Talk:Court of the Bishop (Consistory) of the Archdeaconry of Totnes

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My understanding is that no general index survives for the wills proved at the Archdeaconry Court of Totnes. In other words, Fry's book does not include wills proved at Totnes.

Reply: I have carefully read through the preface to Fry's book, published as vol. 35 of the Index Library series, and it is clear that it does include the records for Totnes. It is a calendar to the wills and administrations proved in the Court of the Principal Registry of the Bishop of Exeter, 1559-1799. Pages x-xi of the preface have a "Descriptive List of Calendars at the District Probate Registry at Exeter" from which the work was compiled. The last item on the list is for the "Consistorial Archidiaconal Court of Totnes," with a footnote that states the "first entry in [the] calendar [is for] 1509, but it really begins about 1530." It shows the earliest surviving will to be dated 1600. The calendar was originally published in 1908, before the destruction of WWII. Volume two of the calendar, or vol. 46 of the Index Library series, makes no mention of the individual courts included. However, the preface states "that the Consistory Court of the Bishop of Exeter... had juridsiction over thirty-seven parishes in the counties of Devon and Cornwall which were Peculiars of the Bishop, as well as power to grant Probates of Wills per testes over the whole Diocese, when there were not bona notabilia within two or more jurisdictions within the Diocese." Therefore I think we can assume the second volume can also contain references to wills of individuals whose property lay within the jurisdiction of the Archdeaconry Court of Totnes. BakerBH 20:13, 28 June 2010 (UTC)

Response to Reply by BakerBH: I have read in two or three places that the Archdeaconry Court of Totnes does not have a surviving calendar of wills. I found one such reference at the Devon Record Office's website under "Wills and Probate Records." See: In the subsection entitled "Archdeaconry of Barnstaple Wills" we read: "Unfortunately, no such list was made of the wills proved in the Archdeaconry Court of Totnes - and this Court covered a large part of south and west Devon, including Plymouth and the South Hams parishes. The original wills proved at both Barnstaple and Totnes Courts up to 1857 had been sent for storage to Exeter Probate Registry, and were therefore destroyed in 1942." In addition to this evidence, I can reference about 10 wills proved at the Archdeaconry of Totnes in the 1600s and 1700s that were extracted by the College of Arms for a member of my family in about 1907. I have copies of these extracts and there are no corresponding entries in Fry's index. It is certainly true that when a person had property in more than one administrative area, usually the higher court assumed jurisdiction. Nevertheless, I fear that a whole class of wills proved at Totnes (presumably mostly of people with property just in that area) do not appear on any of the lists in Fry's book. Thank you, Greg Ramstedt.

Additional response to Reply by BakerBH: See Genuki's Devon page under "Probate Records": Here is says, "Prior to 1858, wills were proved in Devon in five main ecclesiastical courts: the Archdeaconry courts of Totnes, Barnstaple and Exeter; the Episcopal Consistory Court of Exeter, and the Episcopal Principal Registry of Exeter. These probate records were held in Exeter, where they were destroyed by fire during World War II. Few had been abstracted beforehand, though indexes had been prepared for all except the Totnes wills." Also, the Devon Family History Society website confirms the loss of the Totnes index: "In the absence of an actual will (or any surviving copy/abstract of it), published calendars of wills can often be used to find a person's date and place of death. The majority of Devon wills were proved in Exeter, Barnstaple or Totnes. Copies of Fry's Devonshire Wills and Administrations (proved at Exeter, in three different courts: Episcopal Principal Registry, Archdeacon's Consistory Court, Episcopal Consistory Court) are in DRO, WCSL and Tree House. WCSL has a copy of Beckerlegge's Barnstaple Wills. No index to wills proved in the court at Totnes has survived." To be clearer about the status of Devon wills, the Estate Duty Office wills from 1796 to 1811 for all Devon courts are available on microfilm at the FHL. Additionally, from 1812 to 1858 the DRO and the FHL have copies of all Devon wills (including Totnes), not just name listings. Because of the destruction of Devon wills in 1942, the Estate Duty Office returned their copies of wills from 1812 to 1858. So, there is some help with Estate Duty wills from 1796 to 1811 for Devon, but prior to 1796 no lists of wills proved at Totnes exists. Occasionally, one will find an odd wills extracted by Olive Moger, Charles Worthy and Oswyn Murray in their respective collections. The good news is that a the DFHS and the DRO and others currently are working on a project to index and reference all known surviving Devon wills or extracts (and hopefully listings only). Here's the quote from the DFHS website: "# Devon Wills Project The vast majority of original pre-1858 Devon wills were destroyed when the Exeter Probate Registry was bombed during the Blitz of 1942. The aim of the Devon Wills Project (DWP), a co-operation involving the Devon Family History Society, the Devon Record Office, GENUKI/Devon, and the Plymouth and West Devon Record Office, is to provide a finding aid for Devon wills, administrations and inventories, covering (and distinguishing between) original documents, probate copies, transcripts and abstracts. DWP involves systematically transcribing information obtained from various “sources”, i.e. indexes, calendars, catalogues, books, journal articles, websites, etc., from a large number of locations both within and beyond Devon in order to produce a single large consolidated index. The ultimate aim of DWP is to include information taken from all existing published or publicly available sources of information about pre-1858 Devon wills. Since its official launch, DWP has gathered and made available online just over 80,000 catalogue entries, obtained from over 250 different sources. Volunteers involved in DWP are undertaking such tasks as photographing documents at archives, locating obscure published books and journals containing will transcripts, performing searches of various archive catalogues (both card catalogues and online catalogues), transcribing from microfilm or scanned images, checking transcriptions, etc. As the Project has been able to negotiate access to more and more sources, so more and more volunteers are needed - either for tasks that can be performed at home, or those requiring visits to particular archives and libraries. The Devon Wills Project guidelines and searchable index may be found at: To volunteer please contact Richard Grylls For a full report see The Devon Wills Project (Progress Report - 1 January 2010)" Especially look at: Thank you, Greg Ramstedt, 1 July 2010 3:26 p.m.

Though Fry's book seems to imply that the index includes the records of the Archdeaconry court, and though the index definitely includes references to the probate of estates of persons whose residences fell under the jurisdiction of the Archdeaconry court, I must conclude from your comments and quoted references that those estates were proven in courts of higher jurisdiction and not the Archdeaconry court. I will make the change to the court's Wiki page. BakerBH 22:58, 1 July 2010 (UTC)