Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Other contents of a South African Deceased Estate file

The Liquidation and Distribution Account gives details of all the assets in the estate, including movable and immovable property, and also lists claims which have been paid out of the estate such as advertisements in newspapers, funeral expenses etc.

The distribution part refers to how the assets were divided amongst the beneficiaries. One of its uses for family history can be providing names of grandchildren who may not have been mentioned at the time the will was made. This information could take the family historian forward to living descendants.

An inventory of the deceased’s belongings can offer various important facts. The full legal description of a piece of land, given under immovable assets, may come in handy for searches at the Deeds Office. (For more on inventories, see my post of 30 January 2010 entitled ‘Getting the best out of NAAIRS’.)

It’s really worthwhile looking at any miscellaneous correspondence in the estate file e.g. invoices from tradesmen claiming settlement of accounts. An undertaker’s invoice may note the burial place, even a plot number of a grave. It will also give an idea of the scale of the funeral – and who paid for it (there were often arguments among relatives as to who should foot the bill for the tombstone).

A simple list of garments turned out to be my great great grandmother’s mourning clothes, as well as some for her daughters, ordered from the ‘Silk Mercer, Milliner and Straw Bonnet Manufacturer’ – hats, gloves, ribbons, braid, lace tuckers and (a vital accessory for the occasion) handkerchiefs - so that the family would be correctly attired for my great great grandfather’s funeral in 1869.

Tradeplates and engraved letterheads on correspondence can make decorative illustrations for a family history narrative.

All the above points emphasise that you'd miss out on a great deal of information if you were to access only the Death Notice in a Deceased Estate file.

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