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From 1530 to 1782 it was required that every executor of a will or administrator of a grant had to provide the registry of the appropriate probate court with an inventory of the deceased’s goods, together with their value. After 1782 it was possible for any interested party to ask for an inventory to be produced, but it was no longer an automatic part of the procedure. The main purpose of these inventories was to discover the total value of the deceased’s property.

The inventories were compiled or ‘appraised’ by two or more reputable neighbours who were considered to be competent and qualified to assess the value of the goods. They were usually of a general nature, listing the deceased’s personal property: chattels such as furniture and clothing; together with any cash, shares, debts owing or owed, crops, livestock, implements used by the deceased in his trade or occupation and stock-in-trade.  These lists were usually prepared room by room for any house and farm or business premises, followed by details of the debts owed and owing and leases; creditors are named. It is often possible to imagine what the property could have looked like as you read the descriptions of all the items that were to be found in the parlour, the kitchen, the best chamber etc. The details of the deceased’s stock-in-trade, finished goods and raw materials, together with a description of tools and implements and the names of creditors and debtors, can give an insight into business activities.

The survival of probate inventories varies from probate court to probate court and from one century to another.

Probate Inventory for John Baker of Stutton, 1727 (FE1/18/99)

Ipswich inventories can be searched online using the reference FE1.  They cover the period 1582-1824.  Inventories for the Bury area for the period 1576 to 1818 can also be searched online with the reference IC/500/3.  The best way to search is to enter a name and the word inventory ie “frances tayler” AND inventory.