Berkshire Probate Records
The following article is about probate records in the county of Cumberland. For general information about English probate records, click here.
Probate is the legal court process by which the estate of a deceased person is distributed to his or her heirs. The term probate refers to a collection of documents, including wills, administrations (also called admons), inventories, and act books. The Church of England ecclesiastical courts had authority for this process until to 1858. This article explains about probates and how to get started to search for a will.
Beginning in 1858, authority over probate matters was taken from ecclesiastical courts and put under the civil authority of the Principal Probate Registry. The Probates After 1857 section below has a link to an article about probates after 1857.
Follow these steps to look for a probate record before 1858:
- Discover when and where your ancestor died. If you don’t know, use the approximate date and place where they lived.
- Go to the Court Jurisdictions section below.
- Click a letter or span of letters for your place. This opens an article showing a table of places and the courts that had jurisdiction over them.
- Follow the steps at the top of the table to search for a will.
Court Jurisdictions by Parish
Before 1858, every parish was under the probate jurisdiction of a primary court and several secondary (or superior) courts. The majority of the Berkshire parishes were under the jurisdiction of the Court of the Archdeaconry of Berkshire, as stated above.
Click here to see an alphabetical list of Berkshire parishes that were the exceptions, and the courts that had jurisdiction over them.
Berkshire Probate Courts
Most of Berkshire was under the jurisdiction of the Court of the Archdeaconry of Berkshire. The majority of probate searches will be in the records of this court and its superior courts, which were the Court of the Bishop of Salisbury (Episcopal Consistory) until 1836 and the combined Courts of the Bishop (Episcopal Consistory) and Archdeaconry of Oxford from that time on. The courts should be searched in that order.
However, the following courts also had some pre-1858 probate jurisdiction within the county. Click on a court name to learn about records and indexes.
- Court of the Bishop of Bristol (Episcopal Consistory)
- Court of the Bishop of Gloucester (Episcopal Consistory)
- Court of the Peculiar of Banbury
- Court of the Peculiar of Faringdon
- Court of the Peculiar of Langford
- Court of the Peculiar of the Dean of Salisbury (Sarum)
- Court of the Peculiar of the Dean of Windsor
- Court of the Peculiar of the Dean and Canons of Windsor in Wantage
In addition, the Prerogative Court of the Archbishop of Canterbury had jurisdiction over the whole of England and specifically in the following cases.
- Wealthy individuals
- People who owned property in more than one county
- Military and naval personnel
- People who lived or owned property outside England
Any probate that was disputed and could not be settled by the county courts could be sent to these higher appeals courts:
The Prerogative Court of the Archbishop of Canterbury also served as an appeals court.
Probate Indexes Online
Before looking for a will, you should search an index.
- Berkshire wills in Wiltshire This index is in Wiltshire, but has over 11,000 probate records in this online court index! Please use it!
- Hungerford and Wantage. This is a collection of about 1000 abstracts of probate documents relating to people residing in the neighbourhood of the towns of Hungerford and Wantage in Berkshire. Since Hungerford is on the County boundary there is some spread into Wiltshire and to a lesser extent into Hampshire and Oxfordshire.
Court of the Archdeacon of Berkshire (Episcopal Consistory Court) An index to the surnames, other than those of testators ... occurring in the registered wills of the Archdeaconry of Berks ... : registers A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I & 19 and parts of register J (pp. 1-578) & register M (pp. 1-245), ca. A.D. 1480-1710 
Index to wills proved and administrations granted in the Court of the Archdeacon of Berks, 1508 to 1652 
Archdeaconry of Berkshire. Court Index of Wills and administrations, 1508-1857 
Wills, 1525-1857 Archdeacon of Berkshire 
Index to wills proved and administrations granted in the court of the Archdeacon of Berks, 1508 to 1652 
Index of the probate records of the Court of the Archdeacon of Berkshire : volume 2, 1653-1710 
Registers of grants of admonitions, 1547-1857 Some of these films include indexes 
Will index 1508-1653 for the parishes of Appleford and Sutton in Berkshire
FHL Film 1278815 Item 5 
Will index 1508-1652 for the parish of Drayton in Berkshire FHL Film 1278815 Item 8 
Peculiar Court (Faringdon, Berkshire) The jurisdiction of this court included the parish of Faringdon which included Little Coxwell, Littleworth, Thrupp, Kindell Weare, Wadley, Port, Puckety, Westbrooke and Little Wickensham. This court is a Salisbury Prebend. 
Some Explanatory Notes on the Berkshire Probate Courts
From the website of the Oxfordshire Record Office: "Negotiations are at an advanced stage with the Genealogical Society of Utah to digitize all the Oxfordshire Probate Records, 1516-1857. It is hoped that this will be a joint project with Berkshire Record Office and the Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies to digitize all the wills of the three counties. If successful, the project will involve images of all the wills, inventories, and related documents being placed on a commercial provider’s site, with indexes available through the Record Office sites, and accessed on a pay-per-view basis. Digitization is expected to take place in 2010."
Estate Duty Records
Starting in 1796, a tax or death duty was payable on estates over a certain value. Estate duty abstracts may add considerable information not found elsewhere. Estate duty indexes may help locate a will. For more information, go to Estate Duty Records.
Probates After 1857
Beginning in 1858, the government took over the settlement of estates and all wills are now probated through the Principal Probate Registry system. For more information, go to Principal Probate Registry.