With the Strange family I was spoiled for choice when it came to women’s wills. Throughout the years many of the women, as well as the men, in the Strange family put down on paper what they wished to have happen to their estate once they were no longer around. This was, in part, because they were well enough off to leave something which, no doubt, had something to do with their status as nonconformists, a group that tended to intermarry and which did better than the average when it came to retaining worldly wealth.
Yelvertoft Independent Chapel, Northamptonshire
Both women whose wills I have chosen to examine were spinsters. If you ever find the will of a spinster in your family search, latch onto it. They are the best. They name sisters, brothers, nieces and nephews, because that was the scope of family that they had to work with. Mary Strange’s will was proven in February of 1842 and Charlotte Strange’s in February of 1896.
Mary bequeathed household items to her sister, Elizabeth Norton and her brother, John Strange. She named other relatives as well, giving occupations and places of residence. These were good clues for putting the extended family together. The witnesses to the will also were family connections with the last name of Devonshire, a common name found in this nonconformist family. Many of the places named were in Northamptonshire but some were in Kent and London and Mary alluded to one nephew, Isaac Norton, who was out of the country. They really got around. I need to plumb the depths of this document and find out exactly what it can tell me.
Charlotte Ann Strange was the great niece of Mary Strange whose will was proven in 1842. Charlotte also never married. But, unlike Mary, she had an occupation. She took over her father’s shop after he was no longer able to run it. Charlotte’s sister was the one who married and it was her two sons, Charlotte’s nephews, named in the 1896 will.
The wills were a study in contrasts. Mary’s will was expansive, showing connections to various extended family members and different places in England and other places in the world. They were doing well with getting the word of the nonconformist faith out in the world. Charlotte’s will showed a family that was struggling. Charlotte’s sister had more than two boys but by the time of the 1896 will that was all that was left of her sister's family. As Charlotte said of her nephew Charles Pratt Chambers “that he bear in mind that it is out of no disrespect to him that I have thus willed my property but considering his position I felt it was better to dispose of it where is was most needed.” It was Charlotte’s will that allowed me to find her nephew, William Strange Chambers and family. They had last been living in Birmingham but the will showed that they were now in Bournemouth and that all was not going well.
Gravestone in Yelvertoft Independent Chapel yard