Cambridgeshire Probate Records
The following article is about probate records in the county of Cambridgeshire. 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 or use the approximate date and the place where they lived.
- Search any indexes listed below in the Indexes section.
- If you did not find any likely entries in the indexes, then complete the following steps:
- Go to the Court Jurisdictions by Parish 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, 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.
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 and specifically in the following cases.
- Wealthy individuals
- Interregnum, 1649-1660, because the Prerogative Court was the only court.
- Property in more than one diocese in the Province of Canterbury.
- Property in both the Province of Canterbury and Province of York.
- People who died outside England, including British citizens and others who held property in 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. 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.
See other indexes on the court pages. Click on a court name link in the Cambridgeshire Probate Courts section above.
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.