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ENGLISH & WELSH ROOTS - Wills and Probate Records After 1858
Article posted: July 07, 2000
By: Fawne Stratford-Devai   Biography & Archived Articles

Probate records are court records dealing with the distribution of a person's estate after they die. Probate is simply a term that refers to the process and records associated with settling an estate. Often we simply go in search of a will without awareness of other associated documents. Wills and associated probate records are part of the basic building blocks of English and Welsh research.

A will is a legal document that gives voice to a person's final instructions and wishes. For those of us left to carry on after the death of a loved one, a will is a very personal and poignant thing. It expresses with legal finality those family and friends whose value or standing allows them to benefit from the diseased estate and may even specify those individuals who are not to benefit. For those of us in search of long forgotten wills, the challenge is not only in finding a will but interpreting the names and relationships in light of other evidence we have gathered.

Many researchers in the beginning stages of their family history quest do not believe their ancestor could have left a will. Let's face it, only about 10% of the population left wills before the 1900s. Currently, only 35% of the population are expected to leave a will. However, when you add up all the names mentioned in those 35%, upwards of 50% of the population are covered.

The question of who exactly left a will is not easily quantifiable. As a result of the great economic changes of the last two hundred years, the social mobility of large numbers of the population also changed. This social mobility could have been for the better, with poorer classes moving to the middle classes and above. At the same time, land-owning, self sufficient families may have later generations that ended up on the streets of large urban areas or on a boat to the new world with little more than the clothes on their back.

My own mother did not own any land or substantial possessions when she died in 1993. However, her will was a tool by which she could communicate to, and express her gratitude for those family and friends who played a significant role in her life and throughout her final and fatal struggle with brain cancer. Please do not assume your family member did not leave a will. A researcher's greatest resource is the patience and the tenacity that comes with the commitment to "leave no stone unturned".

  • Wills offer a solid compliment to records of birth, marriage and death and census records . In fact, probate and death duty records should be used interchangeably with death records - one record complimenting and expanding upon the other.

  • Wills provide clear evidence of the relationships within a family and community. They might name nieces, nephews and even children whose existence you were unaware of.

  • Wills or their supporting documents often contain the last known address and occupation of the diseased.

  • Wills are not limited by geographic boundaries as they could list relatives in different and even distant areas of the country or the world.

  • Wills may tell you the marriage date of a couple or even the existence of multiple marriages you did not suspect.

  • Wills tells us in very personal terms, the wealth and status of an individual and even the personal items they considered legacies (such as my mother's silver tea service, or my grandfather's watch)

  • Most importantly, the items bequeathed in a will and the individuals mentioned will usually lead you down new paths and into a variety of records take your family history research to a new level or generation.

The creation & structure of a will:
    1. Most wills begin with an invocation such as "In the name of God Amen" recorded in Latin as In nomine Dei Amen

    2. A man (testator) or woman (testatrix) wrote out a will (known as a holographic will) or, as was often the case, had a will drawn up by a solicitor. The will usually includes the persons full name and place of residence at the time of writing. It is important to remember that a will is a reflection of the circumstances at the time it is created. A will could have been created just prior to a person's death or years before. Depending on the situation, person's mentioned in the will could have died. As a result, it may have been necessary to amend a will (ammendment=codicil) in order to reflect the changes that occurred over time. Note: Married women rarely left wills before 1883 without their husband's consent, but widows and spinsters may have done. Married Women's Property Act 1882 allowed wills to be made by women marrying after 1 Jan 1883.

    3. The will next sets out the various bequests (or legacies) to specific people and must also include clear instructions about what is to be done with all residual legacies that are not specified.

    4. The person includes the name(s) of the executor(s) who are responsible for carrying out the instructions and wishes stated in the will. Executor(s) were often relatives but could also have been a close friend. Over time, the solicitors increasingly carried out the wishes and instructions of the will on behalf of the executor(s) since executor(s) were frequently also the main beneficiaries of a will.

    5. The person then signed the will or made their mark in the presence of two or more witnesses. A beneficiary could NOT witness a will, so witnesses were often neighbours or friends or a solicitor and their clerk or secretary.
In order for an estate to be settled following a person's death, the executors named in a will must apply for a Grant of Probate. While a Grant of Probate is the most common method for disposing of an estate, there are other forms of Grants. The overall term for the grant given to individual(s) representing a diseased person's estate is a Grant of Representation. This Grant is simply a document issued by the Court which enables the person or persons named in it (usually the executors) to deal with the assets and belongings (the estate) of the deceased. Modern institutions such as banks require this legal documents before they will release funds or deeds of property. There are three types of Grants of Representation:
  • Grant of Probate: issued to the executor(s) who are named in the will.

