Genealogists have many different types of records available in the quest for their ancestors. While vital records are where most begin, there are other records that are used to provide additional or missing information. Sometimes relationships are established from an ancestor’s will or an estate inventory where items may be designated to a specific person.
Depending on one’s ancestry, there may be other records to help in extending family lines and proving family relationships. One such type for English research is an “Inquisition Post Mortem.” Inquisition post mortems are also known as escheats, and are considered to be some of the best genealogical records. They cover the years 1240 to 1660, when the system was abolished. The actual word “escheat” is a common law term that ensures property and land is not left ownerless.
Just the phrase “inquisition post mortem” itself could easily mislead an individual. After all, how can one ask questions if the individual is deceased? However, in this case, questions about a deceased individual were asked of the survivors to identify what legal rights and monies were now owed to the Crown, which in essence was the King of England.
To qualify for this type of investigation, the deceased individual would be known as a “feudal tenant in chief” who was a direct tenant of the crown, as the crown owned all the lands in England at this time.
The officer responsible for executing the escheat (the deceased’s estate) was known as an escheator. After the feudal tenant in chief died, the escheator issued a formal written order in the name of the king, known as a writ. The actual inquisitions were held in all the different counties that were part of the deceased’s estate.
The transcripts of these inquisitions contain valuable genealogical information regarding all who were connected in any way to the deceased. “If the deceased heir was male, he received all of the estate however, if the heir were all daughters, the estate was equally divided between them. The exception to this was when the male was under age, the King would take possession until the heir was of age. Additionally, widows had rights of dower in the lands and additional inquisitions could continue for a lengthy period of time with multiple inquisitions.”
Abstracts of inquisition post mortem records are found in “Calendar of Inquisitions post mortem.” Many calendars are available online, like Volume 8, Edward III.
Note that the dates of the records relate to the reign of the monarch. For example, see page 381, entry # 530 for the Estates of Oliver De Ingham. The date of the abstracted inquisition is 17 July 20 Edward III, which is a regnal date commonly used for this time period. Using an online Regnal Calendar, this translates into 17 July 1346. These dates are based on the year of the monarch of the time; in this case it is Edward III.
If your ancestor was a feudal tenant in chief or connected to one, you may find additional information on them in inquisition post mortem records.