Difference between revisions of "England Probate Records"

From FamilySearch Wiki
Jump to: navigation, search
(Rewrote the section.)
m (Online Resources: Added FS lessons)
 
(129 intermediate revisions by 33 users not shown)
Line 1: Line 1:
[[England|'''England'''&nbsp;]] |&nbsp; [[England Civil Registration|'''Civil Registration''']]&nbsp; | &nbsp; [[England Census|'''Census''']]&nbsp; | &nbsp; [[England Church Records|'''Church Records''']] &nbsp; |<br>
+
{{England-sidebar}}{{breadcrumb
 +
| link1=[[England Genealogy|England]]
 +
| link2=
 +
| link3=
 +
| link4=
 +
| link5=[[England Probate Records|Probate Records]]
 +
}} 
 +
{| style="float:right; margin-right:200px"
 +
|-
 +
| style="padding-right:0px"|
 +
|[[Image:Reading of a Will.jpg|thumb|right|375x287px|<center>Reading of a Will<center>]]
 +
|}
 +
== Online Resources ==
 +
 
 +
*[http://search.findmypast.com/search-world-Records/england-and-wales-published-wills-and-probate-indexes-1300-1858 England &amp; Wales Published Wills &amp; Probate Indexes, 1300-1858], ($), index
 +
*[http://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=7927 Red Book of the Exchequer], ($), index
 +
*[http://search.findmypast.com/search-world-Records/bank-of-england-wills-extracts-1717-1845 Bank Of England Wills Extracts 1717-1845]
 +
*[http://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=1904 England &amp; Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966], ($), index
 +
*[http://search.findmypast.com/search-world-Records/probate-calendars-of-england-and-wales-1858-1959 Probate Calendars Of England &amp; Wales 1858-1959], ($), index and [http://search.findmypast.com/search-world-Records/probate-calendars-of-england-and-wales-1858-1959---browse Browseable Images], ($), index
 +
*[http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http://yourarchives.nationalarchives.gov.uk/index.php?title=Online_Probate_Indexes The National Archives online Probate Indexes]
 +
*''[http://www.findmypast.co.uk/probate-records-collection-search-start.action?redef=0&event=P Probate and Wills Records Collection 1462-1858]'' - [[Findmypast.co.uk]]
 +
*For countywide links to online and other indexes, and step by steps, see wiki.familysearch.org under county name, and "Probate records"<br>
 +
*[http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/records/wills-and-probate.htm ''Online will and probate records''] - [http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/default.htm The National Archives]  
 +
*''[http://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=1904 National Wills Index - Ancestry.co.uk][http://www.haine.org.uk/wills/willsearch.php - 1858-1966 <br>]''  
 +
*''[http://search.ancestry.co.uk/search/db.aspx?dbid=1610 UK, Extracted Probate Records]'' - [[Ancestry.co.uk]]*[http://search.findmypast.co.uk/search-world-records/probate-calendars-of-england-and-wales-1858-1959?corps=brads Probate Calendars, 1858-1959] -&nbsp; search engine is prohibitively restrictive and quirky; it is advised to use Ancestry's database, instead.
 +
*''[[England Cheshire Probate Records (FamilySearch Historical Records)|England Cheshire Probate Records]]'' - [[FamilySearch Historical Record Collections|FamilySearch.org]]
 +
*[http://www.haine.org.uk/wills/willsearch.php Probate Registry (microfilm) index lookup] (by surname and post-1858 county/registry)]
 +
*[http://www.kctrust.co.uk/probate-registry Probate Registry] - Kings Court Trust
 +
*See: Wills, Probates and Testaments with drop down [http://www.thegenealogist.co.uk/user/subscriptions.php The Genealogist.co.uk]  
 +
*[http://www.willtranscriptions.co.uk/index.htm Will Transcriptions Online]: Donated will transcriptions placed online
 +
*Andrew Millard's Genealogy:&nbsp;[http://www.dur.ac.uk/a.r.millard/genealogy/probate.php Recent Indexes to English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish Probate Records]: Use this site&nbsp;in conjunction with the fifth edition of ''Probate Jurisdictions: where to look for wills'' by Jeremy Gibson and Else Churchill (Federation of Family History Societies, Bury, 2002).<br>
 +
*Look at the research wiki.familysearch.org under any county in England to see what indexes are available including those online. Example: [[Wiltshire Probate Records]], then see Step 1. Indexes can be listed there. Most counties for England have a way of looking at an index pre-1857.
 +
*FamilySearch Help Center Lessons:
 +
**[https://familysearch.org/ask/learningViewer/455 '''England Probate Records 1350-2014 Part 1''']
 +
**[https://familysearch.org/ask/learningViewer/456 '''England Probate Records Part 2''']
 +
**[https://familysearch.org/ask/learningViewer/378 '''England Estate Duty I: What Is It and Why Use It?''']
 +
**[https://familysearch.org/ask/learningViewer/379 '''England Estate Duty II: Content and Organization''']
 +
**[https://familysearch.org/ask/learningViewer/380 '''England Estate Duty III: Locate and Obtain the Record''']
  
 
== Introduction  ==
 
== Introduction  ==
  
Probate records are court records dealing with the distribution of a person’s estate after death. Information recorded may include the death date, names of heirs, family members, and&nbsp;guardians, relationships, residences, inventories of the estate (including trade and household goods), and names of witnesses.  
+
Probate records are court records dealing with the distribution of a person’s estate after death. Information recorded may include the death date, names of heirs, family members, and guardians, relationships, residences, inventories of the estate (including trade and household goods), and names of witnesses.  
  
Probate&nbsp;records are very useful for family historians&nbsp;because  
+
Probate records are very useful for family historians because:
  
*&nbsp;they are&nbsp;often the only record for&nbsp;the time period before census records where&nbsp;all members of a family might be listed  
+
*They are often the only record for the time period before census records where all members of a family might be listed  
*&nbsp;they can give vital information&nbsp;such as localities that the individual is associated with  
+
*They can give vital information such as localities that the individual is associated with  
*&nbsp;they were recorded much earlier than birth, marriage, and death registration.
+
*They were recorded much earlier than birth, marriage, and death registration.
  
Probate records were not created for every person who died. Courts probated estates (with or without a will) for fewer than 10 percent of English heads of households before 1858. However, as much as one- fourth of the population either left a will or was mentioned in one.  
+
Probate records were not created for every person who died. Courts probated estates (with or without a will) for fewer than 10 percent of English heads of households before 1858. However, as much as one-fourth of the population either left a will or was mentioned in one.  
  
 
While probate records are one of the most accurate sources of genealogical evidence, they must be used with caution. For example, they may:  
 
While probate records are one of the most accurate sources of genealogical evidence, they must be used with caution. For example, they may:  
Line 22: Line 59:
 
== Types of Probate Records  ==
 
== Types of Probate Records  ==
  
'''Will'''. Technically, a will conveys real (immovable) property to heirs after an individual’s death. A registered will is an official copy made by a court clerk.&nbsp;
+
'''Will'''. Technically, a will conveys real (immovable) property to heirs after an individual’s death. A registered will is an official copy made by a court clerk. Click [[England Probate Records: Sample of Will|'''here''']] to see a sample Will.
  
