Scottish Military Wills – Tips for Searching, Using the Results and Workarounds

Will of Peter Trainer of the Cameron Highlanders who died 24 Apr 1918

Will of Peter Trainer of the Cameron Highlanders who died 24 Apr 1918

Let’s take a closer look at the Scottish Soldiers wills so proudly announced as being available on ScotlandsPeople in the last post I made so we understand how and why the records were created, collected and how to search them – without wasting lots of money.

What’s there? – There are 32,932 wills in this collection. Approximately 26,000 wills from ordinary Scottish soldiers who died in WWI, another 5,000 from WWII, several hundred from the Boer War and the Korean War, with others from conflicts between 1857 and 1964.

How did they get there? – When a soldiers estate was settled by the Effects Branch of the War Office their wills were no longer required. All documents were then passed along to H.M. Commissary Office in Edinburgh under the Regimental Debts Acts of 1863 and 1893. Later they were deposited with the National Records of Scotland, now in SC70/8.

The majority of the wills, especially those from WWI were the page(s) removed from the soldiers Pay Book (Army Book 64), or an equivalent Army form. Other documents might include personal letters from soldiers, a testimony by witnesses, both of which could be accepted in lieu of a will. The majority of the wills were written by men below the rank of officers, who were domiciled in Scotland. The example is for Peter Trainer of the Queen’s Own Highlanders who died 25 Apr 1918 leaving everything to his father Robert Trainer of 88 Gloucester Str, Glasgow. The will is one of four images in the file, which is common, the other images being of the army’s sheet for the will, plus two envelopes (inner and outer).

It is estimated that this collection of wills represents approximately 20% of Scotsmen who died during WWI and about 17% of those who died during WWII.

The records begin in 1857, but there is only one will for 1857 and that is for Private Roderick Alexander of the 71st Regiment of Foot [71st (Highland) Regiment of Foot (Light Infantry)] and his will is signed 19 Jun 1857 and importantly it is not the date he actually died, that is not stated on the document [SC70/8/7/1].

Performing a Search

You have the options of searching on surname, forename, date of death – from and to, service number, rank, battalion, regiment, theatre, and cause of death. The reality is most of us are going to use surname, in possible combination with forename if we get to many results.

Date of Death – this is a key searching point. If you know you are searching for someone killed in WWI then change the dates appropriately. Generally I would recommend leaving the defaults at 1 January 1914 and 31 December 1948 and it will search everything in the database and include them in the results, even when the event occurs outside these parameters or the date of death is not stated. Change either date and it does limit the search to the period chosen.

Table of Results for search on ScotlandsPeople for Jo Hunter

Table of Results for search on ScotlandsPeople for Jo Hunter

Let’s do a search for Hunter without adding or changing anything. I get 134 hits. Viewing the search results is free, so I could look at all 183. Instead I want to limit my options and I type ‘Jo’ (without ‘’) in the forename field and select ‘forenames that begin with’ from the adjoining menu. Now I have 18 options and that is a more manageable number, so I look at the results. Quickly scanning the list shows that I have found multiple Johns, a John Alexander, two Josephs and a Jonathan.

I have 15 John’s, or which 13 John’s died in WWI. At ₤2.50 or 10 credits for each will downloaded that is too many to just randomly pick. So use other options to eliminate some of the other choices. The best place to start, which is free, is the Commonwealth War Grave Commission website and search for the records of each of these soldiers. You are looking to see if there is mention of family members and or place of residence in the comments field. Look at my earlier blog posts for examples and explanation of how to do this (WWI – Finding the Dead – Commonwealth War Grave Commission – part 1part 2part 3)

Workaround for Results with Missing Dates

National Archives Scotland Search screen for the will of Jonathan Hunter in SC70/8 - Scottish Soldiers Wills.

National Archives Scotland Search screen for the will of Jonathan Hunter in SC70/8 – Scottish Soldiers Wills.

In our results table you will see Jonathan Hunter, rank unstated, of the 91st Regiment of Foot, who died, with no date or place given. We know that regimental numbers were no longer being used by WWI, so we can safely guess that this is a pre-WWI soldier. That however is still a potentially big time period 1857-1914. So how can we narrow down our options to see if it is worth spending the money on getting the will?

Go to the free website of the National Archives of Scotland at www.nas.gov.uk and select Catalogues and Indexes from the top menu, then NAS Catalogue, then Search. You have three search fields – in the search for field type the name of the person you are seeking (surname or both forename and surname if too many results) – in the reference field type SC70/8 plus select the ‘starts’ button and this will search the collection of Scottish military wills – leave the date from field blank.

In my case I am going to search for Jonathan Hunter in SC70/8. I get one matching record which I can display. The full reference is shown SC70/8/2/3 with a title of “Will of 3938 unstated Jonathan Hunter, 91st Regiment of Foot, cause of death: died” all of which is given in the search on ScotlandsPeople. The one additional piece given is 20 Apr 1864, which is the date his will was signed. If this was your ancestor you could then return to ScotlandsPeople and download a copy of the will with more confidence that it matched the time frame for your ancestor.

Will of Jonathan Hunter.

Will of Jonathan Hunter of 91st Regiment of Foot, leaving everything to his wife Isabella Hunter in Glasgow, dated 20 April 1864 from Scottish Military Wills Collection

Will of Jonathan Hunter of 91st Regiment of Foot, leaving everything to his wife Isabella Hunter in Glasgow, dated 20 April 1864 from Scottish Military Wills Collection

The will on Form of Will, No.1 states “to be used by a Soldier desirous of leaving the whole of his Effects to one person. Jonathan Hunter No. 3930, of the 91st Regiment of Foot, do hereby revoke all former Wills by me made, and declare this to be my last Will. After payment of my just Debts and Funeral expenses, I give to my wife, Isabella Hunter of No. 5 Waterton Street, Mile End, Glasgow, absolutely for her sole and separate use, her receipt being a sufficient discharge; the whole of my Estate and Effects, and everything that I can by law give or dispose of.” The will is then duly signed by three witnesses.

At the bottom of the form there is a Declaration of the Medical Officer. “I declare that I was present at the Execution of this Will and that Jonathan Hunter, the Testator was at the time in a fit state of mind to execute the same.” Signed by a member of the Medical staff.

Reverse of Will of Jonathan Hunter of the 91st Regiment of Foot, notice the rules for writing the will, and the faint reference SC70/8/2/3 in the upper left.

Reverse of Will of Jonathan Hunter of the 91st Regiment of Foot, notice the rules for writing the will, and the faint reference SC70/8/2/3 in the upper left.

On the reverse, which is actually the outside of the document when it is folded is a summary – The Will of Jonathan Hunter of the 91st Regt. Of Foot dated 20 April 1864. W.O. Form No. 897.

Written faintly in ink on the side of the form, upper left, is the NAS reference number SC70/8/2/3. Interestingly this is the only place to find it. The reference number is not printed out on the image header. You can however figure it out from the full reference if you save it with full ScotlandPeople reference.

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