London 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 to 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.
London Probate Courts
The following courts had some probate jurisdiction over London before 1858.
- Court of Husting
- Court of the Archdeaconry of London
- The Court of Arches of the Archbishop of Canterbury
- Court of the Bishop of London (Episcopal Consistory)
- Court of the Commissary of the Bishop of London (London Division)
- Court of the Peculiar of the Dean and Chapter of Westminster (Abbey)
- Court of the Deanery of the Arches of London, Croydon, Shoreham (Peculiar of the Archbishop of Canterbury)
- Court of the Commissary of the Bishop of London (Essex & Hertfordshire Division)
- Court of the Peculiar of the Dean and Chapter of St Paul's Cathedral
- Royal Peculiar Court of St Katherine's by the Tower
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 outside of the country but had property in England, 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:
The Prerogative Court of the Archbishop of Canterbury also served as an appeals court.
Probate records of the City of London commence from as early as 1374 up to 1857. There are several probate court jurisdictions for the City of London, some of which hold extensive probate record coverage for the city and there are a few smaller court jurisdictions which only pertain to a small handful of parishes.
If you know in which parish your ancestor may have died or lived, go to the "London Parishes and Their Probate Jurisdictions" section (below) and search by parish name in order to determine the correct or most likely probate court to search, first.
Next, see the above links to each London probate court jurisdictions in order to obtain further information for researching in the prime probate court for a will.
If a search in the most likely probate court jurisidiction proves unsuccessful, then search the next court as listed in ranked order, i.e. "no. 2", and etc.
Starting Your Search in Indexes
1. First search each index which you will find listed under the name of the particular probate court jurisdiction (see the "London Probate Courts" listed above) to help you more quickly find the will, writing down all details cited in the indexed entry.
2. Once you have found the name of an ancestor and the probate jurisdiction in which a will or administration (admon) was probated, next proceed to the "Probate Records of This Court" (appears below this section) to determine what original probate records exist for this court and years appertaining.
3. You can also contact or visit the particualr London archives where the original records are held, or, hire a professional record searcher to view these records on your behalf. Officials may send upon written request a list of record searchers.
4. Visit The Family History Library, or, one of its 4,500 satellite family history centers worldwide and search indexes to probate records. Then with the information obtained from the index[es] you can more quickly locate the original wills and admons which are on microfilm, via any family history centers near you.
Some Explanatory Notes on the London Court
London Parishes and Their Court Jurisdictions
Before 1858, every parish was under the probate jurisdiction of a primary court and several secondary courts.
For an alphabetical list of London City parishes and the courts that had jurisdiction over them, click on the link for the letter that a parish name begins with:
|A-F||G-R||S-St C||St D-H||St I-S||St T-Z|
This list does not include parishes in the county of Middlesex. For those parishes, go to Middlesex Probate Records.
Probate Indexes Online
Before looking for a will, you should search an index.
Archdeaconry Court of London Wills Index 1750-1800
London Signatures currently includes 10,000 Archdeaconry Court of Middlesex Wills (AM/PW), covering the period 1609 -1810, and 23,500 Diocese of Winchester, Commissary for the Archdeaconry of Surrey marriage bonds (DW/MP), for the period 1673 - 1850.
Surrey & South London Will Abstracts1470-1856
This extraordinary collection is one of the most valuable on British Origins. It contains fully indexed abstracts of every Surrey will known to still exist, over 28,000 of them, dating from the 15th to 19th centuries; nearly all the originals are held at the London Metropolitan Archives.
The abstracts include all personal names (testator, beneficiaries, executors, witnesses, overseers, and others) with their relationships, place names, occupations, monetary and other bequests, and descriptions of lands. The indexes include the names of every person mentioned - over a half of a million names - places mentioned (many outside Surrey), subjects (eg occupations) mentioned in the wills, and of dates.
Guildhall Library Manuscripts Section
Indexes to Probate Inventories of the Peculiar Court of the Dean and Chapter of St Paul's Cathedral
The probate inventories of the Peculiar Court of the Dean and Chapter of St. Paul's date from 1660 to 1725. They are arranged in yearly (mostly) and half-yearly bundles. Within each bundle they are arranged chronologically by the date they were exhibited in the court. There are 77 bundles now numbered as Guildhall Library Ms 19504/1-77.
PROBATE RECORDS (WILLS AND ADMINISTRATIONS) AT GUILDHALL LIBRARY
WILLS IN LONDON METROPOLITAN ARCHIVES AND ELSEWHERE
Diocese of London Consistory Court Wills index
This index contains 31,000 entries of wills and letters of administration (granting authority to an executor when a person died intestate) compiled from the London Diocesan Court registers (DL/C/354-416). Near complete coverage is provided for the years 1514-1858 (please note there are no registers for the years 1521-1539 and 1642-1670).
Commissary Court of London Will Abstracts Volume 26 (1629-1634)
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 the Principal Registry and the District Registries for 1858-1925 are available on microfilm at the Family History Library.