives and times of our 19th century ancestors.

Dave Annal worked for The National Archives for ten years, at the Family Records Centre and at Kew. He now runs Lifelines Research. Dave is the author of a several family history books, notably the second edition of his bestselling beginners’ guide Easy Family History. He is a resident expert on Your Family History magazine and regular speaker on the family history circuit.


What I would call family history’s best-kept secret, really, [are] the death duty registers. Why are they under-used? Well, there’s a number of reasons why they’re underused. First of all I would argue they’re not particularly well known, certainly when you compare it with the birth, marriage, and death records, census returns, parish registers, [and] wills. They’re not what you’d put at the top of your list when you’re researching your family history.

There is limited online access to them. Again, unlike census returns where you’ve got complete access to everything available online from 1841 to 1901, the death duties – there’s very little available online. I’ll show you what is a little bit later. Generally speaking, to use the records, to use most of the records, you have to come here. And obviously the very fact that you’re here means that’s not a problem for you. But for a lot of people that is a difficulty – getting here.

They’re certainly not as easy to use or to interpret as the more familiar records that I’ve already mentioned. So I want to also debunk a few myths and misinformation. This, as you all, I hope, are aware, is a wonderful book, Tracing Your Ancestors, at the National Archives. Absolutely brilliant book. It has a very, very small section on death duties. And in that little section there are two errors, which I’m hoping, if we ever get round to another edition, will be corrected. And I’ll draw your attention to those as we go.

So this is what I want to do: explain what death duties actually are [and] how and why the records were created. We’ll look at what records have survived, because unfortunately a lot of records that would have been particularly useful have not survived. We’ll look at what period they cover, who is covered by the records, who you are likely to find in the records, and, most importantly to you, I’m sure, what will the records tell you about your ancestors. And you’ll need to know how to access them. So that’s the basic structure of what we’ll be looking at this afternoon.

So let’s start. What is death duty? Death duty essentially is a term that we use to describe a number of different taxes. We lump them all together and call them death duties because it’s quite a convenient heading. And we’re dealing with the estates of the deceased. So this is people who have died, a tax on their estate – a series of taxes which specifically are legacy duty, succession duty and estate duty. So those are the three taxes which come together and we refer to them for family history [and] for research purposes as death duties.

Very briefly – a brief history of it – legacy duty, in a way it was introduced in 1780. Now the textbooks will tell you 1796, and arguably legacy duty was. But the first death duty really was the probate duty which was introduced in 1780. Now we might think and we’re always told that there are no records of this early taxation. And to a degree that’s true. But if you’ve ever looked at one of these – at a will or a grant for administration from this period, you will see at the top that we have these little stamps. To say there are no records would not quite be true. There are records, and that’s them there. So that’s showing that the basic rate at that period for estates up to £20 was at two shillings and six pence one-off payment. That was it. There was no assessment of anything other than a bracket of wealth – so £20.

Then if it was between £20 and £100, they paid five shillings. If it was over £100, they paid 10 shillings. And that was it. It was a flat rate. The rates were increased in 1789, but then in 1796 the more complex system was introduced with rates, as it says in the act, varying according to the degree of relationship between the deceased and recipient of his or her property. So this is when what we think of as death duty was introduced, 1796.

There is – one of a few little books I’ve got up here – should you wish to know more about it, there is a wonderful book I’ve got in the library here called Death Duty Acts which actually goes through the various death duty acts from 1796 up to 1914. It’s very intense stuff, but it does explain what the purpose of the act was and what the actual legislation said. So it explains why the records might change at different times.

I’m a big believer in any form of family history to understand the acts behind the records that you’re looking at. Why do things change in the census returns? Why do they change in birth, marriage and death? It’s all due to acts of parliament. So it might be worth knowing that exists, if nothing else.

So 1796, this was when the legacy duty was introduced. It only related to personal property – so to moveable property, not real estate or landed property. So it’s only looking at personal property. They also didn’t deduct debts from the value of the estate. So if you owed a certain amount of money, it didn’t matter. That was still taxed, the gross amount. Then succession duty was introduced in 1853, and that covers landed property – essentially anything not covered by legacy duties. They were now getting their hands into every little bit of money they could.