 
'''Testament'''. A testament conveys personal (moveable) property to heirs. The term, will, since early times has commonly referred to both a will and a testament.  
 
'''Testament'''. A testament conveys personal (moveable) property to heirs. The term, will, since early times has commonly referred to both a will and a testament.  
Line 28: Line 65:
 
'''Codicil'''. A codicil is a signed, witnessed addition to a will.  
 
'''Codicil'''. A codicil is a signed, witnessed addition to a will.  
  
'''Administration, Letters of Administration, or Admon'''. These refer to a document appointing someone to supervise the estate’s distribution for someone who died "intestate" (without a will). This document gives very little information but may contain some useful clues. The administrator is usually a relative of the deceased.&nbsp;&nbsp;[[Image:Letter of Administration.png|left|700px]]<br>  
+
'''Administration, Letters of Administration, or Admon'''. These refer to a document appointing someone to supervise the estate’s distribution for someone who died "intestate" (without a will). This document gives very little information but may contain some useful clues. The administrator is usually a relative of the deceased. Click [[England Probate Records: Sample of an Administration|'''here''']] to see a sample administration.<br>  
  
 
'''Admon with Will'''. This record grants administration to someone else when the executor named in the will is deceased or is unwilling or unable to act as executor. A copy of the will is attached.  
 
'''Admon with Will'''. This record grants administration to someone else when the executor named in the will is deceased or is unwilling or unable to act as executor. A copy of the will is attached.  
  
'''Inventory'''. An inventory lists belongings and their values, including such items as household goods, tools, and personal items. Occupations are often mentioned.  
+
'''Inventory'''. An inventory lists belongings and their values, including such items as household goods, tools, and personal items. Occupations are often mentioned. Click [[England Probate Records: Sample of an Inventory|'''here''']] to see a sample Inventory.  
  
'''Act Book'''. An act book contains day-by-day accounts of court actions, usually giving brief details of the probate matters dealt with. In the absence of indexes, these books help locate desired documents.  
+
'''Act Book'''. An act book contains day-by-day accounts of court actions, usually giving brief details of the probate matters dealt with. In the absence of indexes, these books help locate desired documents. Click [[England Probate Records: Sample of an Act|'''here''']] to see a sample of an Act.  
  
'''Bond'''. A bond is a written guarantee that a person will faithfully perform the tasks assigned to him by a probate court. The executor posted a testamentary bond, the administrator posted an administration bond, and the guardian of a minor child posted a bond of tuition or curation.  
+
'''Bond'''. A bond is a written guarantee that a person will faithfully perform the tasks assigned to him by a probate court. The executor posted a testamentary bond, the administrator posted an administration bond, and the guardian of a minor child posted a bond of tuition or curation. Click [[England Probate Records: Sample of a Bond|'''here''']] to see a sample of a Bond.  
  
 
== General Historical Background  ==
 
== General Historical Background  ==
Line 44: Line 81:
 
Some of the key events affecting probate record keeping are:  
 
Some of the key events affecting probate record keeping are:  
  
'''1642–1660:&nbsp;''' The Civil War disrupted the probate process. Parliament abolished the ecclesiastical courts in 1653 but restored them in 1661. Wills proved during this interruption are filed at the Prerogative Court of Canterbury.  
+
'''1642–1660: ''' The Civil War disrupted the probate process. Parliament abolished the ecclesiastical courts in 1653 but restored them in 1661. Wills proved during this interruption are filed at the Prerogative Court of Canterbury.  
  
'''1796–1857:&nbsp;''' A tax was placed on all estates valued over £10. This was called an estate duty.  
+
'''1796–1903: ''' A tax was placed on all estates valued over £10. This was called an estate duty.  
  
'''1858:&nbsp;''' The Principal Probate Registry, a civil government system,&nbsp;replaced all earlier probate courts.  
+
'''1858 to present: ''' The Principal Probate Registry (PPR), a civil government service, replaced all earlier probate courts. <br>
  
=== Laws and Customs  ===
+
==== Laws and Customs  ====
  
 
The English system historically has allowed a portion of a person’s property to be divisible by will or testament. That portion changed over time according to circumstances, locality, and number of surviving heirs. For example, the unrestricted right to dispose of personal property by will was granted in the province of York in 1693, and widow’s third (a widow’s right to one-third of her husband’s estate) was barred in 1833.  
 
The English system historically has allowed a portion of a person’s property to be divisible by will or testament. That portion changed over time according to circumstances, locality, and number of surviving heirs. For example, the unrestricted right to dispose of personal property by will was granted in the province of York in 1693, and widow’s third (a widow’s right to one-third of her husband’s estate) was barred in 1833.  
Line 58: Line 95:
 
Wills were made primarily by the middle and upper classes, the majority of whom were nobility, gentry, merchants, or tradesmen. Most wills were left by males with property. Before 1882 a wife who died before her husband could not make a will except with her husband’s consent or under a marriage settlement created before her marriage.  
 
Wills were made primarily by the middle and upper classes, the majority of whom were nobility, gentry, merchants, or tradesmen. Most wills were left by males with property. Before 1882 a wife who died before her husband could not make a will except with her husband’s consent or under a marriage settlement created before her marriage.  
  
When a property owner died without leaving a valid will, the next-of-kin or creditors may have received Letters of Administration (see "Types of Probate Records" in this section of the outline).  
+
When a property owner died without leaving a valid will, the next-of-kin or creditors may have received Letters of Administration.  
  
Until 1660 when a landholder died, his heir, if of age, had to pay a fee called "livery" to the Crown before taking possession of the land. If underage, the heir became a ward of the Crown. Crown jurisdiction was determined by an "inquisition post mortem." Records of inquisitions may list heirs, their relationships to the deceased, and land holdings. (See the "[[England Land and Property|Land and Property]]" section of this outline.) The practice of selling the Crown’s guardianship to a third party led to the Court of Wards and Liveries, which was a source of funds for the government.  
+
Until 1660 when a landholder died, his heir, if of age, had to pay a fee called "livery" to the Crown before taking possession of the land. If underage, the heir became a ward of the Crown. Crown jurisdiction was determined by an "inquisition post mortem." Records of inquisitions may list heirs, their relationships to the deceased, and land holdings. (See [[England Land and Property]].) The practice of selling the Crown’s guardianship to a third party led to the Court of Wards and Liveries, which was a source of funds for the government.  
  
 
Before 1750 heirs often did not prove wills in order to avoid court costs. The will was often kept in case someone later objected to the property’s distribution. As a result, wills were sometimes probated many years after the testator’s death (one was as late as 76 years later). Some archives have collections of unproved wills. Other wills may be among family papers.  
 
Before 1750 heirs often did not prove wills in order to avoid court costs. The will was often kept in case someone later objected to the property’s distribution. As a result, wills were sometimes probated many years after the testator’s death (one was as late as 76 years later). Some archives have collections of unproved wills. Other wills may be among family papers.  
Line 66: Line 103:
 
Until 1833 real property could be "entailed." This specified how property would be inherited in the future. An entail prevented subsequent inheritors from bequeathing the property to anyone except the heirs specified in the original entail.  
 