  • Grant of Letters of administration with will: issued to someone other than the named executors.

  • Grant of Letters of administration: issued when the deceased did not leave a will.
After a person's death, an executor or interested family member would take the will to a District Probate Registry or to the Principal Probate Registry which is known today as the Principal Registry of the Family Division (PRFD). This modern government based (civil) system of probate began in 1858, with a Principal Probate Registry in London and District Registries throughout England and Wales. When a will was presented for probate, the office granted the probate by writing on the bottom or back of the will. The District registry then kept the original will, created a registered copy in a volume for its own use and then forwarded another copy to the Principal Probate Registry (formerly known as Somerset House).

The executor(s) then used yet another copy of the will to get on with the business of settling the estate and executing the various instructions contained in the will.

Once a year since 1858, the Principal Probate Registry created an index to all wills and administrations. The index is alphabetical by surname and within surname by christian name. The index provides the deceased's full name and last address, death date, probate type and date, and estate value. Since 1973 the index has been produced on microfiche. Consequently it is relatively easy to find a post-1858 will if the year of a person's death is known. Note: from 1858-1870, Admons were indexed in separate registers (volumes). Since 1870, wills and Administrations are listed together. Now that we have a better understanding of how a will is created and probated, it is important to understand the terminology used in these important documents.


Administration, Letters of Administration, or Admon refers to a document which appoints and individual to supervise the estate's distribution if the person died intestate (without a will). This document does not usually contain much information but could offer researchers useful clues. The administrator (male) or adminstratrix (female) is usually a relative of the deceased but could be an individual appointed simply to oversee the disbursement of the estate. Admons offer very basic family history information - such as: the full name of the diseased; their final or most common address; the date and place of death; occupation (or marital status for women); the full name, occupation and address of the administrator and their relationship to the diseased; the estimated overall value of the estate and; the estimated value of the estate after the death duty was paid.
    Admon with Will grants administration to someone else when the executor named in the Will is deceased, unwilling, or unable to act as executor. A copy of the Will is attached.

    Act Book contains day-by-day accounts of court actions, usually giving brief details of the probate matters dealt with. In the absence of indexes, these Books help locate desired documents.

    Bond is a written guarantee that a person will faithfully perform the tasks assigned to him by a probate court. The executors posted Testamentary Bonds, the administrator posted Administration Bonds, and the guardian of a minor child posted a Bond of Tuition or Curation.

    Codicil is a signed, witnessed addition or amendment to a Will.

    Curation Guardianship over minors - under 21 but over 14 (boys) or 12 (girls). Typically abbreviated as Curon. See also Tuition.

    Demise. To convey by will or lease an estate either 'in Fee' i.e. hereditarily, or for a term

    Deponent. One who makes a statement on oath (verbal or written) in connection with a legal case. Various wills.

    Devise. To leave, by will, land as distinct from personal property. See 'Bequeath' which is used to refer to the personal property of the diseased.

    Executor / Executrix (often abbreviated to Exor): A person appointed by the testator to carry out the provisions of a will. Male = Executor, female =Executrix.

    Grant Approval of the submission of the executor or administrator, denoting probate or letters of administration.

    Guardianship See Curation and Tuition.

    Heir Originally the person(s) (typically the eldest son) legally entitled to inherit the real property of the deceased. Other next of kin could only inherit personal property.

    Hereditament. Property which may be inherited.

    Intestate When a person dies without leaving a will, his estate is referred to as "intestate." The property of an intestate estate goes to surviving relatives according to formulas set by the law. When someone dies intestate, or for some reason a named executor or executrix cannot serve, a personal representative called an "administrator" (male) or "adminstratrix," (female) will be appointed to represent the estate.

    Inventory lists belongings of the diseased and their values, including such items as household goods, tools, and personal items. Occupations are often mentioned.

    Nuncupative will A will made orally, normally by a person on their deathbed. The will was created by writing down what is said and is then sworn to by witnesses - the will is NOT signed by the deceased.

    Primogeniture The practice of conferring land on the eldest son in order to keep the estate intact.

    Probate From the Latin probare (to approve or prove). An official act of a court declaring the will to be legally binding and grants the named executor(s) the right to carry out the terms of the will.

    Probate Act The act of recording the probate by entering it (transcribing it) into the Act Book.

    Proved A will has been proved when probate has been granted.