And then they gradually throughout the 19th century tidied things up. In 1881 the Customs and Inland Revenue Act declared that debts could be deducted from the value of [the] estate, and then in 1896 estate duty was introduced that brought it all together. And that’s what is still in place now in a different form.

So that’s a rough history, but you don’t really need to know that too much. It’s just a guide to what was going on in the legislation. So the records themselves consist of a series of registers, a series of contemporary indexes – or alphabets as they were actually known – and some correspondence and some case files. And we’ll look at what survived in a little bit more detail.

So how and why were they created? It is all about probate. This is the whole thing. You have to bear in mind death duty is connected to probate because the records only exist where there is a grant of probate or grant of letters of administration. So the basic system was that copies of the wills were submitted to the Stamp Office, or the Inland Revenue as it became from 1849. And the details were then abstracted from the wills by the Stamp Office/Inland Revenue clerks.

So they would take all these copy wills in, and they would take out the basic details and they would note them down. We’ll show you how that works on the actual registers. And they were designed to record and monitor the payment of duties. Like all these records we will look at, they were not created for family historians. They didn’t think: I know. We’ll create this wonderful set of registers that in 150 years time people will find some fantastic information from. They were designed for – they were living documents. This is another thing to bear in mind. They are open as long as they are required. Tracing Your Ancestors in the National Archives says, and I quote:
‘Because the registers could be annotated for up to 50 years after the first entry, they can give a wealth of additional information.’

I have no idea where that 50 years comes from. There is no limit. I’ve found one, I think, of 82 years after the original entry. So the clerks are still working in these registers. They are still keeping an eye on beneficiaries and residuary beneficiaries and so on.

So they have a long life. They are living, working documents. And the clerks that kept them, the clerks that maintained them made all sorts of notes all over the pages. And they knew what the notes meant, and we know what most of the notes mean, but some of the shorthand, some of the references can be very difficult to interpret.

This is very important. So unlike the other documents that we use which are about a snapshot – the census return shows a family on a particular night; a birth, a marriage or a death certificate records a particular event on a particular day – these are living

The copies of the wills are particularly useful if your ancestors come from Devon, Somerset or Cornwall. Between 1812 and 1858, before civil probate comes in, there is a collection of wills, the originals of which were destroyed in 1942 when a bomb hit the registry in Exeter. So all those old Devon wills that were destroyed, right back from the 15th century, they’ve gone. But from 1812 up to 1858, that period where copies were sent to the stamp office, in the 1960s they were returned to the counties.

So it’s just a little bit of a bonus there. The wills for the other counties where the originals had survived were just destroyed. Thousands of records were destroyed, but for that period, 1812 up to 1858, wills for Devon, Somerset and Cornwall were returned to the county archives. Very useful.

Right, so these are the main records that have survived: a series of registers which are in The National Archives record series IR 26 – IR standing for Inland Revenue – and a series of contemporary indexes or alphabets in the record series IR 27. These are the ones you know. These are the ones, if you’ve used death duties at all, you have probably looked at. And they cover the period 1796 to 1903. So basically it’s 19th century with a few years before and few years after.

So before 1796 all you’ve got is the impressed stamps on wills to show that some probate duty was paid. After 1903 the Inland Revenue adopted a new system, and they went to an individual case file system; there were no registers kept. And the individual case files are destroyed on a 25-year cycle. So they don’t survive. Nothing after 1903 survives except for what is being used by the Inland Revenue in their present-day work.

Now what you may not be aware of is that there is also some correspondence. And it only covers the period 1812 to 1836, but it is basically a copy of every letter that came in and a draft of every letter that went out of the Stamp Duty Office between 1812 and 1836. So this is correspondence with administrators with executors of wills, with the legal profession, etc. And there’s vast numbers of them – huge numbers.

