Cambridgeshire Probate Records
For an explanation of probate records in England, click here.
Probate is the legal court process by which the estate of a deceased person is distributed to his or her heirs. The Church of England ecclesiastical courts had authority for this process until 1858. Beginning in 1858, authority over probate matters was taken from ecclesiastical courts and put under the civil authority of the Principal Probate Registry. The Post-1857 Probate Records section below contains links to additional information about the records of this court.
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 Court Jurisdictions section below.
- Click a letter or span of letters for your place name. This opens a jurisdictions table.
- Follow the instructions on the jurisdictions table page.
Cambridgeshire Probate Courts
Here is a list of the ecclesiastical courts that had some pre-1858 probate jurisdiction over the parishes of Cambridgeshire. Click on a court name for more information. Also see the Indexes section below.
- Court of the Archdeaconry of Ely (Diocese of Ely)
- Court of the Archdeaconry of Norfolk (Diocese of Norwich)
- Court of the Archdeaconry of Sudbury (Diocese of Norwich)
- Court of the Bishop of Ely (Episcopal Consistory)
- Court of the Bishop of Norwich (Episcopal Consistory)
- Courts of the Bishop (Episcopal Consistory) and Archdeaconry of Rochester
- Court of the Chancellor of the University of Cambridge
- Court of the Peculiar of Isleham and Freckenham
- Court of the Peculiar of King's College
- Court of the Peculiar Parish of Thorney
In addition, the Prerogative Court of the Archbishop of Canterbury had jurisdiction over the whole of England, particularly in cases of wealthy individuals, people who owned property in more than one county or court's jurisdiction, people who lived or owned property outside of England, and military and Naval personnel.
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.
Before 1858, probate of the estates of deceased persons was handled by eccelesiastical courts of the Church of England. Every parish was under the jurisdiction of a primary court and several secondary courts.
Below is a list of Cambridgeshire towns and parishes beginning with the letter A and the pre-1858 courts that had jurisdiction over them. For other places, click on the link for the letter a parish name begins with:
1. In the first column, find the place where your ancestor lived.
2. In the second column, click on the court name to learn where to find the records and indexes.
3. If the record isn't found in the primary court, search the records for the secondary courts in the order listed.
4. The last court to search is the Prerogative Court of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
If no will is found, your ancestor may not have left one.
|PARISH||PRIMARY COURT||SECONDARY COURTS - IN SEARCH ORDER|
|Abington Pigotts||Court of the Archdeaconry of Ely||2 - Court of the Bishop of Ely (Episcopal Consistory)|
|Arrington||Court of the Bishop of Ely (Episcopal Consistory)||2 - Prerogative Court of the Archbishop of Canterbury|
|Ashley with Silverley||Court of the Archdeaconry of Sudbury|| 2 - Pre-1837: Court of the Consistory of Norwich
2 - Post-1836: Court of the Bishop of Ely (Episcopal Consistory)
Probate Indexes Online
Before looking for a will, you should search an index. One to search is:
- Cambridgeshire Wills Surname Index pre-1858. Established by the Cambridgeshire Family History Society, this index is small but is growing. Contributions are welcome.
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. Between 1813-1858 estate duty indexes may help locate a will. For more information, go to Estate Duty Records.
Post-1858 Probate Records
Beginning in 1858, the government took over the settlement of estates and all wills are now probated through the Principal Probate Registry system. The system consists of 11 district registry offices and 18 sub-district registries, located throughout England and Wales, and the principal registry office located in London. The records are available through the office of Her Majesty's Courts Service. To learn more, go to the HMCS website.
A country-wide surname index to the records is available, so it is much easier to look for post-1857 wills. The indexes for 1858-1957 and the records for 1858-1925 are available on microfilm at the Family History Library.