Ancestry’s new database, Scotland, National Probate Index (Calendar of Confirmations and Inventories), 1876-1936, is a fantastic resource that can help you to discover whether your Caledonian ancestors left estate behind after they passed away. If so, it will allow you to identify which court granted ‘confirmation’ (the Scottish equivalent of ‘probate’), the names of any appointed executors, the date of the deceased’s death, the date of confirmation, the value of the estate as left, and whether a will was left by the deceased.
The process of dealing with estate posthumously in Scotland has historically been quite different to that in operation elsewhere within the British Isles. If a Scot wrote a will, then following his or her death that document would be taken to the Sheriff Court to be ‘confirmed’, in order for the court to formally convey responsibility for the disposal of any estate mentioned to the deceased’s named executors. The subsequent court judgement would be recorded in a document called a ‘testament testamentar’ (the equivalent of a ‘grant of probate’ elsewhere in the British Isles). If no will was left, however, the court would have to appoint executors instead. An inventory of the deceased’s possessions would be drawn up, and after any debts were disposed of, court appointed executors would then dispose of the rest. In such a case, the document generated was known as a ‘testament dative’ (the equivalent elsewhere of a ‘letter of administration’).
From 1876 the Calendar of Confirmations and Inventories was established to summarise each case on an annual basis in alphabetical order of the deceased’s surname, in a single volume. From 1921, two annual volumes were produced, with surnames beginning with A to L indexed in the first, and M to Z in the second. All of the original testaments generated by the courts for this period are held by the National Records of Scotland (www.nrscotland.gov.uk) – those up to 1925 have been digitised, and can be consulted in the search rooms or via the Scotland’s People service. For the period from 1926-1936 in particular, this collection marks the only online resource for Scottish confirmation research, and by using this as an index, you can then order a copy of the original document from the archive.
Legally, there are some things to be aware of when searching through the calendars. Prior to 1882, married women could not leave a will, only widows or unmarried women (though there are exceptions). In addition, prior to 1868, Scottish wills only conveyed what was known as ‘moveable estate’ – clothes, furniture, money in the bank, etc. Land and property, or ‘heritable estate’ was usually inherited separately by the eldest son according to the rules of primogeniture, via a different court based process called the Services of Heirs, through which he had to first prove his entitlement to inherit before a jury. Although the law allowed the deceased to leave all of his estate in a will after 1868, the Services of Heirs process did continue – if the deceased passed away ‘intestate’, i.e. without leaving a will, then the heritable estate was still automatically inherited by the eldest son. This continued until the abolition of primogeniture in 1964.
One of the great things about the collection is that it will often note people who passed away elsewhere in the UK or overseas, if they had some form of estate in Scotland. Indeed, within my own research it was the calendars which first confirmed that my civilian great grandfather David Hepburn Paton had passed away in Brussels during the First World War. The calendar noted that he passed away whilst resident at 30 Rue St Catherine in the city, but that he was formerly resident at an address in Glasgow.
It also gave his date of death in Brussels as March 12th 1916, but notes that confirmation of his Scottish based estate, valued at just over £204, was not granted in favour of his wife in Glasgow until February 25th 1919, almost three years later, and after the war. Handily, it also noted her address in Glasgow at this point, to where she had returned to Scotland having been trapped in Belgium for the full duration of the conflict. Note that this also shows that confirmation did not always take place immediately after death – in some cases the deceased’s estate may not have been brought before the court for many years.
Other great Scottish collections on Ancestry:
- The Scotland Select Births and Baptisms, 1564-1950 and Scotland, Select Marriages, 1561-1910 collections contain indexes to key vital records collections, including Church of Scotland baptisms and marriages from 1561-1854, civil birth and marriage records from 1855-1874/75, and records form other sources.
- For additional church records, don’t forget to also consult the UK Parish Baptism, Marriage and Burial Records set, which contains many records from across Scotland. In some cases, for example Aberdeen and Edinburgh, the holdings go well beyond church records, with land registers, apprenticeship lists, burgh papers, and more included.
- Trace your ancestors every ten years from 1841-1901 in the Scottish censuses, and look for Scots elsewhere in the UK through the English and Welsh collections from 1841-1911, and in Ireland in 1901 and 1911.
- If your Scottish ancestors served in the British Army during the First World War, check out the British Army WWI Service Records, 1914-1920 and British Army WWI Pension Records 1914-1920 collections, as well as the additional military databases covering the conflict for the army, navy and RAF.
- If your ancestor was a Church of Scotland minister, check out the Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae. The succession of ministers in the parish churches of Scotland, with short biographical descriptions of every minister from 1560-1866.