Until 1833 real property could be "entailed." This specified how property would be inherited in the future. An entail prevented subsequent inheritors from bequeathing the property to anyone except the heirs specified in the original entail.  
  
=== Guardianship  ===
+
==== Guardianship  ====
  
When a father or widow died leaving minor children, relatives usually took the children without court sanction. Sometimes the court appointed a guardian or curator to look after the children’s interests until they were 21. If a child was under marriageable age (12 for girls and 14 for boys), guardianship was called "tuition." If the child was of marriageable age but under 21, it was called "curation."  
+
When a father or widow died leaving minor children, relatives usually took the children without court sanction. Sometimes the court appointed a guardian or curator to look after the children’s interests until they were 21. If a child was under marriageable age (12 for girls and 14 for boys), guardianship was called "tuition." If the child was of marriageable age but under 21, it was called "curation." See [[Guardianship Bonds in England and Wales|Guardianship Bonds in England and Wales]].
  
The cities of London, Bristol, and Exeter had special orphans courts. Records from these courts appear in the&nbsp;Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:  
+
The cities of London, Bristol, and Exeter had special orphans courts. Records from these courts appear in the Place Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under:  
  
 
ENGLAND, [COUNTY] - ORPHANS AND ORPHANAGES  
 
ENGLAND, [COUNTY] - ORPHANS AND ORPHANAGES  
  
ENGLAND, [COUNTY], [CITY or PARISH] - ORPHANS AND ORPHANAGES  
+
ENGLAND, [COUNTY], [CITY or PARISH] - ORPHANS AND ORPHANAGES
 +
 
 +
==== Rules of Primogeniture to Aristocracy ====
 +
 
 +
Critical to researching English aristocracy is the understanding of primogeniture. The word defines the rights of inheritance for the aristocracy. Tradition usually followed included that the first surviving son is the only child who can inherit both title and property. If his father was a Sir, Earl, Lord, Baron, etc., this son becomes the holder of the title upon his father's death. The second born son could be seen often serving as an officer in the military. A second son did not usually accede to title or property unless his elder brother dies intestate.
 +
 
 +
The third and subsequent sons often were inducted into the church, becoming vicars, bishops, etc. or other occupations. Church service was not considered a negative, as most of the early parishes were deeded an annual stipend that was a considerable sum of money in those days; anywhere from US$50,000 to US$150,000 per year, depending on the position.
 +
 
 +
Daughters could never inherit either the title or the property. The property was always "entailed" to the nearest male relative. The title could also be transferred, but only if that relative was also of the nobility. The only way a daughter could be involved was if she were to marry that relative who was entailed.
  
 
== Probating a Will  ==
 
== Probating a Will  ==
  
Usually the location of the deceased’s property determined which court had jurisdiction (see "Determining the Court" in this section of the outline). The probate process began by presenting the will to the court. The court recorded a probate act authorizing executors to carry out the provisions of the will. The original will was endorsed and filed in the court’s records. A handwritten copy was given to the executors. (Before 1600 the executors may have received the original.) The clerk may also have copied the will in a book of registered wills.  
+
Usually the location of the deceased’s property determined which court had jurisdiction (see "Determining the Court" in this article). The probate process began by presenting the will to the court. The court recorded a probate act authorizing executors to carry out the provisions of the will. The original will was endorsed and filed in the court’s records. A handwritten copy was given to the executors. (Before 1600 the executors may have received the original.) The clerk may also have copied the will in a book of registered wills.  
  
 
The administrator, or executor, had one year to produce an inventory of personal property, which the court recorded. Inventories were less common after 1730. Many before that date have been lost or destroyed.  
 
The administrator, or executor, had one year to produce an inventory of personal property, which the court recorded. Inventories were less common after 1730. Many before that date have been lost or destroyed.  
  
 
If a person did not agree with how the court handled the will, that person could appeal to a higher court. This led to additional documents in the court of appeal, including assignation books (calendars of petitions of appeal, annotated with action taken) and other documents. Unless a complaint was filed, there were usually no further court records. Probating a will could take years, but it was usually completed in a few weeks.  
 
If a person did not agree with how the court handled the will, that person could appeal to a higher court. This led to additional documents in the court of appeal, including assignation books (calendars of petitions of appeal, annotated with action taken) and other documents. Unless a complaint was filed, there were usually no further court records. Probating a will could take years, but it was usually completed in a few weeks.  
 +
 +
The fees charged for the proving of a will and the taxes levied on the estate of the deceased are discussed at [[Probate Fees and Valuations in England and Wales|Probate Fees and Valuations in England and Wales]].
  
 
== Pre-1858 Probate Courts  ==
 
== Pre-1858 Probate Courts  ==
Line 88: Line 135:
 
Prior to 1858 the Church of England probated the estates of deceased persons. There were over 300 church probate courts in a hierarchy of jurisdiction and importance. A higher court had jurisdiction when the testator owned property within the jurisdiction of two or more lower courts. Usually the court with primary jurisdiction probated the will, but wealth, status, and convenience could have affected which court was used. The hierarchy of jurisdictions is as follows:  
 
Prior to 1858 the Church of England probated the estates of deceased persons. There were over 300 church probate courts in a hierarchy of jurisdiction and importance. A higher court had jurisdiction when the testator owned property within the jurisdiction of two or more lower courts. Usually the court with primary jurisdiction probated the will, but wealth, status, and convenience could have affected which court was used. The hierarchy of jurisdictions is as follows:  
  
'''Peculiar courts:&nbsp; '''Peculiar courts, manor courts, or other special courts had limited jurisdiction over small areas (sometimes just one parish). Most of England was not within the jurisdiction of any peculiar court.  
+
'''Peculiar courts: '''Peculiar courts, manor courts, or other special courts had limited jurisdiction over small areas (sometimes just one parish). Most of England was not within the jurisdiction of any peculiar court.  
  
'''Archdeaconry courts:'''&nbsp; Archdeaconries were divisions of a Church of England diocese, and Archdeaconry courts were common probate jurisdictions in most dioceses. However, the diocese of York was divided into rural deaneries.  
+
'''Archdeaconry courts:''' Archdeaconries were divisions of a Church of England diocese, and Archdeaconry courts were common probate jurisdictions in most dioceses. However, the diocese of York was divided into rural deaneries.  
  
'''Bishops’ courts:'''&nbsp; Also called Episcopal, Commissary, Diocesan, or Consistory courts, bishops' courts were the highest court within each diocese.  
+
'''Bishops’ courts:''' Also called Episcopal, Commissary, Diocesan, or Consistory courts, bishops' courts were the highest court within each diocese.  
  
 
Courts such as Court of the Dean and Chapter or Court of the Cathedral often acted on the bishop’s behalf. Records for these cases are often filed with their own court records.  
 
Courts such as Court of the Dean and Chapter or Court of the Cathedral often acted on the bishop’s behalf. Records for these cases are often filed with their own court records.  
  
'''Prerogative Courts:'''&nbsp; The&nbsp;prerogative courts of York and Canterbury had jurisdiction when the deceased’s property was in more than one diocese.  
+
'''Prerogative Courts:''' The prerogative courts of York and Canterbury had jurisdiction when the deceased’s property was in more than one diocese.  
  