So if you have got someone and there is a death duty record between 1812 and 1836, there is a good chance you may find something useful in there. Now it might just be very, very boring minutiae – just is this liable to tax, yes or no? It might not tell you anything. But you never know, there could be some very useful things in there.

The disappointing thing is the accounts files which were in record series IR19. They’d existed for the whole period 1796 to 1903. Every record in the register, every entry in the register had a corresponding account file. They’ve gone, apart from a very small sample. As Beeching was to the railways, Lord Denning was to archives. And only a very small sample of these have survived. It is a great shame because they are very, very interesting documents.

The ones that have survived, if one has survived, that goes with the entry you’re looking for in the registers, then you want to know about it. The problem is you don’t know about it because there is no index to them. It is a project I’d love to see undertaken. There is about – I think there is something like about 80 per year, 80 documents. No, sorry, no, it’s more than that. It’s a lot more than that. But it’s still a very small percentage: less than one per cent of what was there originally.

The other sample that has survived is a collection of famous people. I’m trying to think of some names that are in there. Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Florence Nightingale, Disraeli, Gladstone, and then lots of the nobility and gentry as well. So there is a small selection of famous people – a few hundred, I think.

Right, there’s two factors to consider when you’re thinking who is going to be covered. First of all there is the value of their estate, and the second is the relationship of the beneficiaries to the deceased. And this changed a lot over the years. This is where, if you really want to know the details, Ham’s Year Book comes in useful or, indeed, the Acts book that I showed you before. This will tell you exactly who’s liable at different times and what the legislation is at that time.

So it changes. Initially tax was only – or in 1796 tax was not payable on bequests to offspring, spouse, parents and grandparents. So not many people were captured by it. So anything that was being left to children, to your spouse, to your parents, to your grandparents, there was no tax on it. It was only people who were unrelated or more distantly related.

From 1815 it was only the bequests to the spouse that were exempt from taxation. So they tightened it up. That’s really enough you need to know here. But by 1857, as it says there, almost every estate worth over £20 should be covered in some way. So most of the estates then are being covered. Initially it’s not so many.

This is what you want to know. This is what they will tell you. They will tell you when your ancestors died. Now you might know that already. You might have a death certificate if it’s after 1837, and you might have a record of a burial if it’s before 1837 or indeed after. But you might not have their date of death, and that might be something of interest to you just to get a little bit of extra information on the tree.

It will tell you when their will was written, and it will tell you where and when it was proved. Now obviously if you already have the will, that doesn’t help you very much. But the death duty registers therefore act as an index to wills. Not to every will, but if you don’t know where someone’s will was proved, the death duty records will tell you. They will give you the date of probate. They will give you the identity of the probate court. So if you’ve been struggling to find an ancestor’s will, it might be an approach to take to look them up, see if you can find them in the death duty registers. That will tell you the information you need to know.

Obviously before 1858 there is no national index to wills, so this is the closes thing there is. It will tell you what their estate was worth, which could be interesting. It will give you the names and addresses of their executors. That again could be particularly useful if the executors were relatives, which they so often are. It will give you the details of the bequests and the beneficiaries. So that’s it. There’s a lot of information of a genealogical nature on these records.

The difficulty when you’re looking – a lot of the records, the records from 1858 up to 1903 are on microfilm. Sorry, the other way round. Sorry, the earlier ones are on microfilm. The later ones are original documents. When you’re looking at the microfilm, the problem is that what you will see is the left hand page and then the right hand page. And you’re trying to – you often need to go back and forward all the time to work out which line we’re on.

The other thing to consider is that that page, double page spread there, actually includes two different entries. There are two entries for different people on those pages. So you really have to start chopping things up. What I would certainly advise, if you are looking at the records here, whether you’re looking at them on microfilm or whether you’re looking at them in hard copy is take a copy. You’re not going to be able to note everything down.

Take a photocopy, take a digital copy with your own camera – whatever you need to do – and take it home with you because then you can have the time to sit down and interpret it. It’s not like a parish register entry where you can just jot down the name, the date and that’s it. There is so much information there you cannot possibly interpret it looking at it right there and then.

