Court of the Archdeaconry of Bedford
A general explanation of probate records in England, is given in the article England Probate Records.
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 1858.
Step by Step
1. First search each index (see "Indexes" below) to help you more quickly find the will or administration (admon), writing down each detail cited in the indexed entry
2. Proceed to "Records" section (below) to determine what probate records exist for this court.
3. Contact or visit the Bedfordshire and Luton Archives Service or, hire a professional record searcher to view these records on your behalf. Officials may send upon request a list of record searchers.
4. Visit The Family History Library, or, one of its 4,500 satellite family history centers worldwide to search published and microfilm copies of indexes. Then, with the information obtained from the index[es] you can search the original wills and admons on microfilm.
Printed and Published Indexes
The Bedfordshire & Luton Archives and Records Service has indexes to all Bedfordshire wills. Wills pre-1858 proved at Bedford are indexed in card form and in two volumes in their searchroom. You may contact them for assistance.
The Family History Library has indexes to the records including the following:
- Cirket, Alan F., Joan Stuart, and Peggy Wells. Index of Bedfordshire probate records, 1484-1858. London : British Record Society, c1993. (FHL book 942 B4b, vols 104 & 105). Includes indexes of place names and trades and conditions. Figure out which court by looking in vol. 104 index last page for abbreviations, then go to catalog for place, go next to probate area of record looking for admon, will, and year.On film find year the number i.e. LB 1792/94.
- Indexes are also found on the microfilms with the original records.
The records are located at the Bedfordshire & Luton Archives and Records Service in the city of Bedford.
A variety of probate records survive for this court:
- Original wills for 1537-1857
- Register copy wills for 1480-1640 (with some gaps) and 1705-1787
- Administrations bonds for 1700-1857 (and some earlier administration registers)
- A few inventories
Family History Library Records
- Probate records: original wills, registered copy wills, inventories and administrations, 1496-1858
- Court records: court records including some probate material, 1539-1901
Otaining a copy of a will
1. If you do not have access to the Family History Library or a family history center, click above on the contact link for the Bedfordshire & Luton Archives and Records Service and request a search of their card index for a will for your ancestor. If they find a reference, they will inform you how to obtain a copy of the will.
2. If you have access to the Family History Library or a family history center, search (or order on microfilm and search) the indexes to the Court of the Archdeacon of Bedford as mentioned above. If you find a reference to your ancestor's will, go to the library's online catalog entry for the court's probate records, and match the index reference to the film for the correct record and date. For instance, the published index to Bedfordshire probate records (FHL book 942 B4b vol. 104) gives the following reference:
ATKINS, Thos., Eversholt, lab. 1761/16
This indicates that Thomas Atkins of Eversholt, labourer, died and left a will in 1761, item 16.
3. Go to the library's online catalog entry for for the Archdeaconry of Bedfordshire and view the film notes. Browse down the film notes till you come to (as in the case of our example) "Original wills Box 116-121, 1758-1763" on film number 1066860. Go to the film cabinets and retrieve the film, put it on a film reader, and turn to item 16.
4. If you are using a family history center, use the library's catalog as before, and order the film into the center for your use.
5. The Family History Library and family history centers have copying facilities so you can make a copy of your ancestor's probate record.
The Court of the Archdeaconry of Bedford had primary probate jurisdiction over the whole of the county of Bedfordshire, except the peculiars of Biggleswade and Leighton Buzzard. The Archdeaconry was part of the Diocese of Lincoln until 1837 when it was transferred to the Diocese of Ely.