    Registers and Registered Wills Transcriptions of wills into large registers and recorded at the time of probate. Most often it is the registers that a researcher will encounter. Although occassionally only the original will survives or only the registered copies survive.

    Renunciation When an executor declines to apply for probate.

    Testament conveys personal (moveable) property to heirs. As time passed, the separate references to wills and testaments were merged into one document known as the last will and testament.

    Testate When a person dies and leaves a will. Whether the estate is testate or intestate (without a will), the process of distributing a deceased person's estate creates "probate records."

    Tuition Guardianship over minors - under 15 (boys) or 13 (girls). Typically abbreviated as Tuon. See also Curation.

    Will conveys real (immovable) property (land and buildings) to heirs after an individual's death. A registered Will is an official copy made by a court clerk. As time passed, the separate references to wills and testaments were merged into one document known as the last will and testament.

    Until the enactment of the Married Women's Property Acts married women during their marriage (coverture) had no legal testamentary rights at all in relation to real estate. Any personal property of a woman which she had before the marriage, or acquired after the marriage, became her husband's absolutely, and as such, he had the right to leave it by will. Only with her husband's permission could a wife make a will leaving personal property - even if it had been hers before her marriage. A husband's consent only applied to a particular will and had to be strictly proved. His consent could be revoked even after her death. The only exception to this was her right to make a will leaving her 'paraphernalia' - clothing and personal ornaments. Even then, a woman's personal paraphernalia could be used to pay her husband's debts: the only exception was necessary apparel.

Beginning on January 12, 1858, wills in England and Wales were proved (officially registered after death) at the Principal Probate Registry (formerly at Somerset House), or in a District Probate Registry. If a will was proved in the London area it was deposited with the Principal Probate Registry.

Indexes and copies of all wills proved in England and Wales since 1858 can be found in the Principal Probate Registry of the Family Division (PRFD) in London. Until May of 1998, the Principal Probate Registry was located at Somerset House. In June of 1998 the Principal Registry moved to First Avenue House.

The central repository for post-1858 wills and administrations since June of 1998 is:
Principal Registry of the Family Division
Probate Department
First Avenue House
42-49 High Holborn
London WC1V 6NP
Phone: (0)171-936-7000
Open Monday to Friday, 10:00am to 4:30pm
(currently without a web site)

If you are unable to visit First Avenue House you can order copies of wills and administrations by post. If you do not know the date of the grant of probate or administration, you should quote the full name of the deceased, their last known address and the date of death. A fee of £5 is payable which includes a search of the indexes for a period of up to four years. An additional fee of £3 is charged for each four year period searched thereafter.

Cheques or postal orders should be made payable to 'H.M.Paymaster General' and requests addressed to:
York Probate Sub-Registry
Duncombe Place
York YO1 7EA.
Researchers should allow at least 4 weeks or more for a reply.


The annual indexes to wills and administrations created by the Principal Probate Registry is formerly known as the Calendar of the Grants of Probate and Letters of Administration made in the Probate Registries of the High Court of Justice. The index includes only England and Wales.

The indexes can be viewed at no cost if you visit First Avenue House in person. Duplicate sets of the indexes are also held by the District Probate Registries. However, as these offices are modern working services responsible for all modern records, it is not always possible to view the records in each District Probate Office. Fortunately, many index volumes more than 50 years old have been deposited with local County Record Offices. For details about each county situation, see the Gibson Guide to Probate Jurisdictions mentioned under published resources.

Surprisingly, the indexes can offer researchers information not found in the actual will or administration. For example, the address of executor(s) which were required to be recorded before 1892; the occupation (required until 1967) and the value of the estate may appear in the index but not in the actual will.

The National Index to Grants of Probate are now available on microfilm through the LDS. An example of entries contained in the LDS Family History Library Catalog for the indexes and other probate resources are listed below:

Using the LDS Family History Library Catalog, search under the subject heading: England - Probate records - Indexes. The LDS currently list more than 542 reels of microfilm covering the indexes.


Calendar of the grants of probate and letters of administration made in the Principal Registry : and in the several district registries of Her Majesty's Court of Probate


Great Britain. Principal Probate Registry (Added Author)


Microreproduction of original published: London : HMSO, [19--].


England - Probate records - indexes

Scotland - Probate records - indexes

Ireland - Probate records - indexes


Manuscript (On Film)




Salt Lake City : Filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1959, 1986


542 microfilm reels ; 35 mm.



