Family History involves much more than assembling family trees. The old documents that describe family members were written for official reasons - to record legal proceedings, land transfers, inheritance and so on. Often these documents give insights into what was happening at the time. Here are some documents that I came across (with much help from John Sharp) while tracing a family in the West Riding of Yorkshire. A simple donation of an acre of land to the church at Keighley by Ellis Hall, a veteran of the battle of Flodden Field, triggered off an extended game of legal 'hide & seek' between his family and the Crown after the Dissolution of Chantries by Edward VI. Without the paper trail produced by this dispute, the reconstruction of the family would have been very difficult (and much less fun). Some of the story has been previously published in the Bradford Antiquarian by H.I. Judson in 1939 and 1942, but some of his information is now seen to be incorrect, so I reproduce the documents here for you to reconstruct the family and its story for yourselves.
Unfortunately, most old documents are too large to digitize for delivery via the Web, even if the images are compressed in GIF or JPEG format. For this reason, I am trying a different approach in which I simply deliver the text of the document via the Web and then use specially-prepared fonts to render the document in your browser. Obviously, you will need a brower that supports fonts e.g. Netscape versions 3 and later. The browser must also support tables.
I have used the content of wills from the Borthwick Institute of Historical Research at the University of York and other documents from the Public Record Office and the West Yorkshire Archive Service. The content of these documents is reproduced here with their permissions. They all relate to the Hall family of Airedale and Craven. In order to read the HTML version of them, you will need to download the TrueType fonts required and install them using the Control Panel. I have so far only prepared the TrueType fonts for Microsoft Windows.
For those with older browsers which cannot support fonts and those not using Windows, I have
prepared Adobe Acrobat files of the documents. To view these, you will need the Adobe Acrobat Reader®. If you don't have it, you can download a free copy here.
Adobe Trademark Information
Some of the documents use a font derived from the character set
drawn in Lionel Munby's book Reading Tudor and Stuart Handwriting,
published by the British Association for Local History. If you
have this inexpensive but very useful little book, you will be
able to use it to start to read the documents. I would suggest
that you start by transcribing Jennet Hall's will (1573). Other
fonts are derived from the characters in the original documents
and you may find them more challenging to transcribe, since some
characters have multiple forms and you will need to sort out which
they are. Some of the documents, such as the Inquisitiones Post
Mortem, are in Latin. An excellent introduction to this anglicised
(and often abbreviated) form of the language is Latin for Local
and Family Historians, by Denis Stuart, published in 1995
You will find the documents easier to study if you print them out. Don't feel that you must understand each word when you first see it. If you can't read a word, carry on reading to the end of the document and then come back to it. The context may help. If not, try to find other words that contain the same characters. This will be easier in these documents since all characters in the font appear the same each time they are used. If only it were true of real documents!
Here is a list of all the characters that I have used in these documents. HTML version Acrobat version
Note to the technically-minded: don't try to cheat by copying the text to your word processor and changing the font to Times Roman or Arial. I have thought of that! If you want the fonts in a form that you can use in a word processor - contact me.
I am often asked why I don't provide plain text transcriptions of these documents on these pages. The answer is that I have been asked not to do so by teachers who are using this material in paleography courses. If you have transcribed the documents, and have attempted to reconstruct the family and their story, if you think you are related to them or if you need help with the transcriptions (and can convince me that you are not a student trying to cheat), I would be happy to hear from you by email at the address below:
Andrew Booth, Harrogate, UK
In 1511, Ellis Hall of Keighley was present at the 'Flodden Muster' as a bowman. Some time later, he bought an acre of land from the lord of the manor, Henry Keighley. The land was part of the waste of the manor, near to the moorside. Ellis cleared the land and converted it to pasture. About 1530, presumably towards the end of his life or in his will, he gave the acre to the church at Keighley on condition that the rent would provide for two torches to be kept burning at the altar of the Virgin Mary. The church rented the land to Henry Ambler. Then, in the reign of Edward VI, the Crown came after the chantry lands
The start of the game. Robert Hall and two of his sons forcibly reclaim the land his father left to the church at Keighley and which otherwise, as chantry land, would be seized by the Crown. They seem to have had at least tacit approval from a powerful ally - the Surveyor of Crown Lands, Henry Savile. Savile carried out the original survey and seizure of chantry lands. This document relates to a second survey carried out by William Clapham and John Lambert with the intent of seizing land and goods concealed from the first survey. They complain that they were obstructed by Savile and as a consequence abandoned their task.
It seems that proceedings started against the Halls with Henry
Ambler seeking hearings at the Court of Augmentations. However,
Edward VI died soon afterwards and when Mary Tudor came to the
throne, she quickly abolished this court. Nonetheless, there is
a suspicious alteration to the first document. If the summons
had been carried out as originally written, the Halls would have
been required to vacate the land pending the court hearing. In
fact, that requirement, underlined here, is struck through in
the first document.and does not appear in the second. Perhaps,
once again, the Halls had friends in high places.
(Katherine Hall married William Sugden at Keighley on the 3rd May 1562.)
The earliest surviving will from this family. It names many family members, effectively linking together the earlier documents and contains enough information for us to conclude that she was Robert Hall's widow. If you look at what she left each of her sons, it is not difficult to work out which one was her favourite!
This and the following Inquisition seem to have been carried out as a consequence of a special Court of Inquiry held the previous year at Keighley. At that enquiry it was established that the land, in the tenure of Henry Ambler, was originally given to the church at Keighley to provide two torches in the time of King Edward and was worth twenty shilling per annum in rent. The record of the inquiry is held at the Public Record Office (E178/133) but the quality of the photocopy provided is insufficient to allow a complete transcript to be presented here.
Robert's will has not survived and he was buried before the earliest entry in the parish register. This is the only document that gives the date of Robert's death. It is given as a regnal year. (Elizabeth I came to the throne on the 17th November 1558.)
The Crown now moves to recover the land and the deed to it. The Henry Ambler here is probably the grandson of the original complainant.
Henry Ambler defends himself by explaining the land had passed down through the Hall family, from whom he bought it. In the process, he provides explicit information on three generations of the family. He also gives the approximate date of Robert Hall's will, consistent with the date of death in the Inquisition Post Mortem.
Game set and match to the Crown. Christopher Hall, in a wicked stroke of genius, sold the deed to the acre to Henry Ambler, probably when it became too risky to keep it at the time of the Court of Inquiry in 1578. Why Henry bought it, when surely he must have known the background to the affair, we may never know.
Roydfield was high up on the moorside above Thwaites, overlooking Keighley but in the parish of Bingley. This Christopher is probably Robert and Jennet's youngest son named in the documents above. His marriage to Agnes Sowden is recorded at Keighley in 1570 together with the baptism of their first son soon afterwards. The son was named Robert, probably named for Christopher's father. The baptisms of his children are recorded at Bingley from 1578. There is a mistake in this will. See if you can spot it.