If we look at this in a bit more detail just to explain what I mean about the two entries on here, this is at the top of the page. The top one is the top of the left-hand page. The bottom one is the top of the right-hand page. And what you will see is that within each entry there are two headings. So there is this heading at the top here which has the name of the person [and] the date of death. So this is the venerable Archdeacon Charles Dodgson, who is Lewis Carroll’s father, of Crofton, County of York, Rector of the same place, Archdeacon of Richmond and a Canon Residentiary of the Cathedral of Ripon. Nice job if you can get it.

It gives his date of death, 21 June 1868, and the date of the will, 15 February 1868. And then it gives a named residence and – and you go on to the other page, so imagine this is actually on the right of it up here – description of executor. So there is the names of the executors, Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson – that is Lewis Carroll – and then two other people who are relatives as well, Hassard Hume Dodgson and Robert Wilfred Skeffington Lutwidge.

And then on the…so then it gives you their addresses. So Charles Lutwidge Dodgson of Christchurch, Oxford, clerk and then someone in Putney and another one down in London itself in Onslow Square. So that can be useful, those details of the address of the executor because it can help to identify who the executor is. You can perhaps then find them in census returns. Also if the executor’s addresses have changed, if they’ve moved, you will often see the original one scored out and then ‘now living at’ or a new address just written in there.

It then tells you where and when the will was proved. So this is principal – so it’s the principal registry, meaning London – on 16 October 1868. And then there is a basic value of the estate, £10,000 – and then second swearing at £8,000. And then there is a reference to a lot of correspondence. Now this the correspondence that between 1812 and 1836 has survived but hasn’t at this period, so the year, the date, and the reference number there to them. So at this period none of this correspondence has survived. But it did – it was received by the office, and then it would have been destroyed at some time.

So that’s the top heading, and the confusing thing is when you’re looking at the second entry, this line here is that information. But you have to go back up to the top heading to understand what each of these sections means. You see what I mean there? It’s quite difficult.

Then we get the second lot of headings, and a lot of them we don’t really need to know from a family history point of view but basically we’ve got the date that was entered here, then a summary of the legacies [and] any little observations. These are the abstracts from the original will. Anything about trusts being set up, for what purpose, and then on the next one – this is what we probably want to see most – is the legatees. So this will name the beneficiary, the people who are receiving the bequest.

‘Consanguinity’ is the wonderful column meaning relationship, and this gives you, in encoded form, the relationship of the beneficiary to the testator. And – remembering that will determine the rate of tax payable – that was important for them to collect. But for us as family historians, that’s wonderful because we get that. Even if it wasn’t stated in the will, they would have found that out and got the information in there.

There is a very good guide on the National Archives website to all those abbreviations which you can just go on to the home page, on to the research section, and then you can find the research guide. It’s a very, very useful guide. [see]

And then it says ‘upon what contingency or, if in succession, of equal rate’. Again, this doesn’t really matter in terms of family history. One column that does, and I’ll show you an example that can be very useful, this says ‘age of annuitant’. So if an annuity has been set up for someone, it should tell you how old they are. Now I’m not sure how consistently that was entered, but you can imagine how useful that could be to identifying a particular person because it’s giving you their age at the time that the original entry was made.

And then we’ve got all the bit that the Inland Revenue are particularly interested in which is the actual collection of the money – so the value of the annuities and bequests, the rate of the duty, the date it was paid, and the total duty paid down there. So [a] huge amount of information, but then you get all these notes all over it. So it’s not just in the neat columns you would like it to be. There are lots of notes.

I’ll show you a couple of examples from Charles Dodgson’s one here. So here is a detail from the left – no, from the right-hand page. And on this page we get some wonderful pieces of information. This here, this is his daughter, Henrietta H Dodgson, and it says ‘died 13 April 1922’. So we’re already over the 50 years there. We’re already 54 years after the father died right there. She was a spinster.