Vol. 1 A, Wills and Admins. 1858 Vol. 2 Ba-Ble Wills 1858 Vol. 3 Bli-Bz Wills 1858 Vol. 4 B Administrations 1858 Vol. 5 Ca-Cop Wills 1858 Vol. 6 Cor-Cz Wills 1858 Vol. 6 C Administrations 1858


Vol. 7-10 D-G Wills and Admins. 1858


Vol. 11 Ha-He, Wills, 1858 Vol. 12 Hf-Hz Wills 1858 Vol. 13 H Administrations 1858 Vol. 14-15 I-K Wills and Admins. 1858 Vol. 15 La-Len Wills 1858


Vol. 16 Leo-Lz Wills, 1858 Vol. 16 L Administrations 1858 Vol. 17 Ma-Mon Wills 1858 Vol. 18 Moo-Mz Wills 1858 Vol. 18 M Administrations 1858 Vol. 19 N-O Wills and Admins. 1858 Vol. 20 Pa-Pon Wills 1858 Vol. 21 Poo-Pz Wills 1858 Vol. 21 P Administrations 1858 Vol. 21 Q Wills and Admins. 1858


Vol. 22 R, Wills and Admins. 1858 Vol. 23 S Administration 1858 Vol. 24 Sa-Sme Wills 1858 Vol. 25 Smf-Sz Wills 1858 Vol. 26 Ta-Tro Wills 1858


Vol. 27 Trp-Tz Wills, 1858 Vol. 27 T Administrations 1858 Vol. 27 U-V Wills and Admins. 1858 Vol. 28 Wa-Wh Wills 1858 Vol. 29 Wi-Wz Wills 1858 Vol. 30 W Administrations 1858 Vol. 30 X none Vol. 30 Y Wills and Admins. 1858 Vol. 30 Z Wills 1858 Vol. 30 Irish Probates, sealed 1858 Vol. 30 Irish Administrations, sealed 1858 Vol. 30 Scotch Confirmations, sealed 1858


Vol. 30 Wills proved in the Prerogative court of Canterbury 1858 Vol. 30 Administrations granted by the Prerogative Court of Canterbury 1858


Vol. 1 A, Wills and Admins. 1859 Vol. 2 Ba-Ble Wills 1859 Vol. 3 Bla-Bz Wills 1859 Vol. 4 B Administrations 1859


Vol. 5 Ca-Cop Wills, 1859 Vol. 6 Coq-Cz Wills 1859 Vol. 6 C Administrations 1859 Vol. 7-9 D-F Wills and Admins. 1859


Vol. 10 G, Wills and Admins. 1859 Vol. 11 Ha-He Wills 1859 Vol. 12 Hf-Hz Wills 1859 Vol. 13 H Administrations 1859 Vol. 14 I-J Wills and Admins. 1859



Once you have located an entry in the National Index, there are basically 4 ways in which you can order or get a copy of the actual record(s):

1. Visit the Principal Registry of the Family Division, Probate Department in person at First Avenue House in London during the hours of 10:00am - 4:30pm.

2. Order copies of wills and administrations by mail. If you do not know the date of the grant of probate or administration, you should quote the full name of the deceased, their last known address and the date of death. A fee of £5 is payable which includes a search of the indexes for a period of up to four years. An additional fee of £3 is charged for each four year period searched thereafter. Cheques or postal orders should be made payable to 'H.M.Paymaster General' and requests addressed to: York Probate Sub-Registry, Duncombe Place, York YO1 7EA. Please remember to allow at least 4 weeks or more for a reply.

3. Copies of wills and administrations proved in the last 50 years can be view found in the District Probate Registry where the original grant of administration was made. Please make sure you telephone before travelling to a District Registry to ensure you are able to access the records. These are modern government offices responsible, usually under-staffed and responsible for many modern, demanding services. Also remember that many District Registries have deposited original records more than 50 years old with local County Record Offices or similar archival repositories.

4. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) has been actively microfilming all probate grants from 1858 to 1925. Because the filming was completed in two phases and covered both the copies in District Registries and the Principal probate registries (1858-1899 and 1900-1925), the entries are listed separately in the Family History Library Catalog. Microfilm can be borrowed from the main library in Salt Lake City to a local LDS Family History Centre. An example of the entries in the Internet based Catalog are listed below.


Record copy wills from the District Probate Registries, 1858-1899


Great Britain. Principal Probate Registry (Main Author)


Microfilm of original records at Somerset House, Strand, London. [note: now First Avenue House, London]

The register giving film numbers of the calendar of the grants of probate is located at the British Register table, call no. 942 S2cp 1989.

