Of course, we expect a probate file to name
the heirs; that is its function. But, before you think that heirs are
only descendants, who typically would be living near the now deceased
immigrant (or certainly somewhere in the New World), consider that there
may be other heirs. Perhaps an immigrant had no living children. Then
his heirs may be brothers, sisters, or cousins (in addition to his wife).
Indeed, an heir may be anybody the testator (the person who made the will)
chooses to name, including servants, in-laws, friends, and others.
There is no law defining heirs who may be
named in a will. If a person dies "intestate" (without a will),
then the prevailing laws do proscribe who inherits, and in what percentages.
Consider the possibility that some heirs may still be living in the old
country. In such cases, the will, or subsequent probate documents, may
identify where that heir was last known to have lived. If they still lived
in the old country, it stands to reason that the heir probably lived near
the original home of the testator.
The family and social connections between
England and her colonies were much stronger than we typically imagine.
The colonies were, after all, an extension of England. English custom
and law prevailed. Although the distances were greater, there was little
practical difference between a resident of York migrating to London, or
emigrating to Boston. In either case, there were often still significant
ties which bound him to his original home. Those ties are reflected in
the people and places he may have mentioned in his will.
factor to consider is the "identification" issue. Persons often
identified themselves according to the place (often a town) they came
from, or were born in. Thus an immigrant might refer to himself, in his
will, as "from Dorset" or some other place in the old country.