The Prerogative Court of Canterbury, the highest court of all,&nbsp;was used for wills of testators who died or owned property outside of England, foreigners who owned property in England, military personnel, persons having property in more than one probate jurisdiction, and often for wealthier individuals.  
+
The [[Prerogative_Court_of_the_Archbishop_of_Canterbury|Prerogative Court of Canterbury]], the highest court of all, was used for wills of testators who died or owned property outside of England, foreigners who owned property in England, military personnel, persons having property in more than one probate jurisdiction, and often for wealthier individuals.  
  
 
If a court’s decision was disputed, additional records may be found among later records of the same court or in a court of higher jurisdiction.  
 
If a court’s decision was disputed, additional records may be found among later records of the same court or in a court of higher jurisdiction.  
  
'''Courts of appeal:'''&nbsp; There were three general courts of appeal. Appeals from the Prerogative Court of Canterbury were to the Court of Arches (of Canterbury). Appeals from the Prerogative Court of York were to the Chancery Court of the Archbishop of York, then to the Prerogative Court of Canterbury. Final appeals from all courts were to the Pope until 1533 and then to the Court of Delegates until 1831. After 1831 final appeals were made to the Privy Council.  
+
'''Courts of appeal:''' There were three general courts of appeal. Appeals from the Prerogative Court of Canterbury were to the Court of Arches (of Canterbury). Appeals from the [[Exchequer_and_Prerogative_Courts_of_the_Archbishop_of_York|Prerogative Court of York]] were to the Chancery Court of the Archbishop of York, then to the Prerogative Court of Canterbury. Final appeals from all courts were to the Pope until 1533 and then to the Court of Delegates until 1831. After 1831 final appeals were made to the Privy Council.  
  
Records of the Court of Arches start in 1660. Many of this court’s records are available on microfiche and are indexed in The Index Library. (Family History Library book [http://www.familysearch.org/eng/library/fhlcatalog/supermainframeset.asp?display=titlehitlist&columns=*%2C0%2C0&callno=942+B4b 942 B4b], v. 85.)<br>
+
Records of the Court of Arches start in 1660. Many of this court’s records are available on microfiche and are indexed in The Index Library. (Family History Library book {{FHL|942 B4b|disp=942 B4b}}, v. 85.)<br>
  
=== Locating Probate Records<br>  ===
+
== Get Started: Finding a Probate Record<br>  ==
  
 
There are three steps to locating probate records.  
 
There are three steps to locating probate records.  
  
*Determine when and where the will might have been proved.
+
*Determine the parish/city and the year in which your ancestor died.  
*Determine the court or courts that had jurisdiction.
+
*Determine the court or courts that had jurisdiction over the parish/city.  
*Search the indexes and records of the court or courts.
+
*Search the indexes and records of the court[s].
 +
*The [https://www.familysearch.org/learningcenter/lesson/introduction-to-england-probate-records/642 Introduction to England Probate Records] training video will help you understand probates.
  
=== What You Are Looking For  ===
+
==== What You Are Looking For  ====
  
 
+
You are looking for a pre-1858 probate record for one of your ancestors, which could be a will or an administration with related documents. The information you will find varies from record to record. The records may provide:  
 
 
You are looking for a pre-1858 probate record for one of your ancestors, which could be a will or an administration with related documents. The information you will find varies from record to record. The records may provide:&nbsp;
 
  
 
*Names of heirs.  
 
*Names of heirs.  
Line 129: Line 175:
 
*An inventory of the deceased's personal property.
 
*An inventory of the deceased's personal property.
  
=== Determining the Court  ===
+
==== Determining the Court  ====
  
To determine the court for pre-1858 records, the Family History Library has a series of probate keys, (FHL book [http://www.familysearch.org/eng/library/fhlcatalog/supermainframeset.asp?display=titlehitlist&columns=*%2C0%2C0&callno=942+S2ha+ 942 S2ha Volumes 1–40]; [http://www.familysearch.org/eng/library/fhlcatalog/supermainframeset.asp?display=titlefilmnotes&columns=*%2C0%2C0&titleno=423223&disp=Hand+list+of+English+probate+jurisdictio++ films 599217–222]; fiche [http://www.familysearch.org/eng/library/fhlcatalog/supermainframeset.asp?display=titlefilmnotes&columns=*%2C0%2C0&titleno=423223&disp=Hand+list+of+English+probate+jurisdictio++ 6026312, 90 fiche]).  
+
There maybe several probate courts having jurisidiction in an English county. Articles in this Wiki will tell you how to discover the names of the courts having jurisdiction over your place, and details about the records. To find one of these articles, type the title (name of the county) Probate Records in the search box. For example, if you want to learn about probates in Cumberland, search for the title Cumberland Probate Records.  
  
Each probate key has two parts. The first is a research paper containing a color-coded map showing courts having jurisdiction over each area. The maps on the film and fiche copy of the probate keys are black and white, so it is not possible to use them to determine a court. It is necessary to use the paper copy of the maps. Many Family History Centers have paper copies of the maps (if a paper copy is not available, use other sources as indicated in the paragraphs that follow). At the Family History Library, use the book copy of the probate keys.  
+
Call numbers for the records in the Family History Library can be found in the library's catalog. For a current listing of probate records and indexes, follow these instructions.  
  
The second part of the probate key is a list of library call numbers for that county’s records. Many of the probate keys do not list recently acquired material. For a current listing of probate records and indexes, look in the&nbsp;Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
+
#Go to the [https://familysearch.org/catalog-search catalog] and type the name of the county in the '''"Place Name'''" search box.Click on the place you want from the drop <br>
 +
#Click '''Search'''.
 +
#Scroll down and click the topic Probate Records or Probate Records-Indexes.
 +
#Browse the titles and click on the one that seems to be the desired record.
 +
#The description of the record will appear including the call number of the source whether it is microfilm, microfiche, CD, or book. Sometimes the record will be digitized or electronic and there will be a note saying click here to view it online. <br>
  
ENGLAND, [COUNTY] - PROBATE RECORDS
+
A court may also be determined by using the sources listed under the heading "Records Not at the Family History Library" in this section. From 1796 to 1903, Estate Duty Indexes can be used to determine the court (see the heading, "Indexes" that follows for more information).
  
A court may also be determined by using the sources listed under the heading "Records Not at the Family History Library" in this section. From 1796 to 1858, Estate Duty Indexes can be used to determine the court (see the heading, "Indexes" that follows for more information).  
+
Ecclesiastical jurisdictions, which help determine the court, are given in Samuel Lewis’s Topographical Dictionary of England (see the [[England Gazetteers|Gazetteers]] article) and Frank Smith’s ''A Genealogical Gazetteer of England''.  
  
Ecclesiastical jurisdictions, which help determine the court, are given in Samuel Lewis’s Topographical Dictionary of England (see the "[[England Gazetteers|Gazetteers]]" section of this outline) and Frank Smith’s ''A Genealogical Gazetteer of England''.
+
==== Indexes  ====
  
For more information, see&nbsp;'Indexes' and&nbsp;'Finding Records in the Family History Library' below.  
+
Indexes to testators have been published for most probate jurisdictions in England. The [[Family History Library]] and [[Society of Genealogists Library]] have most published indexes in their collections. Many of these books are available online.  
  
