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  1. #1
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    Question Idiots Guide To Wills??

    Does anyone know a good website with an 'idiots guide' to researching wills?

    I've never done much with them before (only looked at those for g-parents which were kept in the family). But now work has moved to central London so popping in to the place in Holborn seems a more realistic option. Trouble is, I'm having trouble getting my head round things - pre-/post-1858, calenders, various courts, etc, etc.
    Would quite like a straightforward (although I realise that might be expecting too much) "what to find and where", with an indication of who might be a "good ancestor" to try to track down/ones not to bother with, just to get me started.

  2. #2
    Geoffers
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    Wills are a great resource and I hope the following very brief precis doesn't cause additional confusion.

    As you mention the important date is 1858.

    From 1858 onwards, all wills proved in England and Wales are held by the Court of Probate; you can search them and order copies at The Probate Search Room, First Avenue House, 42-49 High Holborn, London.

    The wills from 1858 are indexed. The index is known as the Probate Calendar. It is easy to use and contains quite a lot of detail. If you cannot get to London, it has been copied onto film and can be seen at many County Record Offices ('phone first to check for availability and coverage and if you need to reserve a film reader). Some district probate registries also have partial copies of the Probate Calendar ('phone first to check). LDS films of it can be ordered into Mormon Family History Centres.

    The Probate Calendar for 1861-1941 (with gaps) is available on the pay/subscription site 'Ancestry'.

    If you can't access the Calendar, the Probate Search Department will carry out a four-year search for a will on your behalf. The fee is 6.00, which includes a copy of any will or grant of administration found. If nothing is found, your fee is not refunded.

    For details of how to order a copy of a will after 1858, please see this page of HM Courts & Tribunals website.


    Before 1858, the church courts had authority to deal with wills. There were several different church courts - think of them as a tier.

    The Highest court was the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC) - wills proved by this court are available via TNA's documents online. There was another 'provincial' court which covered the North of England, this was the Prerogative Court of York (PCY).

    Below these two provincial courts were the diocesan (Bishop's) courts; and below them the Archdeaconry Courts.

    If someone held property in one archdeaconry, then the Archdeaconry court dealt with probate

    If someone held property in more than one archdeaconry, but these were in one diocese. The the diocesan court dealt with probate

    If someone held property in more than one diocese, then a provincial court (PCY or PCC), dealt with probate

    If someone held property in more than one province then the PCC dealt with probate.

    County Record offices usually hold Diocesan and lower court wills - these may be indexed by the county record office, county record society or county family history society. The indexes maybe online on the county record office web-site.

    There are various ifs, buts and maybes - but the above is the basic system.


    To help with locating wills and administrations, TNA has several 'Research Signposts'

    Looking for wills or administrations before 1858

    Looking for wills or administrations after 1858

    Looking for records of death duties 1796-1903

    If you wish to read further (I recommend you do, but put the kettle on first), there is also an in-depth Research Guide which goes into greater detail.

    Wills and Probate Records


    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 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.
    Last edited by Kerrywood; 18-06-2011 at 6:19 AM. Reason: updated to reflect revised HM Court procedures and TNA guidance

  3. #3
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    Thanks Geoffers! That's why they call you a SUPER moderator!!!
    That's made things a lot easier to visualise. I'll read through those sites soon.

    Is there a rule of thumb about who you might find a will for? i.e Good chance if they owned land (none of my lot as far as I know) or had a trade (fingers crossed), but not much chance if they're Ag.Labs? or is this a misconception? (apologies if that is covered on one of the weblinks)

    Ignore this....just scrolled down and saw your last paragraph.
    Note to self:- Read whole posts and don't get excited too soon!!!

  4. #4
    Geoffers
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    I went back in and edited the posting to add the bit about who you might have left wills. It is very difficult to give rule of thumb, so please don't take that list as being anything more than a hint. You'll find wills where you didn't expect to, and not find them where you hoped to.

    I stress it is only something very brief, I'm sure that many would wonder why I didn't include more - well, I just wanted to explain the basic system without causing too much confusion.

    Put the kettle on, get the biscuits out (surely a precursor to any serious study); then with tea made, some dunkers and a comfy chair, have a trawl through the guides to which I provided links.

  5. #5
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    Hi Geoffers

    An absolutely brilliant reply. Over a period of time, you have provided hundreds of excellent responses to "cries for help". This response was up there with the previous best replies.

    It's worthy of note to all of us, beginners right up to experienced researchers.

    Regards

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chipp'n'Dale View Post
    Does anyone know a good website with an 'idiots guide' to researching wills?
    Chipp'n'Dale. Thank you so much for asking that question. I had decided it was about time I started investigating wills and was wondering where to start.

    Geoffers. Thank you for the reply which I will save and study later.

    Jack Richards. Well said.

    Regards,

    maggie

  7. #7
    Super Moderator Sue Mackay's Avatar
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    I think a lot of people will find the reply by Geoffers invaluable. I have therefore made this thread a 'sticky' and moved it to the Wills Forum, where people will be more likely to know where to find it.
    Sue Mackay
    Insanity is hereditary - you get it from your kids

  8. #8
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    Can you tell me if the Probate Calendar is available in places other than London or a County Record Office?

    Just wondering how I access this info in Australia other than TNA online.

    Thanks

    Marj.

  9. #9
    Geoffers
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    From postings made by others, I'm led to believe that the Probate Calendar can be viewed at mormon church (LDS) record centres - this may assist those outside the UK, for whom a cheap day-return ticket to London is a little impractical.

    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.

    If you find mention of probate being granted (and you cannot get to London) - copies of wills can be obtained via The Probate Service. They will carry out a short search for a will/admon as part of the set fee.

    For anyone wanting to search PCC wills - they can be found on documentsonline as can RN seamen's wills and some death duty records.

    The index to Death Duty Registers 1796-1903 is available on the pay-per-view site findmypast (as possibly other sites).
    Last edited by Sue Mackay; 18-06-2011 at 7:49 AM. Reason: Updating link

  10. #10
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    Thank you Geoffers.

    The frustrating search goes on!! I have, in the past, found one Will that of my great grandfather, a publican. It was very informative. Can't remember for the life of me how I found it!

    LDS centres are extremely thin on the ground where I live. I will keep looking....maybe an excuse for another trip to London Town one day!

    Marj.

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