Wills are arranged from January to December of each year by the first letter of the surname. Within each year or film, wills are arranged according to court and month. Courts fall alphabetically within each month. Surnames are not listed alphabetically, however, within each court. Example: The last name you are seeking is Rumble, and you know that the will was probated in 1859 (must know the year of the probate). Locate, below, the letter R succeeded by the year 1859. If "R" takes up 2 or more lines, locate the line in which the month of the will (in this case May) falls. This probate should be located on film no. 1278987. When looking at the film, locate the month, then the court (alphabetically listed within each month). All surnames which begin with the letter R are listed for the specific court in consecutive order (not alphabetical).


England - Probate records.


Manuscript (On Film)




Salt Lake City : Filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1986-1991


on 1173 microfilm reels ; 16 mm.



A Jan., 1858 (Bodmin) to Sept. (York)


A Oct., 1858 (Birminghm) to Dec. (York) B Jan., 1858 (Bristol) to May (Worcester)


B May, 1858 (Worcest) to Oct. (Oxford)


B Oct., 1858 (Oxford) to Dec. (York) C Jan., 1858 (Bristol) to May (Exeter)


C May, 1858 (Exeter) to Dec. (York)


D Jan., 1858 (Canteb) to Dec. (York) E Jan., 1858 (Bristol) to July, (Oxford)


E July, 1858 (Oxford) to Dec. (Wells) F Jan., 1858 (Chester) to Dec. (York) G Jan., 1858 (Bristol - Gloucester)


G Jan., 1858 (Lichford) to Dec. (York) H Jan., 1858 (Birmingham to Worchester)


H Feb., 1858 (Bangor) to July (Exeter)


In addition, the LDS have now microfilmed wills and administrations from 1900-1925 and these are also listed in the online Family History Library Catalog A sample of such entries follow:


Record copy wills from the District Probate Registries, 1900-1925


Great Britain. Principal Probate Registry (Main Author)


Microfilm copy of original records in the Somerset House, Strand, London.


England - Probate records

Wales - Probate records


Call Number


942 S2cp 1989



Manuscript (With Film)




Salt Lake City : Filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1991


on 591 microfilm reels ; 16 mm.



1900 A Jan. to Dec. B Jan. (Bangor to Bristol)


1900 B Jan. (Bristol) to April (Wakefield)


1900 B April (Wakefield) to Sep. (Wakefield)


1900 B Sep. (Wakefield) to Dec. C Jan. to March (Ipswich)


1900 C March (Ipswich) to Oct. (Lichfield)


1900 C Oct. (Lichfield) to Dec. D Jan. to July


1900 D Aug. to Dec. E Jan. to Dec. F Jan. to March (Exeter)


1900 F March (Exeter) to Dec. G Jan. to April (Leicester)


1900 G April (Leicester) to Dec. H Jan. to Feb. (Liverpool)


1900 H Feb. (Liverpool) to June (Wakefield)


1900 H June (Wakefield) to Dec. (Nottingham)


1900 H Dec. (Nottingham to York) I Jan. to Dec. J Jan. to Dec.


1900 K Jan. to Dec. L Jan. to July (Lancaster)


1900 L July (Lancaster) to Dec. M Jan. to May (Chester)


1900 M May (Chester) to Dec. N Jan. to April


1900 N May to Dec. O Jan. to Dec. P Jan. to April


1900 P May to Dec. Q Feb. to Dec. R Jan. to Feb.


There is also microfilm listed under a separate entry to cover the entire period of 1858-1925. The explanation of the organization of the records is clearly stated in the Family History Library Catalog:


Record copy wills, 1858-1925


Great Britain. Principal Probate Registry (Main Author)


Microfilm of records in Somerset House, London, England.

Records are arranged by year and month. Within each month the men's wills are arranged alphabetically by the first letter of the surname (i.e., all of the surnames beginning with M are grouped together), then arranged by date. Women's wills, also arranged by first letter of the surname, then by date, usually come after the men's wills. If a month and a letter of the alphabet are split between two films, you will need to look at both films.

For calendar to records see: Calendar of the grants of probate and letters of administration made in the Principal Registry, in the Author/Title catalog. A register giving film numbers of the calendar is located at the British reference area register table.


England - Probate records.

Wales - Probate records.


Manuscript (On Film)




Salt Lake City : Filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1991-1994


1025 microfilm reels ; 35 mm.



