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  1. #1
    Super Moderator Sue Mackay's Avatar
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    Default A Guide to Wills

    From 1858 onwards, all wills proved in England and Wales are held by the Court of Probate.
    The wills from 1858 are indexed, and the index is known as the Probate Calendar. It is easy to use and contains quite a lot of detail. Copies of the Calendar can be seen at many County Record Offices, and it is also available on pay-per-view sites such as Ancestry and Findmypast (so may well be available to view for free in your local library). The relevant dataset on Ancestry is "England and Wales, National probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1995", and on FindmyPast is "England and Wales, Government Probate Death Index 1858-2019." Although neither of them covers the present date, they are easier to search than the government site (see next paragraph), as you can use a wider 'year of death' search.
    The Probate Index prior to 1996 frequently gives the address of the deceased so this may enable you to confirm that you have the correct person.

    There is a government service which enables you to search for a Calendar entry and order a copy of the will online, which you will have access to for 31 days. This service is for England and Wales only. It is free to search and view the Probate Calendar entry, but ordering a copy of the actual will costs 1:50. You will need an account to order and view the actual will, but this is free and simply involves using your e-mail address and setting up a password. Further details are at Search probate records for documents and wills (England and Wales)

    Before 1858, the church courts had authority to deal with wills. The Highest court was the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC) - wills proved by this court are available from the National Archives - see Wills and administrations before 1858 - The National Archives. There was another 'provincial' court which covered the North of England; this was the Prerogative Court of York (PCY).

    You can search for a PCC will on the TNA site at The National Archives | Discovery Advanced Search Form (enter PROB in the reference field to narrow your search). The will can then be downloaded digitally and may cost 3:50, but is often free to those who have registered with TNA.

    Copies of PCC wills are also available on pay-per-view sites such as Ancestry, so may be available via your local library.

    The Borthwick Institute for Archives holds PCY wills. See their Research Guides for Genealogists at Research Guides - Borthwick Institute for Archives, University of York

    Wills proved in the Welsh Ecclesiastical Courts are online at the National Library of Wales.
    Wills - National Library of Wales

    A guide to wills in Scotland can be found at Wills and Testaments | National Records of Scotland

    For Northern Ireland see Will Calendars
    Sue Mackay
    Insanity is hereditary - you get it from your kids

  2. #2
    Super Moderator Sue Mackay's Avatar
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    Default

    This sticky has been adapted from the out of date thread "Idiot's Guide to Wills", which contained valuable contributions by Geoffers, a former BG moderator. The details of how and where to search have been updated in the above post, but the following observations by Geoffers are still relevant:

    If you find an entry in the Probate Calendar which refers to Admon (Letters of Administration) being granted, just note the details from the Calendar - it contains all the important information contained in the court document and it isn't worth applying for a copy unless you would just like to have it anyway.

    It's difficult to say who is a 'good ancestor' to try and track down. Look for indexes.
    People who described themselves as 'gentlemen' usually left wills. People who were local artisans and merchants - smiths, wrights, millers, brickmakers, weavers, merchants, publicans etc. often left wills. Farmers often left wills, but you will sometimes see them recorded as an 'agricultural labourer', or 'husbandman'. There are many, many variables and you should not consider the above list as being definitive. As mentioned, check the available indexes.
    Sue Mackay
    Insanity is hereditary - you get it from your kids

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