== Post-1857 Probate Courts  ==
+
At this time, only a small percentage of England's wills have everyname or beneficiaries indexes. For a list of those available, see [[England Everyname Probate Indexes]].
  
'''Principal Probate Registry'''
+
For more information, see sections below: Indexes; and Finding Records in the Family History Library.
  
On 12 January 1858, a network of civil courts called ''probate registries'' replaced ecclesiastical probate courts. All wills and administrations are probated in the district courts or in the Principal Registry, the central court in London. The Principal Registry received copies of all the probates from the district courts. The calendar for the wills and administrations includes:<br>
+
== Principal Probate Registry ==
  
*Name of the deceased.
+
On 12 January 1858, a network of civil courts called ''probate registries'' replaced the ecclesiastical probate courts. Read more about [[Principal Probate Registry]] records. [http://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=1904&geo_a=t&geo_s=uk&geo_t=us&geo_v=2.0.0&o_iid=62817&o_lid=62817&o_sch=Web+Property Search an index to the National Probate Calendar (Index to Principal Probate Registry's Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966, now].
*Address of last residence.
 
*Name of the executor or executrix.
 
*Amount of the estate.
 
 
 
Wills and administrations are easy to search for after 1857 because the calendar is in alphabetical order for the entire country.&nbsp; To learn more, read [http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/catalogue/RdLeaflet.asp?sLeafletID=168 Probate Records] and [http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/catalogue/RdLeaflet.asp?sLeafletID=219 Wills and Death Duty Records, after 1858].
 
  
 
== Estate Duty Wills and Administrations  ==
 
== Estate Duty Wills and Administrations  ==
  
Starting in 1796, a tax or death duty was payable on many estates with a certain value. The amount levied varied according to the relationship of the beneficiary to the deceased. Very small estates and those who died serving their country were excluded from paying the required duty. Estate duty abstracts may add considerable information not found elsewhere. They can show the bame, address and last occupation of the deceased; and the names the beneficiaries and their relationship to the deceased. These records are especially helpful for counties Cornwall, Devon and Somerset, since many of the records for the probate courts in those areas were destroyed during World War II.<br>
+
Starting in 1796, a tax or death duty was payable on many estates with a certain value. Read more about Death or [[Estate Duty Registers|Estate Duty Wills]].  
 
 
A register could be annotated for many years, possibly listing date of death of the spouse, marriage and death dates of beneficiaries, births of children or grandchildren born after the duty was paid, and cross references to other entries. <br>
 
 
 
The estate duty registers were grouped into two sections, the Prerogative Court of Canterbury and a number of district courts, collectively referred to as ''country courts''. The districts were: <br>
 
 
 
{| cellspacing="1" cellpadding="1" border="0" style="width: 567px; height: 118px;"
 
|-
 
| Bath and Wells<br>
 
| Chester<br>
 
| Exeter<br>
 
| Lincoln<br>
 
| Oxford<br>
 
| Winchester<br>
 
| <br>
 
|-
 
| Bristol<br>
 
| Chichester <br>
 
| Gloucester<br>
 
| Leicester<br>
 
| Peterborough<br>
 
| Worcester<br>
 
| <br>
 
|-
 
| Canterbury<br>
 
| Durham<br>
 
| Hereford<br>
 
| London<br>
 
| Rochester<br>
 
| York<br>
 
| <br>
 
|-
 
| Carlisle<br>
 
| Ely<br>
 
| Lichfield<br>
 
| Norwich<br>
 
| Salisbury<br>
 
| <br>
 
| <br>
 
|}
 
 
 
Read more about these records in the research guides produced by The National Archives in England.<br>[http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/catalogue/RdLeaflet.asp?sLeafletID=107 Death Duty Records, From 1796].<br>[http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/catalogue/RdLeaflet.asp?sLeafletID=245 How to Interpret Death Duty Registers].<br>
 
 
 
== Locating Probate Records  ==
 
 
 
There are three steps to locating probate records.
 
 
 
*Determine when and where&nbsp;the will might have been proved.
 
*Determine the court or courts that had jurisdiction.
 
*Search the indexes and records of the court or courts.
 
 
 
== Indexes  ==
 
 
 
=== Ecclesiastical Courts (pre 1858)  ===
 
 
 
Some court records have published indexes. Others have handwritten indexes filmed with the records. The index is often a "calendar", a list organized by date with a separate section for each letter of the alphabet. Surnames with the same first letter are listed together but are not in alphabetical order.
 
 
 
An extensive collection of probate indexes are part of the following work:
 
 
 
''The Index Library''. London, England: British Record Society, 1888– (Family History Library book [http://www.familysearch.org/eng/library/fhlcatalog/supermainframeset.asp?display=titlehitlist&callno=942+B4b&first=1&last=100&columns=*,0,0 942 B4b]).
 
 
 
The records of the '''Prerogative Court of Canterbury''', for&nbsp;1384-1858, are indexed online through the website of the National Archives of&nbsp;the United Kingdom&nbsp;and their feature [http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/documentsonline/ DocumentsOnline].
 
 
 
Other repositories and organizations, including family history societies, have created and published indexes, some online and some as booklets or on microfiche. To view a partial list, go to [http://yourarchives.nationalarchives.gov.uk/index.php?title=Online_Probate_Indexes Your Archives]. For those available in the Family History Library, go to the library's [http://www.familysearch.org/Eng/Library/FHLC/frameset_fhlc.asp catalog] and do a Place search for your county of interest and the topic of Probate Records.
 
 
 
[http://www.originsnetwork.com/help/popup-aboutbo-pcc.htm http://www.originsnetwork.com/help/popup-aboutbo-pcc.htm]
 
 
 
Prerogative Court of Canterbury Wills Index 1750-1800<br>[http://www.originsnetwork.com/help/popup-aboutbo-boe.htm http://www.originsnetwork.com/help/popup-aboutbo-boe.htm]
 
 
 
Bank of England Will Extracts Index 1717-1845<br>For links to other online indexes, go to the [http://www.genuki.org.uk/big/eng/ GENUKI] website and click on the links for your county of interest and the topic of Probate Records.
 
 
 
=== Principal Probate Registry (1857-1957)  ===
 
 
 
National annual indexes to all wills and administrations of the Principal Probate Registry from 1858 to 1957 are on film at the Family History Library. They give the deceased’s full name and last address, death date, probate type and date, and estate value.
 
 
 
Index film numbers are found&nbsp;in the&nbsp;Library's [http://www.familysearch.org/Eng/Library/FHLC/frameset_fhlc.asp catalog].&nbsp; Do a Place search for England and the topic of Probate Records--Indexes.&nbsp; The record title begins "Calendar of the grants..."
 
 
 
The films may be viewed at the library or ordered through a [http://www.familysearch.org/Eng/Library/FHC/frameset_fhc.asp family history center].
 