And now another one down here, we have Miss LF Dodgson, died 23 October 1930. So we’re now up to 62 years after he died. So the Inland Revenue are still keeping an eye on this. They are still checking for liability at this stage. So these are people who benefited from his estate, presumably it’s an annuity being set up for them, and now that annuity has ceased because they have died. Or perhaps they got a will, but we won’t go into that because that can get quite complex.

Here is another very important thing to note: succession duty. Now I mentioned this before, succession duty [was] introduced in 1853. Now the succession duty registers themselves are not indexed. The only index to them is a reference in the legacy duty registers. So the only way you would know there is a succession duty entry is by finding an entry like that in the legacy duty register. There is no separate index to succession duty.

And this gives you all the information you need. It says succession ‘D’ – which is the letter of the surname, so Dodgson – 1868, and then a reference number 198. Using that information and using the National Archives Discovery catalogue, you can find which record in IR 26 you need to look at. And this refers to property under settlement. And if we look at that actual register – this is not a great

copy, I’m afraid – there is the reference at the top left-hand corner, 198. So that’s where I found that within the document. But this tells us a lot of information about the settlement, and it was to do with the marriage settlement that Charles’ wife had when they married in 1827.

And down here it says: ‘Francis Jane Lutwidge, since wife of said deceased, under said settlement, died 1857’. So we’ve got the date of his daughter’s death in 1930. We’ve got the date of his wife’s death in 1857. We’ve got the date of his marriage, or at least the marriage settlement, in 1827. So in two documents – we can’t quite argue they’re one document because this is a succession duty; the other one was a legacy duty – we’ve got over 100 years of the family just from these documents.

This is a pre-1812 entry, and they’re not that informative, to be honest. The system before 1812, rather than sending copies of the wills into the office, each of the probate courts was supposed to complete these forms, and they submitted the form to the Inland Revenue. There is not a huge amount of information on them. They weren’t really used as working documents in the same way. It wasn’t as sophisticated. So they are unfortunately disappointing. It’s not to say that you wouldn’t want to know that one exists between 1796 and 1812 for your people, but don’t expect to find too much out there.

This has a reference here to what they call a ‘rev reg’ – reversionary register. In 1899 the clerks at the Inland Revenue had this wonderful job of going through all the unresolved claims dating from 1812 to 1852. So they had to go through all those registers, and anything that hadn’t been settled by then, they set up new registers for them. So it was like a clean sheet, and they put everything in a nice, organised file.

So that’s a reference to an entry in the reversionary register: much cleaner, same basic headings, but a lot more easy to understand what’s going on there. So they just got all the information that was important and then started working on it again. And you’ll see here a lot of very useful information. This person died in 1850. His will was written in 1849. So this is well into the early 1900s they’re still keeping an eye on things.

Here we have his daughter, Victoria Rickerhans, and it says ‘wife of John Skein’. So whereas in the original record, obviously in the will, she wasn’t married, but we now know this is who she married after the original will. It says here ‘living 1890’ and again living in 1901, living in 1905, living in 1907 [and] 1912. 1921, we’ve got an address at 17 Sudbourne Road in Brixton, Brixton Hill. And then you see at the top here ‘died 4 August 1923’. So what, they’d be coming into the office every day and saying: ‘Is she dead yet? Is she dead yet?’


So this is 1953, and he died in 1850. So that’s 73 years after he died, his daughter died, and they’re still keeping an eye on it. And then there’s a note there about the claim. It says there ‘without issue’. It says she died without issue. So very good.

This is another entry from – where are we? Right, this is a man called Stephen Turner, and this is from 1828 [when] he died. His will was written in 1827. He’s from a village in Sussex. And in the middle of this entry there is a reference down here [pause…] – there is a reference here – is that still all right, yeah? Still on? [referring to microphone] – saying, that, believe it or not, says ‘RA’ and then a reference and then the year 1831. This is the residuary account. These are these files I was talking about that have largely been destroyed.

That is the only reference to it, and I would argue that to then, having seen this reference, search the 1831 file would be speculative at best. And the chances are you’re not going to find anything because there are thousands of these references which relate to thousands of documents. Unfortunately only a small percentage of those thousands of documents have survived. But working backwards from a residuary file that has survived, this is how I found this entry to show the connection.

