Material Culture: Exploring Wills and Inventories

Except for the first, introductory page, this chapter is all primary sources, and primary sources of a special type: wills and probate inventories, records of what people owned when they died. We don’t have a lot of written evidence from the eighteenth century about how people lived, but we do have wills and probate inventories — and they tell us a surprising amount about how people lived and worked, how they organized their households, and how they thought about their families. By exploring these documents, you’ll be the historian and detective, drawing your own conclusions about life in the eighteenth century from scraps of evidence.

A worksheet for analyzing will and inventories is also available. 

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