 
 
=== Estate Duty Wills and Administrations<br>  ===
 
 
 
The indexes to these records are useful for locating wills and administrations probated between these dates, even if you do not know your ancestor’s residence. The registers from 1796 to 1903 have been indexed on [http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/documentsonline/death-duty.asp DocumentsOnline]. The indexes for the same time period can also be searched on [http://www.findmypast.com/DeathDutySearchCountServlet FindMyPast]. <br>
 
 
 
Indexes are on microfilm in the Family History Library. Click on one of the following links to find the film numbers in the catalog. [http://www.familysearch.org/eng/library/fhlcatalog/supermainframeset.asp?display=titledetails&titleno=534228&disp=Death+duty+register+for+abstracts+of+adm%20%20&columns=*,0,0 Death duty register for abstracts of administrations and probates of wills for country courts, 1796-1811]. <br>
 
 
 
[http://www.familysearch.org/eng/library/fhlcatalog/supermainframeset.asp?display=titledetails&titleno=613685&disp=Death+duty+register+for+abstracts+of+adm%20%20&columns=*,0,0 Abstracts of administrations in the country courts, 1812-1857].<br>
 
 
 
[http://www.familysearch.org/eng/library/fhlcatalog/supermainframeset.asp?display=titledetails&titleno=522838&disp=Death+duty+register+for+wills+in+the+Pre%20%20&columns=*,0,0 Prerogative Court of Canterbury, 1796-1811; and administrations, 1796-1857].<br>
 
 
 
[http://www.familysearch.org/eng/library/fhlcatalog/supermainframeset.asp?display=titledetails&titleno=817853&disp=Index+to+death+duty+registers+in+the+Est%20%20&columns=*,0,0 Index to death duty registers in the Estate Duty Office, 1812-1903]<br>
 
 
 
Films may be viewed at the library or ordered through a [http://www.familysearch.org/Eng/Library/FHC/frameset_fhc.asp family history center].
 
 
 
=== Will Beneficiaries  ===
 
 
 
Some estimate that only 5-10% of the population left a will. Those persons named in a will, a beneficiary, account for a much larger portion of the population. A few indexes are being made available that identify the persons mentioned in wills. For a list of know indexes to will beneficiaries '''[[England Will Beneficiary Indexes|read on...]]'''
 
 
 
== Finding Probate Records at the Family History Library  ==
 
 
 
=== Ecclesiastical Courts (pre-1858)  ===
 
 
 
The Family History Library has a large collection of probate records. Follow these instructions to find them.
 
 
 
#Go to&nbsp;the&nbsp;[http://www.familysearch.org/eng/Library/FHLC/frameset_fhlc.asp Family History Library Catalog].
 
#Click on&nbsp;Place Search.
 
#Type the name of a county in the first box. Type England in the second box.
 
#Click Search.
 
#Click on the link for the locality&nbsp;you want.
 
#Scroll down the list of topics, and click Probate records.
 
#Click on an appropriate title.
 
#Click View Film Notes in the top right corner to see the film numbers.
 
 
 
=== Principal Probate Registry  ===
 
 
 
The actual wills are on microfilm for 1858 through 1925 and are listed in the Family History Library [http://www.familysearch.org/eng/Library/FHLC/frameset_fhlc.asp Catalog]. Do a Place search for England and the topic of Probate Records. The record titles begin "Record copy wills..." There are two catalog records for the district registry wills and one for the Principal Registry.
 
 
 
=== Estate Duty Wills and Administrations  ===
 
 
 
Many probate records from the counties of Devon, Somerset, and Cornwall were destroyed during World War II. For these and others counties are available at the Family History Library.&nbsp;Click on one of the following links to find the film numbers in the catalog.
 
 
 
[http://www.familysearch.org/eng/library/fhlcatalog/supermainframeset.asp?display=titlefilmnotes&columns=*%2C0%2C0&titleno=534228&disp=Death+duty+register+for+abstracts+of+adm++ Death duty register for abstracts of administrations and probates of wills for country courts, 1796-1811].
 
 
 
[http://www.familysearch.org/eng/library/fhlcatalog/supermainframeset.asp?display=titledetails&titleno=613685&disp=Death+duty+register+for+abstracts+of+adm%20%20&columns=*,0,0 Abstracts of administrations in the country courts, 1812-1857].
 
 
 
[http://www.familysearch.org/eng/library/fhlcatalog/supermainframeset.asp?display=titledetails&titleno=522838&disp=Death+duty+register+for+wills+in+the+Pre%20%20&columns=*,0,0 Prerogative Court of Canterbury, 1796-1811; and administrations, 1796-1857].
 
 
 
[http://www.familysearch.org/eng/library/fhlcatalog/supermainframeset.asp?display=titledetails&titleno=817853&disp=Index+to+death+duty+registers+in+the+Est%20%20&columns=*,0,0 Index to death duty registers in the Estate Duty Office, 1812-1903]
 
 
 
Films may be viewed at the library or ordered through a family history center.
 
 
 
== Records Not at the Family History Library  ==
 
 
 
For some courts not all documents or time periods have been microfilmed. For a few courts, the library has no records at all. Sometimes a particular record was omitted from the filming. To obtain a copy of a record not at the library, contact the archive that holds the original records. For copies of wills after 1925 or administrations after 1857, write to:
 
 
 
'''York Probate Sub-Registry<br>'''Castle Chambers<br>Clifford Street<br>York Y01 9RG<br>England <br>Email: [mailto:york.psr@hmcourts-service.gsi.gov.uk york.psr@hmcourts-service.gsi.gov.uk]<br>Telephone: 01904 666777<br>Internet: http://www.lawontheweb.co.uk/basics/probateoffices.htm
 
 
 
When visiting England the office location is:
 
 
 
'''Probate Search Rooms<br>'''First Avenue House<br>42–49 High Holborn<br>London<br>England<br>Internet:http://yourarchives.nationalarchives.gov.uk/index.php?title=Research_Guide:_Probate_Records&nbsp;
 
 
 
=== Sources  ===
 
 
 
For pre-1858 probate records, the following sources list dates and repositories where you may write for records not available at the Library:
 
 
 
Camp, Anthony J. ''Wills and Their Whereabouts''. Fourth Edition. London, England: Anthony J. Camp, 1974. (Family History Library book [http://www.familysearch.org/eng/library/fhlcatalog/supermainframeset.asp?display=titlehitlist&columns=*%2C0%2C0&callno=942+S2wa 942 S2wa].) This book describes jurisdictions and lists records, time periods covered, and availability of indexes by repository.
 
 
 
Gibson, J. S. W. ''A Simplified Guide to Probate Jurisdictions: Where to Look for Wills''. Third Edition. Solihull, England: Federation of Family History Societies Publications, Limited, 1985, updated 1988. (Family History Library &nbsp;book [http://www.familysearch.org/eng/library/fhlcatalog/supermainframeset.asp?display=titlehitlist&columns=*%2C0%2C0&callno=942+P23g 942 P23g] 1985.) This lists probate courts and records with the location of and dates covered by original records.
 
 
 
Gibson, J. S. W. ''Wills and Where to Find Them''. Chichester, England: Phillimore and Company, Limited, 1974. (Family History Library&nbsp;book [http://www.familysearch.org/eng/library/fhlcatalog/supermainframeset.asp?display=titlehitlist&columns=*%2C0%2C0&callno=942+S2gw 942 S2gw].) This discusses probates by county with a list of courts, records, and records offices. Includes basic maps and glossary.
 
