Cornwall 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/her heirs.
In order to find a probate record for your ancestor, you must answer two questions:
- When did your ancestor die?
- Where did your ancestor live or own property?
A key date is 1858, when probate authority was taken from the ecclesiatical courts of the Church of England and given to the civil government.
- If your ancestor died before 1858, his/her probate would have been proven by an ecclesiatical court and it is important to know where he/she lived, as that will determine which courts had jurisdiction.
- If you know where your ancestor lived before 1858, you should go to the Court Jurisdictions section below to determine what courts had jurisdiction over your ancestor's place of residence.
- Beginning in 1858, probate authority was vested in the Principal Probate Registry system. For more information, scroll to the Post-1857 Probate Records section at the bottom of the page.
Once you have answered the two questions and determined the courts, look for indexes. Indexes will be found on the individual court pages (when you click on a court name) or in the Probate Indexes section below.
Cornwall Probate Courts
The following probate courts had some jurisdiction over the county of Cornwall prior to 1858:
- Court of the Archdeaconry of Cornwall
- Episcopal Consistory Court of Exeter
- Court of the Dean and Chapter of Exeter Cathedral
- Court of the Peculiar of the Dean of St. Buryan
Prerogative Court of the Archbishop of Canterbury
In addition, the Prerogative Court of the Archbishop of Canterbury had jurisdiction over the whole of England. Wealthier individuals, people who owned property in more than one county or lower court's jurisdiction, people who died overseas but owned property in Britain, and Naval personnel often had their estates proven through the Archbishop's court.
Any probate that was disputed and could not be settled by the county courts could be sent to these higher appeals courts:
Some Explanatory Notes on the Cornwall Probate Courts
Before 1858, every town and parish in Cornwall was under the probate jurisdiction of a primary court and several secondary courts. When looking for the will of an ancestor who lived or owned property in Cornwall, search the courts in the order given. Search indexes first. To find indexes, click on the name of a court.
Here is a list of the Cornwall parishes beginning with letters A and the pre-1858 courts that had jurisdiction over them. For other parishes, click on the link for the first letter of the parish name:
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|
|Advent||Court of the Bishop (Consistory) of the Archdeaconry of Cornwall||2 - Court of the Bishop of Exeter (Episcopal Consistory)|
|Altarnon||Court of the Bishop (Consistory) of the Archdeaconry of Cornwall||2 - Court of the Bishop of Exeter (Episcopal Consistory)|
|Antony||Court of the Bishop (Consistory) of the Archdeaconry of Cornwall||2 - Court of the Bishop of Exeter (Episcopal Consistory)|
Probate Indexes Online
Before looking for a will, you should search an index.
- http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~sterth/wills_by_name_ac.htm (Cornish Will Abstracts 1690 - 1859, for St. Erth and other places)
- http://webs.lanset.com/azazella/cornish_database.html (Cornish Genealogy Database, for surnames from the parishes in the south-west of Cornwall – the Penwith district and peninsula with its government seat in Penzance, and the Kerrier district and Lizard peninsula with its government seat in Camborne.)
- http://members.iimetro.com.au/%7erosewarne/probate1.PDF (Cornish Probate Records, selected surnames, A – M)
- http://members.iimetro.com.au/%7erosewarne/probate2.PDF (Cornish Probate Records, selected surnames, N – Z)
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-1857 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.