1858 Jan. A-Z 1858 Feb. A-S


1858 Feb. S-Z 1858 Mar. A-R


1858 Mar. R-Z 1858 Apr. A-P


1858 Apr. P-Z 1858 May A-S


1858 May S-Z 1858 Jun. A-Z 1858 Jul. A-B


1858 Jul. B-Z 1858 Aug. A-B


1858 Aug. B-Z 1858 Sep. A-P


1858 Sep. O-Z 1858 Oct. A-Z 1858 Nov. A-C


1858 Nov. C-Z 1858 Dec. A-J


1858 Dec. J-Y 1859 Jan. A-W


1859 Jan. W-Z 1859 Feb. A-Z 1859 Mar. A-B


1859 Mar. B-Z 1859 Apr. A-L


1859 Apr. L-Z 1859 May A-W


1859 May W-Z 1859 Jun. A-Z 1859 Jul. A-H


The LDS Family History Library Catalog can be viewed online at:

WHY CAN'T I FIND A RECORD? There are a number of reasons why you may not be able to locate a will in your research.
  • Perhaps you should be looking for a grant of Administration and not a will. The PRO roughly estimates that for every 3 searches for a will, 1 will be an Administration
  • .
  • The probate may not have been proved in the year a person died. It may take years for an estate to be settled or even for a will to be found and finally probated.
  • For many small estates, a will may have been written but not proved if the family did not have a problem with the division of the assets. By the same token, although an estate of some kind existed, a will may not have seemed necessary.
  • Many individuals created their wills just prior to their death. If an individual procrastinated in writing the will, thinking they had longer to live, death may have preceded the creation of a will. In such instances it is still useful to see if an administration exists.
  • Are you looking in the right area? While the place of residence of the diseased has always been an important factor in where a probate was registered, more recently, the residence of the executor(s) has become a factor. There are no rules concerning the District Registry or sub-registry office that could be used to probate an estate.
  • As with any other family history research, it is important to look for variations in spelling of surnames. Once again we are dealing with second hand information as clerks transcribed information in a probate to index books and copy registers. Not only do you need to use your imagination in spelling variations, but it is important to consider the handwriting as a factor in "lost" information.
  • Yet another example includes the wills for Somerset and Devon which were centralised at Exeter. Most of the county's original probate records were destroyed by German bombing in 1942, as were those for Devon. In spite of the losses, many wills and will copies have survived and are available at the Record Office and elsewhere.

While probate records are one of the most accurate sources of genealogical evidence, even they must be used and interpreted with caution. For example, the records may:
  • not include the name of the eldest son because his inheritance was based on the standard law of primogeniture.
  • not include the names of deceased family members or family and friends who received an inheritance or legacy prior to the person's death.
  • include a spouse who is from a second marriage but is not the parent of the children named in the will.
  • omit the names of children who were from a spouse's previous marriage

As noted earlier, Death Duty or Legacy Duty and similar terms associated with taxes on estates have become known as Death Duty. For example, a Legacy Duty (tax) introduced in 1796 was payable on the legacy and residues of personal estates worth more than £20. After 1815, this tax was extended to include monetary legacies. In 1853 a Succession Duty came into effect which taxed inherited property valued at more than £100. By 1894, these two taxes were replaced by a single Estate Duty tax. The important news for family historians is simply that when money was involved (taxes), records were generated. The registers in which the duties were recorded were "active" for upwards of 50 years which meant that information and notes were added to entries regarding the death or departure and general location of beneficiaries. These additional notes can be quite illuminating. In addition, the registers provide the name(s) of beneficiaries and their relationship to the deceased (their consanguinity or blood relationship). It is important to remember that not all wills and administrations were subject to taxes and therefore are not included in the Death duty registers.

Death Duty records exist for the period 1796 to 1903 (there are no records after 1903 because the Inland Revenue office began keeping individual files instead of registers and the files were destroyed after 30 years). Death Duty records are held by the Public Record Office (PRO) in London. The registers are found in IR26 and the indexes in IR27. The indexes document where a probate was proved.

All the indexes in record class IR 27 have been microfilmed and can be viewed at both the PRO and the Family Records Centre (FRC). They are also available through the local Family History Centers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Death Duty registers in IR 26 for the period to 1858 are also available on microfilm as noted above. However, the Registers for 1858-1903 have not been microfilmed and are therefore only available by viewing in person at the PRO. In addition the original registers for 1858-1903 are stored off-site from the main PRO building and require at least 3 working days to arrive at the PRO.