 
 
== Difficulties in Locating a Pre-1858 Record  ==
 
 
 
You may have difficulty locating a probate record for one of the following reasons:
 
 
 
*In many courts there are separate indexes for administrations and wills. Search both indexes to find a possible probate record in that court.
 
*When a higher church authority made an official visit, the lower court was "inhibited" (prevented from acting). This was called an "ecclesiastical visitation." Records of estates probated during an ecclesiastical visitation are often with the records of the higher court.
 
*If the court presiding officer was not present, another court probated the will. For example, the Court of the Dean and Chapter usually acted when there was no bishop.
 
 
 
Other courts, such as the Court of Common Pleas or the county quarter sessions, may have probated or received a copy of the will.
 
 
 
Technically, church courts did not have jurisdiction over real property. Some wills and many disputes over real property were handled by the Chancery Court of England. Some of the wills in this and other national courts are listed in:
 
  
''A List of Wills, Administrations, etc.'' in the Public Record Office, London, England: 12th–19th Century. Baltimore, Maryland, USA: Magna Carta Book Company, 1968. (Family History Library book [http://www.familysearch.org/eng/library/fhlcatalog/supermainframeset.asp?display=titledetails&titleno=426785&disp=A+List+of+wills%2C+administrations%2C+et%20%20&columns=*,0,0 942 S2po].)
+
== Resources  ==
  
An entirely different court may have been used for the convenience of the executor.  
+
{{Online course badge
 +
| link = https://www.familysearch.org/learningcenter/lesson/ecclesiastical-jurisdictions-and-probate-records/352
 +
| name = Ecclesiastical Jurisdictions and Probate Records
 +
}}
  
To overcome these problems, search the records of all probate courts having jurisdiction over the areas where the individual had property. You may also need to extend your search several years after the individual’s death.
+
{{England Probate Records}} {{Place|England}} {{ featured article }}
  
[[Category:England]]
+
[[Category:England Probate Records|Probate Records]] [[Category:England Probate Records]]

Latest revision as of 01:16, 13 July 2017

England Wiki Topics
Flag of England
Beginning Research
Record Types
England Background
Ethnicity
Local Research Resources
England
Probate Records
Reading of a Will

Online Resources

Introduction

Probate records are court records dealing with the distribution of a person’s estate after death. Information recorded may include the death date, names of heirs, family members, and guardians, relationships, residences, inventories of the estate (including trade and household goods), and names of witnesses.

Probate records are very useful for family historians because:

  • They are often the only record for the time period before census records where all members of a family might be listed
  • They can give vital information such as localities that the individual is associated with
  • They were recorded much earlier than birth, marriage, and death registration.

Probate records were not created for every person who died. Courts probated estates (with or without a will) for fewer than 10 percent of English heads of households before 1858. However, as much as one-fourth of the population either left a will or was mentioned in one.

While probate records are one of the most accurate sources of genealogical evidence, they must be used with caution. For example, they may:

  • Omit the name of the eldest son who received his inheritance according to law; the names of others who had previously received their inheritance; or any deceased family members.
  • Mention children from a spouse’s previous marriage.
  • Mention a spouse who is not the parent of the children named.
  • Give inaccurate relationships of people mentioned in the document

Types of Probate Records

Will. Technically, a will conveys real (immovable) property to heirs after an individual’s death. A registered will is an official copy made by a court clerk. Click here to see a sample Will.

Testament. A testament conveys personal (moveable) property to heirs. The term, will, since early times has commonly referred to both a will and a testament.

Codicil. A codicil is a signed, witnessed addition to a will.

Administration, Letters of Administration, or Admon. These refer to a document appointing someone to supervise the estate’s distribution for someone who died "intestate" (without a will). This document gives very little information but may contain some useful clues. The administrator is usually a relative of the deceased. Click here to see a sample administration.

Admon with Will. This record grants administration to someone else when the executor named in the will is deceased or is unwilling or unable to act as executor. A copy of the will is attached.

Inventory. An inventory lists belongings and their values, including such items as household goods, tools, and personal items. Occupations are often mentioned. Click here to see a sample Inventory.

Act Book. An act book contains day-by-day accounts of court actions, usually giving brief details of the probate matters dealt with. In the absence of indexes, these books help locate desired documents. Click here to see a sample of an Act.

Bond. A bond is a written guarantee that a person will faithfully perform the tasks assigned to him by a probate court. The executor posted a testamentary bond, the administrator posted an administration bond, and the guardian of a minor child posted a bond of tuition or curation. Click here to see a sample of a Bond.

General Historical Background

The keeping of wills and probate documents began as early as the eleventh century, but there are few records before 1400. Probates were handled by the ecclesiastical courts until 1858.

Some of the key events affecting probate record keeping are:

1642–1660: The Civil War disrupted the probate process. Parliament abolished the ecclesiastical courts in 1653 but restored them in 1661. Wills proved during this interruption are filed at the Prerogative Court of Canterbury.

1796–1903: A tax was placed on all estates valued over £10. This was called an estate duty.

1858 to present: The Principal Probate Registry (PPR), a civil government service, replaced all earlier probate courts.

Laws and Customs

The English system historically has allowed a portion of a person’s property to be divisible by will or testament. That portion changed over time according to circumstances, locality, and number of surviving heirs. For example, the unrestricted right to dispose of personal property by will was granted in the province of York in 1693, and widow’s third (a widow’s right to one-third of her husband’s estate) was barred in 1833.

With the exception of apostates, heretics, traitors, and suicides, any free male over 14, unmarried female over 12, or widow of sound mind could leave a last will and testament. If land was part of the estate, a person had to be at least 21.

Wills were made primarily by the middle and upper classes, the majority of whom were nobility, gentry, merchants, or tradesmen. Most wills were left by males with property. Before 1882 a wife who died before her husband could not make a will except with her husband’s consent or under a marriage settlement created before her marriage.

When a property owner died without leaving a valid will, the next-of-kin or creditors may have received Letters of Administration.

Until 1660 when a landholder died, his heir, if of age, had to pay a fee called "livery" to the Crown before taking possession of the land. If underage, the heir became a ward of the Crown. Crown jurisdiction was determined by an "inquisition post mortem." Records of inquisitions may list heirs, their relationships to the deceased, and land holdings. (See England Land and Property.) The practice of selling the Crown’s guardianship to a third party led to the Court of Wards and Liveries, which was a source of funds for the government.

Before 1750 heirs often did not prove wills in order to avoid court costs. The will was often kept in case someone later objected to the property’s distribution. As a result, wills were sometimes probated many years after the testator’s death (one was as late as 76 years later). Some archives have collections of unproved wills. Other wills may be among family papers.

Until 1833 real property could be "entailed." This specified how property would be inherited in the future. An entail prevented subsequent inheritors from bequeathing the property to anyone except the heirs specified in the original entail.

Guardianship

When a father or widow died leaving minor children, relatives usually took the children without court sanction. Sometimes the court appointed a guardian or curator to look after the children’s interests until they were 21. If a child was under marriageable age (12 for girls and 14 for boys), guardianship was called "tuition." If the child was of marriageable age but under 21, it was called "curation." See Guardianship Bonds in England and Wales.

