Posted by Ancestry Team on October 29, 2015 in Collections, United Kingdom

Two centuries worth of historic probate records have been published online, revealing the final fortunes of over 650,000 Scots. The Scotland, National Probate Index (Calendar of Confirmations and Inventories) 1876-1936 records were originally held at the AK Bell Library, Perth, and includes an index and images relating to the annually published probate records filed in Scotland over a period of 60 years.

Each entry details the full name of the deceased and their place and date of death. Typically, they also state the testament date, name of executor and final value of the estate – making the collection a vital resource for anybody looking to track down the lost fortune contained in the Scottish line of their family tree.

Sample probate index

Not everyone filed testaments, as many chose to avoid the courts and settle moveable property among family. Generally, the wealthy were more likely to have filed, simply because they had more property to distribute. Accordingly, numerous famous Scottish names appear in the collection. These include:

  • Andrew Carnegie – This Scottish-American industrialist led the enormous expansion of the American steel industry in the late 19th century, despite having little formal education. Born in Dunfermline, he moved to America aged 13 and worked his way up the ladder via a series of railroad related jobs. He went on to run the Carnegie Steel Company, using new technology and methods that streamlined the manufacturing process. He was also a philanthropist, feeding his fortunes into various projects including library programmes and international peace projects. The value of his estate upon his death in 1919 was valued at £67,541 – over £3,100,000 today.
  • Thomas Carlyle – Considered one of the most important social commentators of his time, Carlyle was born in 1795 in Ecclefechan, in the Galloway region of Scotland. He was an established philosopher, satirical writer, essayist, historian and teacher and best known for works like Sartor Resartus and The French Revolution. He died in London in February 1881 and his probate record lists the value of his estate as ‘Effects under £35,000’ – equivalent to £3,800,000 in modern money. The Honourable Sir James FitzJames Stephen (a top English judge) is named as one of his executors.
  • Samuel Smiles – A Scottish author and social reformer, Haddington-born Smiles was one of eleven surviving children. He is best known for his book ‘Self-Help’, which argued the importance of characters, thrift and perseverance and argued that poverty was sometimes caused by irresponsible habits. The book stuck a chord with Victorian society and sold over a quarter of a million copies. Upon his death in Kensington in 1904, the records place the value of his estate at £79,964 – an astonishing £8,691,485 in modern money. His grandson William Hartree was named as the administrator.
  • James Keir Hardie – The first Labour Member of Parliament, Hardie was born in August 1856 in Newhouse, Lanarkshire. Working from the age of seven, by 10 he was employed as a ‘trapper’ opening and closing mine doors. He worked his way up to become a full-time trade union organiser after being home educated by his parents. His leadership of the failed Ayrshire miners’ strike of 1881 made such an impression on the mine-owners that they granted important concessions for fear of future industrial action. He went on to help form the Independent Labour party, which later merged with the Labour party. He appears in the collection in 1915 leaving £426 – equivalent to around £40,000 today.

As well as famous names, further analysis of the collection reveals the date that the most deaths were recorded. This occurred on 25 September 1915, in line with the Battle of Loos. The battle was the largest conflict to take place on the Western Front, and saw 259 Scots registered dead in a 24-hour period.

Probate record for Harold Bessemer Galloway (d. 25 Sep 1915)
Probate record for Harold Bessemer Galloway (d. 25 Sep 1915)

When looking at place of death, once again the huge impact of both World Wars is visible. The battlefields of France were the final resting place for 4,734 men in this collection, whilst 2,548 were recorded as lost at sea. Overall, Glasgow (81,291), Edinburgh (57,756) and Aberdeen (21,471) place as the top three most common places of death.

Quotes from Miriam Silverman, Senior UK Content Manager from Ancestry:

  • “This collection provides an online window into the assets of over 650,000 Scots – and proves that contrary to the cliché, the men and women contained in these records were far from mean with their money.”
  • “The collection is also of huge significance for anybody looking to find out more about a Scottish ancestor, from their final resting place to the executor of their estate – opening up exciting new channels of discovery – and perhaps even unlocking an unknown family fortune.”

To search the Scotland, National Probate Index (Calendar of Confirmations and Inventories) 1876-1936 and more than one billion other records, including the Scotland, Perth Electoral Registers 1832-1961, which also launch today visit: www.ancestry.co.uk.

3 Comments

  1. Elizabeth Wylie

    The availability of this material may help solve some long unanswered questions my family has had regarding lost relatives on my husband’s side. Having another portal to look to is always exciting! Thank you!!

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