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New UK Wills and Probate beta website is a must-visit - UPDATED
Posted February 11, 2015, Updated March 6, 2015
By Rick Roberts,

    UPDATED (March 6, 2015): I've now received, printed and examined the download of the Will of George Bowman described below. The document was received within the time line promised. It is particularly revealing insofar as it shares much information about George Bowman that is new to us (for example, a third wife we were unaware of), and opened several doors for further research. The Will is a properly-scanned five page document that was originally recorded in a dense but clearly written cursive handwriting.
Wills and Probate records are often overlooked as a source of information to prove family relationships and to help researchers form an economic picture of a person or family.

The National Archives in the United Kingdom has a new online resource for those searching for Wills and Probate processed in England and Wales from 1858-present for non-military persons (soldiers 1850-1986). This online resource is new enough that the site mentions that it is 'beta' testing. They provide a method for beta users to provide feedback on their experience using the site and asks for recommendations for improvements.

I used it for the first time this morning in my ongoing search to find more proof that one George Bowman (1799-1875) of Leeds is the father of my wife's second great grandmother, Maria Bowman (1832-1881).

Here is list of what/who is included in the Wills and Probate database as described on the National Archives website:
  • Index to wills and administrations (1858-1995)
    Search by surname the Probate service's index to wills and administrations. This covers England and Wales only. It also includes links to relevant pages of the National Probate Calendar.

  • Index to wills and administrations (1996 to present)
    Search by surname the Probate service's index to wills and administrations (£). This covers England and Wales only.

  • Index to soldiers' wills (1850-1986)
    Search for the will of a soldier (£) who died while serving in the British armed forces between 1850 and 1986. [NOTE: This is the correct hot-link but it brings up the '1996 to present' page. When you get to the linked page, if it isn' the Soldiers' search page, look to the right and click on the "Soldier's Wills" heading]

  • NOTE: The Principal Probate Registry was established on 12 January 1858, and keeps a copy of every will proved after 1858, as well as copies of letters of administration. An application for administration could be made when a person died without leaving a will, if there were problems with the estate.
There is no charge to search the online indexes. The bonus is that the index provides much useful information on its own.
  • Full names of executors, administrators and relationships to the deceased
  • The date and place of the death
  • The date and place of the probate or administration grant
  • Value of the estate
Here is a screen snippet of the National Archives search page that I filled out to search for George Bowman's records:

Here is a screen snippet of the search result. George Bowman's record is at the top of the page. The information that is filled out on the right hand side of the page was taken from the provided index information and entered by me to order the complete Wills and Probate file:

Here's a better look at the information that was provided in the free index search for George Bowman:

There is a fee if you decide to order scans of all of the documents pertaining to the Will and probate from the National Library. The charge for scans of George Bowman's documents was £10. Access to the documentary file is not immediate. Each request is handled manually after an order is placed. It takes up to 10 working days for the complete file to be retrieved, scanned, and notification that the documents are ready to downloaded.

Here is a screen snippet of the page that confirms my order and where the documents will be available after they are scanned. You will be asked for your email address and to choose a password during the ordering process. National Archives will include a link in the email notification so you can easily access your records:

I'll update this article with some observations once I've been notified that my document set for George Bowman is ready to download.

Here are the links to the Wills and Probate search pages on the UK National Archives website: Happy Hunting...

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