Sepia Bureaucracy

Crawling back through the centuries via offical documents.

1893: The Parcel Map

This Wayne County, Michigan, parcel map shows the land holdings of my great-grandfather John Bentley, as well as those of familes who would marry into the Bentleys (and vice versa), including Chillson, Rohde, and Bredin. Many of these names are familiar to me through the humorous autobiographical poems of my dad's, as his school friends and neighbors.

1865: The Ship's Log

Great-great-grandfather William Bredin arrives from Ballymagroarty, Ireland, with his family.

The Census

Great-great grandfather George Bentley's family appears in the Livonia, Michigan, census. In nine years, son John will marry immigrant Maggie Bredin.

1843: The Deed

Great-great-grandfather Nelson had moved about 1835 to Livonia from New York, preceding his brothers and parents. (His forebears had arrived in Rhode Island in the mid-1600s following the Puritans.) George met his wife-to-be, Elizabeth Blindberry (from Ireland), in Detroit, and purchased this land west of Detroit.

Now the paperwork fades away for a couple of long centuries...until...

The Will

In 2005 my son and I visited Elstow and Ampthill, Bedfordshire -- the ancestral home of my Bentleys (at least as far back as anyone can trace via definitive records). In the County Archives I amazingly managed to find the Last Will of Mary Bentley (d. 1632), grandmother of the famous religious writer John Bunyan. Here's a copy.

Dictionary of National Biography,” London: Smith, Elder, & Co,, 1886:

“The will of John Bunyan's maternal grandmother, Mary Bentley (d. 1632), with its "Dutch-like picture of an Elstow cottage interior two hundred and fifty years ago," proves (J. Brown, Biography of John Bunyan, to which we are indebted for all these family details) that his mother "came not of the very squalid poor, but of people who, though humble in station, were yet decent and worthy in their ways."

In the name of God, Amen. This 27th day of June 1632 I, Mary Bentley,
of Elvestoe (Elstow) in the county of Bedford, widow but being sick in body but of perfect mind and memory I thank my heavenly father. I do make this my last will and testament in manner and form following that is to say first I bequeathe my soul unto almightyGod my Maker in whom I hope to be saved through Jesus Christ my Savior and my Body be buried in the churchyard of Elstow aforesaid.
Item, I give and bequeath to John Bentley, my son one brass pot, one little table, and all painted cloths about the house and the standing bed in the loft.
Item, I give to my daughter Margaret the joined stool in the chamber and my little [???]
Item, I give to my daughter Rosse the joined form in the chamber and a hogshead and the tumblestole.
Item, I give to my daughter Elizabeth the little kettle and the big platter, a flaxin sheet and a flaxin pillowbeare, a trundle bed and a copper in the chamber and the [???].
Item, I give to my daughter Annie my best [???], my best cuffe, my gowne, my best petticoat, the presse in the chamber, the best bolster and blanket and the coffer above and the kettle, the mortar and pestle, platter, and the other trundle bed, a harden sheet and pillow beare.
Item, all my other goods and chattels whatsoever I unbequeathed I give and bequeath to my daughter Mary whom I appointed to be soul executrix of this my last Will and testament whom I will se honestly buried and my burial discharged in witness whereof I have hereunto set my and and seal the day and year above written.
In presence of John Welle, Clerk The Mark of Mary Bentley The Mark of Margerie Jaques, widow (Latin) The Will proved Oct. 6, 1632

More of my genealogy, FWIW


  1. I've been fascinated by the documents you've shared today, but Mary Bentley's will, what a find!

  2. Wonderful artifacts! And how much the will tells us about life at the time -- so few possessions.

  3. Can't you hear this: "But I wanted the HOGSHEAD!"

    Excellent! Thanks for such a fascinating post.

    I love those old ship's logs particularly.


  4. Love it, love it, love it. I have a fascination for old documents which matches my fascination with old photographs. You take Sepia Saturday to places it has never been before and what fascinating places they are.

  5. That will is something else! What do you suppose a "tumblestole" is?

  6. Hi Sean of Bellevue, this is Meri of Gig Harbor. I see you've succumbed to the slippery slope called genealogy. What great finds! And like T.Clear, I wondered what a tumblestole was. Anyone know?

  7. I think I could immerse myself in Mary's will for hours! I want to research all the items listed! How amazing to be connected to John Bunyan.

  8. When I started my genealogical research about seven years ago, I was amazed at the information to be had. You've got quite a nice collection of delicious family documents!

  9. So, what's a harden sheet and a pillow beare?
    I'd be mad if I was Margaret. All she got was a joined stool and a ????. I hope the ???? was something good.

  10. All of this is so wonderful to be able to view. It is old stuff and you can see it all.

  11. I think it's amazing that you found Mary's will from the 1600s! From what I understnad, it was very unusual for women to have wills in those days. And then to find out so much of what she owned and the names of her children...! Beautiful documents, wonderful finds! Great Sepia Saturday post.