More detailed information about Death Duty records is available online through the PRO and Family Records Centre websites in the form of their very helpful information leaflets: As noted above, the indexes to Death Duty records up to 1903 are available on microfilm through the LDS. A sample of such film found in the online Family History Library Catalog is noted here:


Index to death duty registers in the Estate Duty Office, 1812-1903


Great Britain. Estate Duty Office (Main Author)


Index to register entries made by the Legacy Duty Office from copy wills and accounts of administrations submitted by ecclesiastical courts.

Administration indexes for the Prerogative Court of Canterbury beginning in 1832 with no. 41 are indexed by the first letter of the surname and the first vowel in the surname. For example: Andrews, Ashley, Allen and Arkell would be filed in the "Ae" sequence.

Public Record Office no.: I.R. 27, nos. 21-66, 94-605.


England - Probate records - indexes


Manuscript (On Film)




London : Public Record Office, [1976?]-1998


155 microfilm reels ; 35 mm.



PREROGATIVE COURT OF CANTERBURY: Administrations index, nos. 21-24, 1812-1815.

Film 1419473

Administrations index, nos. 24-27, 1816-1818.

Film 1419474

Administrations index, nos. 28-31, 1819-1822.

Film 1419475

======= from record no. 100 onwards ======



Wills index, nos. 368-371, 1869 (A-Z).

Film 1937716

Wills index, nos. 372-375, 1870 (A-Z); no. 376, 1871 (A-D).

Film 1937717

Wills index, nos. 377-379, 1871 (E-Z); no. 380, 1872 (A-D).

Film 1937718

Wills index, nos. 381-383, 1872 (E-Z), no. 384, 1873 (A-D).

Film 1937719

Wills index, nos. 385-387, 1873 (E-Z), no. 388, 1874 (A-D).

Film 1937720

Wills index, nos. 389-391, 1874 (E-Z), no. 392, 1875 (A-D).

Film 1937721


  • PUBLIC RECORD OFFICE POCKET GUIDE: USING WILLS This small 64 page booklet contains basic information on wills, how to use them and what to watch for. 1st edition, 2000. ( catalog # 06028816, not on website yet, inquire 613-257-7878 or email inquiry)

  • AN INTRODUCTION TO AFFECTION DEFYING THE POWER THE DEATH: WILLS, PROBATE & DEATH DUTY RECORDS by Jane Cox. This delightful, informative 44 page guide explains the reasons people created wills and how the administration of wills has changed over time. 1st edition 1993, reprinted 1998. ( catalog # 0602808, not on website yet, inquire 613-257-7878 or email inquiry)

  • Basic Facts About… USING WILLS AFTER 1858 AND FIRST AVENUE HOUSE This small 16 page booklet is an invaluable reference to using, finding and understanding wills. More importantly, it is a guide to how to get to and make the most effective use of your visit to First Avenue House. 1st edition, 1998. ( catalog # 334130, not on website yet, inquire 613-257-7878 or email inquiry)

  • SOMERSET HOUSE WILLS - A MCLAUGHLIN GUIDE by Eve McLaughlin. Although the location of post 1858 probate records has moved from Somerset House to First Avenue house, this little 20 page guide is full of clearly written basic information for using and understanding wills, associated probate records and Death Duty Registers. 5th edition, 1994.

  • PROBATE JURISDICTIONS: WHERE TO LOOK FOR WILLS compiled by Jeremy Gibson. Part of the well known Gibson Guides which are designed to assist researchers with the location(s) of various records, county by county, throughout England and Wales. The Probate Jurisdictions Guide is most helpful for those in search of pre-1858 wills, but is invaluable for understanding the location of various County Records Offices and other repositories. 1997, 4th edition, 72 pages.

  • THE FAMILY HISTORIAN'S ENQUIRE WITHIN by Pauline Saul. This book gives clear signposts to point you in the right direction at every stage of your research. Arranged alphabetically, it contains bibliographies, addresses, definitions, explanations, dates and maps on every conceivable topic the family historian may need. Definitions of long forgotten terms often found in wills are clearly explained. This invaluable compendium of knowledge, should be a standard reference work for family historians. 288pp 1997 5th Rev. Ed.

  • YOUR ENGLISH ANCESTRY, A GUIDE FOR NORTH AMERICANS - Revised Edition by Sherry Irvine, FSA(Scot). For every type of record - civil registration, census, church records, probate, occupation, and local administration - there are clear explanations of availability and access. Each chapter concludes with a step-by-step summary. 1998, 263 pages.