And let’s just show you, there was a basic form that they all had in them which just recorded the details of the payments that were due – so just summarising everything in a form. All the monies added up there. Reference on the back there that ties in with it. But this is what is particularly interesting about these records because most of them have inventories in them. Most of them have inventories. Now inventories were not required by probate courts after 1782 so we rarely find them after that. But they were in these records, and they are just fascinating.

If you’ve ever seen an inventory of, particularly the 16th and 17th century ones – and they go through room by room all the possessions that were in each room, all the movable property that was there and out in the barns, the kitchens, the washhouses, everything like that – it just paints a fantastic picture of what life was like.

So this was in this 1827 farmhouse as ‘an inventory and valuation of all the goods and chattels belong to Mr Stephen Turner lately deceased in the parish of Westfield, Sussex’. To give you an example of one of the rooms, in the lower bedroom: one feather bed, bolster and two pillows, three blankets, one coverlid and one bedstead, one straw mattress, [and] one beer barrel. That’s my sort of bedroom. This is good. One flower tub, one pair of brand irons – I’m not sure what they’re doing in the bedroom but we’ll not worry about that – three earthen bottles, two glass bottles, two pitcher pots and two boxes. That’s just in one room there, and obviously each of the rooms, they go through room by room – the washhouse here – listing his moveable property and valuing it.

I’d argue that sort of information about your ancestors is about as good as you can get. It’s wonderful to have that. Unfortunately, as I said, the vast majority of those have been destroyed. And the ones that have survived are unindexed. They are only accessible by year, and to search for one is easy enough to do, but you’re almost certainly not going to find what you’re looking for. That sounds quite depressing, doesn’t it?

But let’s be positive. There are some records online. So on the National Archives’ own website, those early ones – the ones that I’ve described as disappointing – between 1796 and 1811, the ones from the other courts other than the Prerogative Court of Canterbury are available online as digital images. You can search for them. You can download them. I’m not sure, what is the cost of those? Any National Archives people? Is it £3.60? £3.36 [in November 2013], I think. I’m not sure whether it’s the same as the wills, but it’s a one-off payment anyway for it. And there is a link to it which I don’t think we have quite time to look at.

The indexes to them – this is the good news – the indexes or the alphabets are actually available online on FindMyPast. So the whole period, 1796 to 1903, are available online. It’s not the easiest process, but it is do-able. And I know that the staff here would help you to find it.

That’s pretty much it. I want very quickly to show you an example of how I have used death duty records in a piece of research I have been doing. First I want to show you this. I was talking about the age of annuitants. There’s an example where we’ve got it. There’s two annuitants, Mary Ann Port, aged 56, and Anne Malins, aged 35, and actually another one down here aged 38. So you can see how enormously useful that could be in your research knowing – this period, this is 1840-something, I think, [or] sometime in the 1840s – so knowing someone’s age then could be a really, really useful piece of information.

This Mary Ann Port is someone that I am very interested in because I think – we’ll just go past those – I think she’s my ancestor. It’s a problem I’ve been working on for about 20 years now, and I haven’t solved it yet. But I will. I won’t go into the reasons why I think she’s my ancestor but her son – well, the person who I think is her son – when he got married there is a big blank line where his father’s name should be. I’m pretty sure that he was the illegitimate daughter of this woman and I’ve been trying to prove it for years, or at least been trying to disprove it. And I haven’t disproved it yet, so that’s good.

This is here burial in 1846, Mary Ann Port of Buckingham, aged 57, buried on 25 May. Here the death certificate, which I have a copy of, doesn’t help me at all. It doesn’t help me because the informant is not a relative. Her occupation is just given as ‘gentlewoman’. And there is no clue as to any relationship. She’s not described as the daughter of or anything. She’s a spinster. I know that.

