I found the will of my 3x great-grandfather.

Robert Fowler
BIRTH ABT. 1767 • Thorganby, Yorkshire, England
DEATH ABT FEB 1833 • Thorganby, Yorkshire, England

He had several children:

Ann Fowler 1794–
Mary Fowler 1796–
Thomas Fowler 1798–
Robert Fowler 1801–
Elizabeth Fowler 1802–
William Fowler 1805–
Jane Fowler 1809–


First of all, I am having trouble reading the document. Is there some place to get help for that?

Secondly, from what I can read, I notice that he named one of his sons as the executor of his will and he left all of his money to a few of his daughters and none to his other son or other kids.

What are some possible reasons for this?

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    Reading the will, he left the remainder of his estate to his son, William Fowler, who he also named sole executor. Have you looked to see if the other children died before the will was written? Commented Apr 13, 2020 at 16:08
  • @sempaiscuba are you able to read if there was any land involved? I'm not able to read most of it. Commented Apr 13, 2020 at 18:11

3 Answers 3


The obvious thing to check is whether the other children had died prior to the will being drawn up.


To help you in this case, I have transcribed the will below:

Extracted from the Registry of the Prerogative Court of York

This is the Last Will and Testament of me Robert Fowler of Thorganby in the county of York farmer made this twenty seventh day of August in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and thirty one whereby first I exort that all my just debts and funeral and testamentary expenses be paid by my executor hereinafter named and I give and bequeath to my daughter Ann the wife of Thomas Daniel of Haxby the legacy or sum of one hundred and thirty pounds to my daughter Mary the wife of Thomas Gamble of West Cottingwith the further legacy or sum of one hundred and thirty pounds and to my daughter Elizabeth Fowler spinster the legacy or sum of two hundred and thirty pounds which said legacies or sums of money I exort to be paid by my executor within six calendar months next after my decease and I do declare that the receipt and receipts of my said daughters respectively shall notwithstanding their or any of their coverture be sufficient discharge and discharges to my said executor for the several and respective legacies and I give and bequeath all and singular my ready money and securities for money household furniture farming stock and all other my personal estate and effects whatsoever and wheresoever (subject to the payment of my just debts funeral and testamentary expenses and the several legacies hereintofore bequeathed) unto my son William Fowler his executors administrators and assigns to and for his and their own use benefit and disposal and I do nominate and appoint my son William Fowler sole executor of this my will and hereby revoking all former wills by me made I do declare this alone to be and contain my last will and testament In witness thereof I have hereunto set my hand and seal the day and year above written - Robert Fowler - signed sealed published and declared by that said Robert Fowler the Estator as and for his last will and testament in the presence of us who in his presence at his request and in the presence of each other have hereunto subscribed our names as witnesses Jn D Jefferson Jn Dunnington

(Note that this was transcribed an a small screen, so transcription errors and typos are possible)

As you can see, Robert Fowler (the elder) left cash legacies to his three daughters Ann, Mary, and Elizabeth, with the remainder of his estate being left to his son, also named Robert.

I would therefore check the local parish records to see whether the other named children, Thomas, William, and Jane had already died before the will was drawn up in 1831 (this would certainly not be unusual at that date).

Note that land holdings generally passed by common law to the eldest son at that date, and so were often omitted from wills.

Online Resources

There are several good tutorials available online which will help you learn to read old handwriting. The Palaeography Tutorial from the National Archives is one excellent example, but an online search for reading old handwriting will reveal many others.

However, even after you have mastered reading old handwriting, some of the terminology in old wills can be challenging. Fortunately, again, there are several good guides available online, including (for example) the guide to Probate Records from the Society of Genealogists. Again, an online search for probate records genealogy will give you other options.


In addition to checking the deaths prior to the will.

  1. Many times the 2nd and younger sons would join the military (army or navy). They may have attained certain rank to provide for themselves.
  2. More than likely Jane died before the will was drafted, otherwise she probably would have been included with her sisters. Another possibility is she was disinherited.
  3. A good probably is that the sisters (Ann and Mary) either married to a lower class whose husband earned less than they were raised with or to a gentleman whose wealth had declined or to a husband who did not properly provide for the spouse.
  4. To Elizabeth, money she could live on.
  • Similar to your point about the military would be if they joined a religious order - especially as a monk or nun who took a vow of poverty. Commented Apr 14, 2020 at 15:59
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    @Chronocidal -- Asking because I genuinely don't know and haven't had time to research: how many people in England joined religious orders (Catholic or Church of England) in the 1820s-30s?
    – user6485
    Commented Apr 14, 2020 at 17:47
  • @ColeValleyGirl That's late Georgian / early Victorian era - think "Pride and Prejudice", et cetera - so, it would have certainly been more common than today. In fact, among nobles, it would have been quite common for a "third son" to join the clergy: while removing them from the politics of inheritance, it would still afford them a relatively senior social standing. (Unless the family were really noble, and could grant a minor title instead). There's a reason why the UK is divided up into "parish councils" as the 1st tier of local government (i.e. equivalent to a US "township") Commented Apr 14, 2020 at 23:25
  • @ColeValleyGirl Plus, it's worth noting that this would be during the UK's "Catholic Emancipation" (e.g. Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829 or Papists' Act 1778, which made it legal for Catholics to own land again) decriminalising and removing a great many restrictions, leading to a minor boom in publicly-recognised ordinations. With the French Revolution in 1830 persecuting Catholics, and pushing them to France, there would have been even more of an upswing. Commented Apr 14, 2020 at 23:31
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    @Chronicidal, I'm pretty familiar with parishes, clergy etc. -- it was the'religious order as a monk or nun' that I was curious about. I'm not au fait with how many monasteries and convents were around. I think it unlikely there were (m)any if any Catholic ones in England, and this will is somewhat before the restoration of Anglican religios orders in England.
    – user6485
    Commented Apr 15, 2020 at 5:23

My guess is that his sons were given many perks while he was still alive -- perhaps businesses, land, or cash -- while his daughters had to wait for their share.

  • 2
    Welcome Jennifer. Do you have any evidence to support your guess?
    – user6485
    Commented Apr 14, 2020 at 8:43
  • 2
    @ColeValleyGirl: The questioner did not ask for evidence to support a claim. The questioner asked for possible reasons. This answer supplies a possible reason. Commented Apr 14, 2020 at 15:17
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    @EricLippert on this site we strongly prefer to see evidence or supporting documentation cited -- we're genealogists, after all and evidence for us is bread and butter. Opinions are just that -- unsupported guesses.
    – user6485
    Commented Apr 14, 2020 at 15:49
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    @EricLippert The questions asks for reasons not opinions (if it asked for opinions I'd have edited it). I'm guessing you're arrived here because this is a HNQ? Maybe take some time to understand how we work around here? We don't deal in opinions; we deal in information and evidence.
    – user6485
    Commented Apr 14, 2020 at 16:38
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    @EricLippert If the answer was phrased as "A possible reason is that..." without any supporting evidence. I'd still ask for the supporting evidence -- either documents that show the sons had already been provided for, or were already dead, or historical studies exploring the usual situations 'back then'. Without either of those, it's still an unsubstantiated guess. Or perhaps the answerer could refer to evidence from her own research which illustrates her suggestion. It's a lower bar to pass, and the plural of anecdote is not ancedata, but it's better than nothing.
    – user6485
    Commented Apr 14, 2020 at 17:33

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