The notary will in genealogy research

One of the main aspects of families before the 20th century was the total inequality between man and woman. The supremacy of man was obvious in all the aspects of the common life and especially clear in the wills. The hereditary line was tied to blood: the parent owner of goods could impose his sons clauses to respect, to be able to effectively enter in possession of the father's patrimony.

The father most often included clauses to protect and safeguard his surviving wife, who could receive money or possession of the family mansion until her death; also, he would pass his sons the duty to make respectable dowries to their unmarried sisters in the future. The will, therefore, was not only a notary deed, but became also an instrument to control the family heir in his future behaviors. The inheritance was not only riches and real estate, but also customs and traditions.

Only much later the main beneficiary of testaments will become the surviving spouse, passing from a vertical paternal hereditary model, to an (affective) horizontal level. In the first hereditary model the male children, and among these the first born, were the main beneficiaries of testaments: the females were left at the margins of the hereditary tradition. Only the males, that is those who carried and that would transmit the father's family name, had the position of being heirs of the patrimony and the riches of the family.

Among the sons, it was always the first born the favourite, with the main aim to avoid the dismembering of the family's properties, and this is one of the main features of the aristocratic family in the Neapolitan kingdom. The exclusion of the daughters is a constant: in the case of death of the first born, the inheritance directly passes to his male sons, jumping any sisters of the deceased. Grandsons prevail on the daughters in the dynastic line.

This model will remain almost unchanged until the early XX century. It seems that to concentrate the patrimony in the hands of the first born aimed above all at assuring the unity of the possessions, tying them to the last name and maintaining the prestige and history of the family. In a will we can find the names and relations of all members of the family.

In the past centuries, where literacy was a very rare commodity, the "testamentum nuncupativum", was a common form of declaring one's legacy to heirs after death. The will was received from a notary, expressed by the person in speech, and transcribed in the presence of seven witnesses. Later on, a more common will was the "testamentum olographum" personally written and signed.