  • ANCESTRAL TRAILS: The Complete Guide to British Genealogy and Family History by Mark D. Herber. First published 1997 and republished 1998 (USA). This exceptional book includes an extensive chapter on will and probate records both pre and post 1858 with solid examples (images) of actual records found. This invaluable reference work is a must for anyone researching their English and Welsh Roots and is now available in paperback. Ancestral Trails - Soft Cover, published 2000, 701 pages. As Anthony Camp, Director of the Society of Genealogists has pointed out:
      "No other publication gives such comprehensive and up-to-date guidance on tracing British ancestry and researching family history. Illustrated throughout with more than ninety examples of the major types of records, and with detailed lists of further reading … the essential companion and guide for all family historians."

  • Public Record Office (PRO) Online Leaflets: . Although the PRO is not responsible for original probate records after 1858, they do provide very helpful Research Information Leaflets which are also accessible through the Family Records Centre website. In particular, researchers should carefully review the following online leaflets:

  • England Wills Exchange Database The pages linked here contain a collection of Old England wills that have been submitted for inclusion on the site along with the submitter's name and e-mail address. The sources are also included where possible. If you have any queries about a will entered on any page please contact the submitter.

  • Dormant Funds in Court also known as Estates in Chancery or Money in Chancery The Chancery Court has traditionally accepted sums of money, particularly for missing heirs of deceased persons. As a result Dormant Funds are often referred to as "Estates in Chancery" or "Money in Chancery". Many people think this means that they may be entitled to claim ownership of real property or tracts of land, but this is a mistake because all assets are sold and it is the cash which is then lodged into Court. This website is basically a leaflet to set out the procedures you will need to follow in order to discover whether there is indeed "Money in Chancery" to which heirs may be entitled, and if there is, how to prove entitlement.


  • Probate Records: A Research Summary:

  • Wills and Probate Records:

  • Somerset House - One of Britain's Greatest Architectural Treasures Although no longer the location of the Principal Probate Registry, Somerset House is now a heritage attraction!

  • United Kingdom and Ireland (GenUKI): The GenUKI website is a must visit for anyone with roots in the United Kingdom. Filled with links and pages of helpful information, including connections to every local Family History Society and local genealogical group. Many of these local groups offer mail services for wills and other documents which are only available by attending repositories in person.

  • Wills Courier Service - Canberra, Australia A courier service is provided by the Heraldry and Genealogy Society of Canberra Inc. for the purchase of Wills from First Avenue House, London. The Wills are provided from information supplied by members from the indexes of National Probate Calendars, Wills and Administrations 1858-1943 (microfiche records held in HAGSOC Library). Information on the required Wills is sent by a bulk order to England each month (except December).

  • As this issue of English and Welsh Roots has shown, the state has been responsible for the proving of wills since 1858. However, the probate story does not begin in 1858. Prior to January 12th, 1858 probate functions were exercised by church courts. The resources and records associated with pre-1858 probate records will be covered in future issues of English and Welsh Roots. Until then, consider searching probate and death duty records the next time you are looking for family history information after 1858.

    Please remember, your research is the legacy you leave to others - verify all information you find!


    Association of Genealogists and Record Agents If you are in need of a professional researcher in the United Kingdom - start here. Membership of AGRA is limited to those who have demonstrated a high level of competence and expertise. A Code of Practice and a Complaints Procedure are in place.

    The Susser Archive This little known link takes you to the documents and papers of the late Rabbi Dr Bernard Susser, historian of the Jews of South West England. The archives of Rabbi Susser, together with his computer disks, have been placed in the care of Frank Gent of the Exeter Synagogue. He has been extracting the data from Rabbi Susser's disks, and publishing these, both in booklet form and on this site, in honour of Rabbi Susser's memory and his work for the Jews of South West England, both present and past.

    In light of the newly released movie A Perfect Storm, researchers may be interested to learn about the October 1881 East Coast Gale. On the night of 14th October 1881, there was a tremendous westerly storm, which affected most of the east coast of Britain. The loss of life, particularly among the fishing fleets, was tremendous. Scanned images of newspaper articles about the storm plus surname, deaths, fishing vessel, and sinkings indexes are provided to the articles.

    Was Your Ancestor a Doctor? This article has been written for those who have a Doctor in their family tree and wish to research their training and accomplishments. It was originally published (in a somewhat different form) in the Channel Islands Family History Journal.


    The Public Record Office (PRO) has issued a new Fact Sheet about the Project and the first in a new and regular series of updates to keep researchers informed about the latest news on the 1901 Census Digitisation Project. Quoting from their website:

    Norway Bay United & Anglican Cemetery
    (Pontiac County, Quebec)

    The Merivale Cemeteries
    (Protestant - Ottawa area)