Haven’t you dreamed from time to time that somewhere there would be a “silver bullet” that would come and save you in your family history research? Some source that would lay before your eyes the family tree you seek? Well, there is such a silver bullet for English genealogical research, and if circumstances are right it can present you with a pedigree for your family.
This magical source is the English Court of Chancery, and the “silver bullet” records in this court are the Inquisitions post mortem.
Inquisitions post mortem were conducted from 1066 A.D. until 1660. During this time it is important to keep in mind that all the land in England was owned by the king and lent out to the nobility. Land was held either directly, as a tenant-in-chief, or indirectly by a dependent noble of the tentant-in-chief.
When a deceased person’s land was believed to be held directly from the king, an inquest was convened to inquire into the identity and extent of the land at the time of death, by what rents and services it was held, and the name and age of the next heir. If there was no heir, the land escheated, or reverted to the crown. If the heir was a minor, the crown claimed the right of wardship over the lands and the heir until the heir came of age. In the case of an adult heir, livery of seisin of lands (ownership of the land) was granted on performance of homage to the king and payment of a reasonable fine, also called a relief. The heir was the oldest male child. If there was no male heir, the property may have been equally divided among the daughters.
In general, when a tenant-in-chief died the lands reverted to a special official of the king called an escheator and an inquisition was called. A draft of the information was given to the escheator by lawyers acting for the family. The escheator summoned juries of free men in each area where the land or lands in question were located in order to ascertain by sworn testimony facts about the estates and the heir. The escheator acted sometimes through his own authority, but usually through a writ from chancery. In cases where the heir is named, a pedigree may be found showing how the heir is related to the former holder of the estate. It is this pedigree, of course, that is the “silver bullet.”
It should be cautioned here that not all of the information is reliable, but it is still a great help to family research. For further information on Inquisitions post mortem, see this article on the FamilySearch Research Wiki and the FamilySearch blog article “Using Inquisitions Post Mortems to Learn About Your Ancestors”.
I hope the silver bullet of Inquisitions post mortem will help you find pedigree information about your ancestors. Good luck!