Testaments Tutorial 18th Century

Part of testament of Archibald McDonald, 1762, NAS ref. CC12/3/5 p74


  1. Background information
  2. Transcribing conventions
  3. Introduction to testaments dative - vocabulary
  4. Introduction to testaments dative - format
  5. A testament dative qua nearest of kin
  6. Introductory clause
  7. Inventory
  8. Confirmation clause
  9. A testament dative qua creditor
  10. Further exercises - Exercise 5, Exercise 6, Exercise 7
  11. Revision summary
  12. Print the tutorial

1. Background Information

If you have not carried out much research using testaments this is a good tutorial to start with, because 18th century testaments are easier to understand than those of earlier or later centuries.

In 18th century testamentary registers the handwriting is more recognisable to us than the mixture of secretary hand and cursive in sixteenth and seventeenth century testaments. More varieties of the testamentary process can be found in nineteenth century registers, especially after heritable property was allowed to be bequeathed in 1868. These are invariably longer, with more legal jargon and written in a monotonous type of handwriting, making it harder to identify important information.

All the examples in this tutorial were recorded between 1760 and 1790 by the Commissary Court of the Isles, whose jurisdiction covered many of the islands off the west coast of Scotland, including Bute, Arran and the Hebrides. They are all testaments dative: the simplest form of testament. These will give you a good grounding in the basics of the testamentary process and also show that testaments, far from concerning only the land-owning and merchant classes, were often made on behalf of lowlier souls, such as tenant farmers, fishermen, servants and sailors.

The tutorial should take between two and three hours to complete - you can choose to Take The Test online or Print The Test. The main aim of the tutorial is to describe the process of the testament dative and coach you to identify and understand the legal jargon found in them. Some of the exercises concern calculations of sums of money using pre-decimal currency and can be skipped if you want to shorten the tutorial.

A print out of the tutorial may act as a useful primer or aide memoire when reading images of testaments on your computer screen or in an archive search-room.

2. Transcribing Conventions

As in other parts of the Scottish Handwriting website, the conventions used in transcriptions are to expand abbreviated words using square brackets, for example the abbreviated word Exr becomes Ex[ecuto]r. Symbols, for example the ampersand (&), which are still in current use, are used without expansion. Abbreviations of some Latin words in widespread use today are indicated with the tilde mark (~), for example viz~ for videlicet and L~ s~ d~ for pounds, shillings and pence (the Latin terms libra, solidi and denarii).

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