This is her letter of administration. This is the Prerogative Court of Canterbury letter of administration. And this says: ‘On the ninth day, administration of the goods and chattels of Mary Ann Port, formerly of Great Missenden but late of the town of Buckingham in the County of Buckingham, spinster, deceased, was granted to Samuel Truman and Mary Stephens, widow, the lawful cousins German’ – which means first cousins – ‘and two of the next of kin of the said deceased having been first sworn duly to administer.’

So this was the first clue I had to any sort of relationship. I knew that she had two cousins – two first cousins – one called Samuel Truman and one called Mary Stephens. But it still wasn’t a huge amount to go on. It was still a bit difficult. I then found that there was an entry in the death duty registers. Not a huge amount of information, again, but here she is: Mary Ann Port of Buckingham. And again we’ve got these two people mentioned here, Samuel Truman and Mary Stephens.

Interestingly, Samuel Truman is of the legacy duty department of Somerset House. That was his job. He worked at the Legacy Duty Office. Mary Stephens is of Kingston, parish of Aston Blount, in Oxfordshire. But then we get these two other names, two other people named down here: William George Moulting of Thorn Cottages and John Osbertus Truman of Alton Street in Wandsworth Road, Surrey.

So I’ve now got four names that are connected to Mary Ann Port, and I’m still trying to work around this. I then stumbled across this will of a man called Samuel Port who died in about 1802 or 1800, sometime around then. And he talks about a trust being set up for all and every ‘my child and children, lawfully begotten, who should be living at the time of my decease’. It doesn’t name them, but he did then name further along in his will a number of people including Samuel Truman who he describes as his nephew.

And I thought, well, if Samuel Truman is his nephew, Mary Ann Port could well be his daughter. And he then mentioned other people, and further research actually revealed that I was on the right lines and that Samuel Port was actually Mary Ann’s father. There – Samuel Truman is mentioned in there. Samuel Truman, that was the clue.

But there was still this wonderful connection with the death duty office, and in The National Archives in the reading rooms there is a selection of books. There is a book called The Imperial Calendar and The Royal Calendar – two series of books which are effectively the forerunners of the civil service register. And they list each of the public offices for different officers who worked there. And this is one – if we zoom in on it we will see Samuel Truman, the Clerk for Return of Probate Duty. So he’s actually working on the registers that we’re looking at.

And then this is one a few years later. Here he is again, ‘S Truman’, and interestingly William George Moulting who was also listed on the death duty records that we looked at before as a potential beneficiary. And it’s just little things like this that bring it all to life, I think, that these are real people.

William George Moulting turned out to be a very distant relative of Mary Ann Port’s as well. This is how the family tree all went together. So there was Mary Port who became Mary Stephens. And there was John Osbertus Truman. The interesting thing was why William George Moulting appears to have been listed as a beneficiary. I don’t understand why he should be because she had no living brothers or sisters.

So yes, they’re first cousins. And there are, according to the records, eight other first cousins. But I don’t see why he should be a beneficiary. And I certainly don’t see why he should be a beneficiary because there is no blood relationship whatsoever. It’s quite a complicated relationship. I do wonder whether Samuel and William were ‘sorting something out’ between them. They both worked for the Legacy Duty Office. But I can’t prove that, so I won’t sully their good name.

So these records can really help to untangle stories like this. They can give you clues that you might not get from anywhere else. I really think one of the most useful things, because they’re living documents, that you do get not just a picture of what the person wanted to happen to their estate but what actually happened to their estate and to what happened to their family after they died.

So children might not be named in the will, or children might not have been born at the time he wrote his will, but they can be named in the death duty registers because the Inland Revenue want to make sure that they know who the beneficiaries are. Daughters who are named in the will later get married, and their married names can appear in the registers [as well as] dates of death of the children and other beneficiaries. So they can be enormously useful.

I’m not going to deny that they’re difficult to use. They are difficult to use, but that’s not an excuse not to try. I know certainly the staff here will be very willing to help you. They are absolutely fascinating documents. I’m a bit of an anorak about them, I have to confess, but I really love them and I hope you will have a good look into them and that you’ll find some very useful things. Thank

Transcribed by Mary Pearson as part of a volunteer project, November 2014.