Accessing England s Probate Records and Indexes Online

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1 Accessing England s Probate Records and Indexes Online Apryl Cox, AG Probate records deal with the distribution of one s estate after death and are an important source for tying family members together. They may extend pedigree lines by one or more generations, assist with distinguishing between multiple persons with the same name, help verify uncertain relationships, or name additional family members not mentioned in other records. Principal Probate Registry (post-1857) Locating probate indexes and records in England s post-1857 civil court system is easy! England s civil court system began 12 January 1858 when England and Wales were divided into 11 civil probate districts and 18 sub-district registries. Wills and administrations are proved at either a District Probate Registry or the Principal Probate Registry in London. Copies of wills proved at district courts are sent to the Principal Probate Registry. An online national index to the Principal Probate Registry is available on Ancestry.com. Search the catalog for England & Wales National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), For people who died in or after 1996, search for their probate online at For people who died between 1967 and 1995, search by post ( Copies of probate records are obtained by doing one of the following: Copy wills probated between 1858 and 1925 from the Family History Library s microfilm collection (if at the FHL, you can make digital copies for free or pay 5 cents a page for printed copies) o Use the FamilySearch Wiki (wiki.familysearch.org) article Principal Probate Registry to identify the film numbers for both the District Probate Registries and the Principal Registry Order a will or administration from the Principal Probate Registry for a fee (about 10). Include the full name of the deceased, the date of the grant, and the registry where it was issued. See for forms and mailing address.

2 Ecclesiastical Probate Courts (pre-1858) Prior to 1858, an estate was probated by an ecclesiastical court of the Church of England. These courts were organized in a hierarchical structure with multiple courts having jurisdiction over any one area. The first step in locating a probate record is to define the time period to search and the area where the individual lived before death. Since probate records were recorded by the probate date and not the deceased s death date, a broad time period should be searched. Once you know when and where to search, the next step is to determine the courts that had jurisdiction over the defined area. How to determine which pre-1858 courts to search The levels of ecclesiastical courts from lowest to highest are as follows: Peculiar courts, manor courts Archdeaconry courts Bishop s courts (commissary, episcopal, consistory, exchequer) Prerogative courts (Prerogative Court of York; Prerogative Court of Canterbury) Most probate was handled by the lowest court with jurisdiction over the entire area in which the deceased had property. But probate could have been handled by another court if it was more convenient for the executor. A general rule is to begin with the court with the smallest jurisdiction and work up to the prerogative courts. An easy way to identify the courts with jurisdiction over your area of interest is to use the FamilySearch Wiki (wiki.familysearch.org). Follow these steps: 2. Select Identify court jurisdictions by parish. 3. Select your parish of interest. Notice that the list of courts is divided into two columns the primary court (the court to search first) and secondary courts. 4. Remember to search the Prerogative Court with jurisdiction over your county of interest. The Wiki table does not include the Prerogative Court for all counties. Note: the Prerogative Court of York covered Cheshire, Cumberland, Durham, Lancashire, Northumberland, Nottinghamshire, Westmorland, and Yorkshire. All other counties were covered by the Prerogative Court of Canterbury. It is important to know all of the courts with jurisdiction over your area of interest. Even though an online database may be entitled with a name such as Hertfordshire Probate Index, that does not necessarily mean that the database includes all of the courts with jurisdiction over Hertfordshire parishes or all time periods.

3 How to find pre-1858 probate court indexes online Once you know which courts to search, look for online indexes to those courts. Begin with the FamilySearch Wiki. Follow these steps: 2. Select Search Indexes. FamilySearch Wiki may include hyperlinks to online indexes. These hyperlinks may take you to commercial sites, county record office online catalogs, google books, or other websites and resources. Generally, you will search an index by entering your ancestor s name and searching by time period and place. Record any reference information you find, such as year and folio number. FamilySearch Wiki includes an excellent article entitled England Everyname Probate Indexes that lists sources, by county, for probate records that have been abstracted and every name in the record has been indexed. This list focuses on 16 th and 17 th century probate records documents that can be difficult to read in their original form. If FamilySearch Wiki does not include hyperlinks to online indexes, then search commercial websites with probate collections such as FindMyPast ( Ancestry ( Origins ( and The Genealogist ( Remember that the databases on these websites may not cover all courts with jurisdiction over a county or all time periods. An excellent index to the Prerogative Court of Canterbury is found at The National Archives website ( The Genealogist ( includes a partial index to the Prerogative Court of Canterbury. A partial index to the Prerogative Court of York is found on Origins ( Some county record offices offer online catalogs that include a probate index. Be aware that the online catalog may not cover all courts with jurisdiction over that county or all time periods. Five examples of county record offices that offer online probate indexes are the following: Wiltshire ( Gloucestershire (ww3.gloucestershire.gov.uk/genealogy/search.aspx) Norfolk (nrocat.norfolk.gov.uk) Staffordshire ( Hertfordshire ( Probate indexes may also be found on websites sponsored by individuals or organizations other than county archives. Two examples are: Lancashire ( Northumberland and Durham (

4 FindMyPast includes the Index to Death Duty Registers which is an incomplete index to wills probated in the designated time period. The later the time period, the larger the percentage of wills included. If no online indexes can be located, then search printed indexes at the Family History Library and other libraries. To locate printed indexes at the Family History Library, use the FamilySearch Wiki as follows: 2. Select Search Indexes. FamilySearch Wiki explains how to find indexes at the Family History Library and where printed indexes are maintained in other locations. You may also go directly to the Wiki page for the court you want to search, click on its link, and choose Printed and Published Indexes. This search produces the call number(s) of a printed volume at the Family History Library that contains an index to that court. How to obtain copies of pre-1858 probate records Some websites that offer online probate indexes also allow you to purchase copies of documents online; others do not. Three examples of websites where you can purchase documents are The National Archives ( 3.30 to download), the Gloucestershire Archives ( 6.5 to order) and the Wiltshire Heritage Centre ( 5 to download). If you have a subscription to The Genealogist, you can view and copy PCC wills for some years. ways: If you cannot order a probate document online, you may obtain a copy in one of the following Obtain a copy at the Family History Library. The FHL has an excellent collection (over 90% coverage) of pre-1858 probate records. Digital copies are free; printed copies are 5 cents a page. Determine the film number that you need using the FamilySearch Wiki, the FamilySearch Catalog, or the blue probate binder for your county. o FamilySearch Wiki Search the FS Wiki for your court (example: Court of the Archdeaconry of Wiltshire ). Select Family History Library Records. Select the category that you need (example: Original Wills ) to identify the correct film number. o FamilySearch Catalog Do a Place Search for your county (example: Wiltshire). Select the Probate records category. Select the court and time period you need (example: Original wills of the Archdeaconry Court of Sarum, ).

5 o Find the film that matches your time period. Blue probate binders Select the binder for the county you need. Turn to the tabbed section for your specific court. Search the listing for the film that contains the time period you need. Contact the archive that holds the original collection. Use the FamilySearch Wiki to identify the contact information for the archive as follows: o Search FS Wiki for your county (example: Wiltshire Probate Records ) and then the link to probate courts in that county (example: Wiltshire Probate Courts ). Or, search FS Wiki for the specific court that you need (example: Court of the Archdeaconry of Wiltshire ). o Select Archive Location to obtain contact information (address, , phone and fax) for that court.

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