Testament. Not the old and new but a collective name for all the documents to do with the administration of a dead person’s estate. It could include:

  • an inventory of their moveable possessions  (cash, bank accounts, farm stock, furniture for example)
  • perhaps a will setting out who was to receive what. If so the documents are called a testament testamentar. Quite often however there is no will so the overall name is testament dative.

John Miller’s “will”

John Miller died in Kirkwall, Orkney, on 3 December 1825, month and year from the documents, date from a monumental inscription.picture of hand writing will and testament He did not have a will but made a trust disposition and settlement, a way of handling property particularly, leaving practically everything to his wife Elizabeth during her lifetime. But how does this will help with my family history?

People are named in a testament

Lots of them in John Miller’s case. Some are in my tree, including Barbara Miller Sinclair, (1826-1914) my great great grandmother, and her father Thomas (c1799-1863). From clues in the documents I have established that John was the son of William Millar and Margaret Johnstone and that he was baptised on 11 July 1764 in Stronsay, Orkney. I’m attaching a tree (pdf) showing John and relatives, built up from information in his settlement and then the OPRs.

I’ve not yet worked out exactly how he is related to me. John Miller was very specific in naming brothers, sisters, nephews and nieces but omitted the vital relationship details for the beneficiaries who are in my line. The link seems to be through Barbara M Sinclair’s paternal grandmother Barbara Miller (bef 1777-aft 6 Feb 1824), wife of William Sinclair tacksman of Cleat, Stronsay. John left money to her and her family, notably her daughter Barbara, wife of Magnus Heddle, and their family. The Heddle family gravestone in St Magnus Cathedral Graveyard, Kirkwall includes details of John and Elizabeth Miller.

A testament tells you about the person who died

In this case “sometime merchant in London”. A little more detail of what he actually did would have helped!

He was quite a wealthy man. He had easehold property in King Edward Street, Wapping as well  as property in Orkney owned outright. Little Corse, St Ola, is named and, I think, Grain farm. When he died he left bequests totalling more than £3000, about £2.5 million in terms of relative income worth (see Measuringworth.com for details).

As you may have gathered, I have some more research to do on John but his will is a great starting point.

More about testaments

  • National Records of Scotland research guide – detailed information on the content of testaments and how to find those from 1926 onwards in the Historical Search Room.
  • ScotlandsPeople guide – background and information on how to search for a testament on the ScotlandsPeople website.


Wills & Testaments. 4 May 1848. MILLER, John. Trust disposition & settlement.  Kirkwall Sheriff Court Wills. SC11/38/3. National Records of Scotland/ScotlandsPeople. (Includes his wife Elizabeth’s supplement, she died 5 August 1834)

A #52ancestors challenge post

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3 comments so far

  1. Bill Miller says:

    Just found this information Jane.
    Will look into it when I get a chance.

    1. Janealogy says:

      Thanks. A bit more background: Barbara Sinclair and Magnus Heddle were the parents of Peter Heddle one of the founders of Drever and Heddle. Barbara Miller, mother of Barbara Sinclair, Thomas Sinclair (my x3 great grandfather), Isabella Sinclair (wife of Richard Taylor) and others, may be the daughter of Robert Miller and Isabel Fea. The lack of OPR marriages before about 1800 and the gap in baptisms don't help.

  2. Anna Rogalski says:

    Thank you for the interesting blog which has also proved useful. I had lost the website address I had for comparing money values and will now be using measuringworth – and making a note of it where I cannot lose it!

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