The cities of London, Bristol, and Exeter had special orphans courts. Records from these courts appear in the Place Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under:

ENGLAND, [COUNTY] - ORPHANS AND ORPHANAGES

ENGLAND, [COUNTY], [CITY or PARISH] - ORPHANS AND ORPHANAGES

Rules of Primogeniture to Aristocracy

Critical to researching English aristocracy is the understanding of primogeniture. The word defines the rights of inheritance for the aristocracy. Tradition usually followed included that the first surviving son is the only child who can inherit both title and property. If his father was a Sir, Earl, Lord, Baron, etc., this son becomes the holder of the title upon his father's death. The second born son could be seen often serving as an officer in the military. A second son did not usually accede to title or property unless his elder brother dies intestate.

The third and subsequent sons often were inducted into the church, becoming vicars, bishops, etc. or other occupations. Church service was not considered a negative, as most of the early parishes were deeded an annual stipend that was a considerable sum of money in those days; anywhere from US$50,000 to US$150,000 per year, depending on the position.

Daughters could never inherit either the title or the property. The property was always "entailed" to the nearest male relative. The title could also be transferred, but only if that relative was also of the nobility. The only way a daughter could be involved was if she were to marry that relative who was entailed.

Probating a Will

Usually the location of the deceased’s property determined which court had jurisdiction (see "Determining the Court" in this article). The probate process began by presenting the will to the court. The court recorded a probate act authorizing executors to carry out the provisions of the will. The original will was endorsed and filed in the court’s records. A handwritten copy was given to the executors. (Before 1600 the executors may have received the original.) The clerk may also have copied the will in a book of registered wills.

The administrator, or executor, had one year to produce an inventory of personal property, which the court recorded. Inventories were less common after 1730. Many before that date have been lost or destroyed.

If a person did not agree with how the court handled the will, that person could appeal to a higher court. This led to additional documents in the court of appeal, including assignation books (calendars of petitions of appeal, annotated with action taken) and other documents. Unless a complaint was filed, there were usually no further court records. Probating a will could take years, but it was usually completed in a few weeks.

The fees charged for the proving of a will and the taxes levied on the estate of the deceased are discussed at Probate Fees and Valuations in England and Wales.

Pre-1858 Probate Courts

Prior to 1858 the Church of England probated the estates of deceased persons. There were over 300 church probate courts in a hierarchy of jurisdiction and importance. A higher court had jurisdiction when the testator owned property within the jurisdiction of two or more lower courts. Usually the court with primary jurisdiction probated the will, but wealth, status, and convenience could have affected which court was used. The hierarchy of jurisdictions is as follows:

Peculiar courts: Peculiar courts, manor courts, or other special courts had limited jurisdiction over small areas (sometimes just one parish). Most of England was not within the jurisdiction of any peculiar court.

Archdeaconry courts: Archdeaconries were divisions of a Church of England diocese, and Archdeaconry courts were common probate jurisdictions in most dioceses. However, the diocese of York was divided into rural deaneries.

Bishops’ courts: Also called Episcopal, Commissary, Diocesan, or Consistory courts, bishops' courts were the highest court within each diocese.

Courts such as Court of the Dean and Chapter or Court of the Cathedral often acted on the bishop’s behalf. Records for these cases are often filed with their own court records.

Prerogative Courts: The prerogative courts of York and Canterbury had jurisdiction when the deceased’s property was in more than one diocese.

The Prerogative Court of Canterbury, the highest court of all, was used for wills of testators who died or owned property outside of England, foreigners who owned property in England, military personnel, persons having property in more than one probate jurisdiction, and often for wealthier individuals.

If a court’s decision was disputed, additional records may be found among later records of the same court or in a court of higher jurisdiction.

Courts of appeal: There were three general courts of appeal. Appeals from the Prerogative Court of Canterbury were to the Court of Arches (of Canterbury). Appeals from the Prerogative Court of York were to the Chancery Court of the Archbishop of York, then to the Prerogative Court of Canterbury. Final appeals from all courts were to the Pope until 1533 and then to the Court of Delegates until 1831. After 1831 final appeals were made to the Privy Council.

Records of the Court of Arches start in 1660. Many of this court’s records are available on microfiche and are indexed in The Index Library. (Family History Library book 942 B4b, v. 85.)

Get Started: Finding a Probate Record

There are three steps to locating probate records.

  • Determine the parish/city and the year in which your ancestor died.
  • Determine the court or courts that had jurisdiction over the parish/city.
  • Search the indexes and records of the court[s].
  • The Introduction to England Probate Records training video will help you understand probates.

What You Are Looking For

You are looking for a pre-1858 probate record for one of your ancestors, which could be a will or an administration with related documents. The information you will find varies from record to record. The records may provide:

  • Names of heirs.
  • Other family members.
  • Witnesses.
  • Guardians.
  • Relationships.
  • Residences.
  • Property names.
  • An inventory of the deceased's personal property.

Determining the Court

There maybe several probate courts having jurisidiction in an English county. Articles in this Wiki will tell you how to discover the names of the courts having jurisdiction over your place, and details about the records. To find one of these articles, type the title (name of the county) Probate Records in the search box. For example, if you want to learn about probates in Cumberland, search for the title Cumberland Probate Records.

Call numbers for the records in the Family History Library can be found in the library's catalog. For a current listing of probate records and indexes, follow these instructions.

  1. Go to the catalog and type the name of the county in the "Place Name" search box.Click on the place you want from the drop
  2. Click Search.
  3. Scroll down and click the topic Probate Records or Probate Records-Indexes.
  4. Browse the titles and click on the one that seems to be the desired record.
  5. The description of the record will appear including the call number of the source whether it is microfilm, microfiche, CD, or book. Sometimes the record will be digitized or electronic and there will be a note saying click here to view it online.

A court may also be determined by using the sources listed under the heading "Records Not at the Family History Library" in this section. From 1796 to 1903, Estate Duty Indexes can be used to determine the court (see the heading, "Indexes" that follows for more information).

Ecclesiastical jurisdictions, which help determine the court, are given in Samuel Lewis’s Topographical Dictionary of England (see the Gazetteers article) and Frank Smith’s A Genealogical Gazetteer of England.

Indexes

Indexes to testators have been published for most probate jurisdictions in England. The Family History Library and Society of Genealogists Library have most published indexes in their collections. Many of these books are available online.

At this time, only a small percentage of England's wills have everyname or beneficiaries indexes. For a list of those available, see England Everyname Probate Indexes.

For more information, see sections below: Indexes; and Finding Records in the Family History Library.

Principal Probate Registry

On 12 January 1858, a network of civil courts called probate registries replaced the ecclesiastical probate courts. Read more about Principal Probate Registry records. Search an index to the National Probate Calendar (Index to Principal Probate Registry's Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966, now.

Estate Duty Wills and Administrations

Starting in 1796, a tax or death duty was payable on many estates with a certain value. Read more about Death or Estate Duty Wills.

Resources

Hands on keyboard.png Genealogy courses: Learn how to research from an expert in Ecclesiastical Jurisdictions and Probate Records.