What do wills reveal about kinship in the rural Heaton area of Lancashire between 1750-1858?

Davidson, Carol (2021). What do wills reveal about kinship in the rural Heaton area of Lancashire between 1750-1858? Student dissertation for The Open University module A826 MA History part 2.

This dissertation was produced by a student studying the Open University postgraduate module A826 MA History part 2. The research showcased here achieved a distinction.
Please note that this student dissertation is made available in the format that it was submitted for examination, thus the author has not been able to correct errors and/or departures from academic standards in areas such as referencing.
Copyright resides with the author.


The nature, value and character of kinship has been a fiercely debated topic for many decades and continues to be so. This dissertation was designed to examine whether wills would or could reveal the nature of kinship within a specific area of rural Lancashire. The surviving 140 wills during the period 1750-1858 were used as an entry point into the lives of the people in the villages of Bowlee, Little Heaton, Great Heaton and Rhodes Green, locales which had received no previous scholarly attention.

The testators, executors, witnesses, and beneficiaries' names were all extracted from the wills and supplemented with all other available historical documents from the time period and area. Both quantitative and qualitative methodologies were used to evaluate these records. A database was developed from which the researcher was able to reconstruct families and kinship connections consanguineal, affinal and social. The relationships between the testators, their executors and beneficiaries were examined and compared with other studies where available.

The wills revealed that primogeniture seldom occurred, that fathers treated their children equally and sought to protect their daughters' inheritances from the doctrine of coverture. Both men and women valued their relationships and left bequests to maintain the status and financial security of their nuclear family as far as possible. The nuclear family was the most prominent, although it was flexible in form and expanded and contracted to meet the needs of the kinship group and community. The study concludes by suggesting that further research into wills in different geographical areas between 1800 and 1841 would be beneficial in order to compare and contrast results in an era very seldom explored.

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