After finding your ancestors in civil registration, census records, and parish registers, there are many different record types that are widely available for the UK. When I’m doing research, I usually look for probate records, and specifically wills, of my ancestors at this stage in the research process.
UK Wills and Probate Before 1858
Probate is the term for how a court distributes the estate of a deceased person. It was not required by law for people to create a will, but quite a bit of the population is covered by wills to make them a good genealogical resource. If your ancestor did not leave a will, there were many other types of documents they could be mentioned in, including letters of administration (gives someone permission to probate an estate without a will), and inventories (itemized list of all the goods the deceased owned).
Wills in England were recorded early into the eleventh century, but most of them didn’t survive until around the fifteenth century. Wills created before 1858 were held by church courts all over the country. Wills and other probate records could be found on any level of jurisdiction in the church courts in England; it would be wise to familiarize yourself with the jurisdictions before you look for a will of an ancestor. One good place to look is Maps.familysearch.org, which will show you the probate court for the parish you are searching for.
Wills in Wales were normally written by the upper classes, and would be probated at four different church courts: peculiars, archdeaconry, Bishops’ courts, and Prerogative Court of Canterbury. On FamilySearch a list of Welsh counties and their jurisdictions can be found for further research. All wills proved in Wales are available at the National Library of Wales and can be ordered.
Irish wills proved before 1858 were also recorded within the ecclesiastical courts. Twenty-eight consistory courts were used to record probate, as well as the Prerogative Court of Armagh, which was the highest court. Most wills proved before 1858 were destroyed in a fire at the Public Record Office in Dublin. The indexes did survive, however, which are available at the Family History Library. Scottish probate, or “confirmation” records consisted of testaments, or their equivalent to a will. They were also normally left by the higher classes, but were left by a much smaller population than the rest of the UK. Scottish testaments were proved either at the principal commissariat court in Edinburgh, or at a local jurisdiction for that court.
UK Wills and Probate After 1858
Wills in England and Wales filed after 12 January 1858 were filed in civil probate courts around the country for the Principal Probate Registry. Irish wills filed after 1858 were held under the Principal Probate Registry, which replaced the church courts previously in place. Scottish testaments, unlike England, Wales, and Ireland, were filed at commissariat departments at the sheriff’s courts after 1823.
What’s in a Will?
As wills will most likely be the record type you are finding for your ancestors, it is important to know what types of information you can find in them. Information found in a will varies greatly from will to will. Some information you could find in a will includes the name of the person who wrote the will, the date the will was written, the residence of the individual, relationships to people inheriting the estate, and an executor (the one who gives out the estate to people named in the will). More information, and even less information can be found from will to will. Try finding some wills for your family, and you will be surprised what it says!
Searching for Wills
English wills before 1858 must first be found at the correct church court before you can get the original record. Many of these are available at the Family History Library. If you cannot find a will at lower jurisdictions, you could search the Prerogative Court of Canterbury records (1384-1858), which are available online for ordering at the National Archives. After 1858, Wills from England and Wales have an index that can be searched on Ancestry.com in the National Probate Calendar, which indexes wills from 1858-1966.
Irish wills have an index that can be searched on FamilySearch, which indexes wills from 1858-1920.
Scottish testaments are indexed form 1513-1925 on ScotlandsPeople. The index is free to search, and you can pay a fee to download the image directly from their website.
Ancestry.com Collections to Start Your Research
Here are a few collections you can use to start testing your new-found knowledge:
For more information on ProGenealogists, please visit their website at http://progenealogists.com
Pennsylvania research just got easier, thanks to the release of Pennsylvania, Death Certificates 1906-1924. This collection contains more than 2.4 million records and has images of the actual death certificates. Statewide registration of births and deaths began on 1 January 1906. This collection of death certificates currently runs through the end of 1924 (later records… Read more
When you think of Louisiana do you think of New Orleans? Mardi Gras? Hurricane Katrina? Or do you think of your ancestors? Louisiana has a rich and colorful past. The Spanish, French and British fought over it for more than 300 years until the United States obtained most of the state as part of the Louisiana… Read more
Jack London is quoted as saying, “Show me a man with a tattoo and I’ll show you a man with an interesting past.” My great-great-grandfather, Thomas Howley, was certainly no exception. In 1864, he joined the U.S. Navy under an assumed name so his wife wouldn’t find out. (She found out. She was not happy.)… Read more
Last week we announced that the AncestryDNA team collectively has found 2.7 million DNA hints. 10 days later, we are nearing 3 million DNA hints – and the number is increasing as more and more people get tested and build out their family tree. Remember: a hint is more than a DNA match. You get a… Read more
They say that the only things certain in life are death and taxes. Genealogists are used to dealing with records surrounding an ancestor’s death, but what about taxes? Tax Basics Tax records in many locations date back earlier than vital records. They’re great for our research because they tend to be kept on a regular… Read more
Blog Posts Ancestry.com Online Trees. Root of All Evil? by Anne Gillespie Mitchell Research in the Old Line State: Maryland State Guide by Amy Johnson Crow Use England Parish Registers to Research Ancestors Pre-1837 by Abbie Lee Black Some Blended Families Are Larger Than Others. Can You Beat More Than 20 Children? by Anne Gillespie… Read more
Chris DeRose is an on-air contributor and content producer for You and Me This Morning on WCIU TV in Chicago who recently took the AncestryDNA test. Growing up in a very Italian home, he was surprised to find a wee bit of Irish runs through his veins. Ancestry family historian, Michelle Ercanbrack, reviews his ethnic background noting… Read more
What a provocative title: Online Trees: The Root of All Evil? And it was an interesting panel discussion that I participated in at RootsTech 2014. So are trees the root of all evil? In a word, no. And in fact, not only are they not evil, if you are doing genealogy correctly, they must be… Read more
Many of us (myself included) can trace our roots back to Maryland. The history we can find there is fascinating, both in terms of our families’ and the state’s. Maryland can be described as a land of contradictions. It was founded in part to be a safe haven for Catholics from England who wanted to… Read more
Here you will find informational, and sometimes fun, posts from the folks behind the scenes here at Ancestry.com. We hope you’ll notice just how passionate we are about family history and about the products we’re building to help connect families over distance and time.Visit Ancestry.com