Updated: 10 January 2013
A large number of my recent ancestors were peasants, but many were upper-middle class/lower-upper class. I think we’ve come out nicely in the middle – middle class. So while the peasants have gone up in the world, we’ve obviously slipped on the rich side of the family!
I’ve been brought up to believe that talking about money is vulgar, but everyone who finds a rich ancestor must wonder – where’d the money go? So here’s my attempt to explain using the example of my 3x g-grandfather Jonathan Muckleston Key (brother of the other John Key).
JMK died in 1888 worth £86,891 13s 5d:
Which is not too shabby an amount now! But using the conversions found at Measuring Worth.com it comes out as:
£ 7,550,000.00 using the retail price index
£ 9,460,000.00 using the GDP deflator
£ 36,600,000.00 using the average earnings
£ 56,400,000.00 using the per capita GDP
£ 95,100,000.00 using the share of GDP
(See the website to see what each one means)
Where did all this money come from? Inheritance for the most part. Having a rich godfather as well always helps. In the 1871 census under occupation it notes that he had income from “houses, dividends and interest of money”. JMK also had a job – Commissioner of the Lieutenant of London. This was an honorary position which probably came from having money rather than to make some!
So where did the money go?
I recently acquired a copy of JMK’s will. It’s TEN pages of closely written spider sprawl. Needless to say I tuned out pretty quickly. However, the gist of the will is that his 5 children alive when he died – all daughters – inherited a fifth each, in trust. This is confirmed in his daughter Mary Sophia’s will as she inherited one fifth of her father’s “residuary estate” (ie after all debts, taxes and administrative expenses have been paid) – in trust. So around £17,000 (still millions in today’s terms).
JMK’s daughter Mary Sophia Key married Walter Augustus Hewitt in 1861. There was a large marriage settlement which under the law of the day would have been the property of Walter with various legal provisions on the death of either party. However, JMK died after the enactment of the Married Women’s Property Act 1882 so any inheritance would not have automatically gone to Mary Sophia’s husband. As Walter predeceased his father-in-law by eight months, his wife had control of both her marriage settlement and her inheritance.
Mary Sophia Mrs Hewitt died only 3 years after her father. Her estate was valued at £2,601 15s 10d – significantly less than her father’s!
This equates to:
£ 221,000.00 using the retail price index
£ 280,000.00 using the GDP deflator
£ 1,020,000.00 using the average earnings
£ 1,660,000.00 using the per capita GDP
£ 2,700,000.00 using the share of GDP
How much can a widow spend in three years??? Well, reading through the legalese of her will, you get the impression that her estate does not include two valuable items – the Indenture settlement made on her marriage and the trust containing her inheritance from her father. But that’s still a lot of silver and linen!
Mary Sophia had 8 children – 4 of each. Her will leaves everything pretty evenly split between them although the girls got to split all the plate, linen and other personal effects between them – provided they reached 21 (the youngest was 16 at her death).
In an 1891 codicil, Mary Sophia says she has recently advanced her son Thomas Hughes Hewitt (my g-grandfather) £400 and if he doesn’t present her with whatever is owing from that amount at her death he doesn’t get any of his grandfather’s JMK’s estate. Which was worth considerably more! A good incentive?
My g-grandfather Thomas Hughes Hewitt (from the documentation I’ve found so far) had a pretty normal life for someone of his position in society. He went to school and then worked as an insurance underwriter. He got married aged 22 to Florence Marion Venn and had three sons. But when he died in 1946, his estate was worth £492 18s 9d (between £16k and £72k). Given he inherited around £5k from his father and probably at least a matching amount from his mother and grandfather (assuming he paid her back), where did it all go????
A hint comes from the Edinburgh Gazette of February 21, 1908:
From the London Gazette
Thomas Hughes Hewitt, lately residing at Audley, Woodridings Avenue, Pinner, Middlesex, but whose present residence the petitioner is unable to ascertain.
Bankrupt and possibly absconding?! This might explain why in the 1901 Census THH’s wife and children are living in Ratby, Leics (???) and he’s nowhere to be found!
How did he go bankrupt? Perhaps he didn’t pay his mother back…
His granddaughter Elizabeth had this to say, “My Father was a very gentle man, he came from wealthy, well-educated parents, but his father (THH) was foolish. He was in Lloyd’s, and instead of putting back profits to cover insurance claims, he withdrew his money and eventually retired from Lloyd’s.”
Lloyd’s of London is “the world’s specialist insurance market” made up of syndicates of people who insure pretty much anything (not far off gambling IMO). But not having enough money available to pay insurance claims is a sure way to go bankrupt. And in 1906 there was an earthquake in San Francisco where Lloyd’s members were ordered to “pay all of our policy holders in full irrespective of the terms of their policies” (there are probably a few people in Christchurch who wish their insurers were as generous!!).
On his death, THH left the princely sum of £50 to his middle son (my grandfather), his hanging wardrobe to his sister Beatrice and, apart from some other bequests, the rest to be split between his two other sons. He obviously didn’t approve of my grandfather’s decision to immigrate to New Zealand!
On the up side, my Dad says that the £50 was enough for my grandparents to buy out my Gran’s brother and sister’s share of their parents house. Given that the £50 has a current worth of between £1,620 and £7,320, houses have gone up a lot since then! So future estates will be worth more than some previous ones!
So in summary, to end up as rich as your rich ancestor you need to be the following:
- the descendent of lots of only children
- nice to your mother
- not a gambler
- nice to your father
- know that property can be a good investment over time