General Archives

Devon wills in the Society of Genealogists’ family history library

Anyone researching their family history in Devon will regret the loss of much of the county’s probate material in the 2nd world war. However the Society of Genealogist’s family history library in London holds indexes and transcripts of a number of Devon wills that were made before the loss, and some of these have now been made available on the Members’ Area of the Society’s website.

The Fothergill collection is a typical example. It was compiled in the early 1900s by Gerald Fothergill (1870-1926), an eminent genealogist and historian who lived in London. It is not clear why he compiled abstracts of sundry Devon wills, but he evidently went to Exeter and Taunton to study and abstract them, since almost all were proved and kept in one or other of those places. The abstracts can be found in the Middle library and an online index can be searched here.

Another book at the Society lists wills and administrations proved or granted at the Peculiar Court of the Dean of Exeter, from the 1630s to 1857.  All the original probate copies of wills proved in this court were destroyed in 1942.  This list therefore presents (with a few exceptions) the only surviving evidence that well over a thousand Devon individuals did in fact leave wills or had their estates administered.

The jurisdiction of the Dean’s Court covered the parish of Braunton (north-west of Barnstaple) and the Cathedral Close.  The latter area seems not to have been an actual parish, but merely the area immediately around the cathedral in Exeter.  Many of those who lived in the Cathedral Close worked in or for the cathedral in some way. The index can be searched here.

A third work lists wills and administrations proved or granted at the Peculiar Court of the Vicars Choral of Exeter, from the 1630s to 1857.  How and why the singing men in the choir at Exeter Cathedral came to have their own court is not known. Woodbury, the only parish which came under their jurisdiction, is a large one, not far south-east of Exeter.  An average of about four wills/administrations per year were dealt with, though this varied depending upon the time period. The index can be searched here.

The Devon Wills Project is seeking to gather details of as many Devon wills as possible and the Society is grateful for their help in compiling these indexes..

Tim Lawrence

Head of Library Services

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Agricultural Labourers or Londoners in your family tree?

If you don’t have one, you’ll probably have the other, and many will have both somewhere in their tree. Two of the Society of Genealogists’ most popular books are available once again this month. The revised edition of My Ancestor was an Agricultutral Labourer by Ian Waller and the sixth edition of My Ancestors were Londoners by Cliff Webb are both priced at £8.99 and available to buy in the society’s bookshop and online at   SoG Members, don’t forget to take advantage of your 10% discount on the society’s publications…

Boyd’s Inhabitants of London & Boyd’s Family Units (Family History Treasures 16th November 2010)

Boyd’s Inhabitants of London and Boyd’s Family Units form a collection of 70,000 handwritten sheets each containing details of a London family, mostly covering the period of 16th to 18th centuries though extending from the 13th until well into the 20th centuries.

Compiled by Percival Boyd from a miscellany of sources, these extraordinary sheets are one of the Society of Genealogists’ most valuable holdings, and provide one of the key sources for researchers into London families.

Click here to find out more.

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Tracing your Wiltshire ancestors with the Society of Genealogists

The Society of Genealogists houses the finest collection of family history records in the country. However in addition to its physical library in London it also makes some of its records available to Members over the internet.

One set of records to be found on the Members’ Area of its website will be of particular interest to those with Wiltshire ancestry. The Wiltshire Wills’ Beneficiaries Index was originally created by Mary Trace and Pat Wilson who donated it to the Society a number of years ago. It is particularly useful to family historians as it lists not just the testator (the person making the will) but also the beneficiaries (those who were left bequests).

Covering thousands of wills, administrations & other probate records of Wiltshire people for the period 1800-1858, the index lists the beneficiary’s relationship to the deceased, his/her place of residence and occupation (if this was recorded in the original document). However it does NOT contain details of the bequests themselves – for this you will need to view the original (held at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre).

Non-members can carry out a basic search here but to view the full record you will need to be a member of the Society of Genealogists

Tim Lawrence

Head of Library Services

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Society of Genealogists places Roman Catholic register online


The Society of Genealogists’ family history library in London contains a large number of Catholic register transcripts.

One of these has now been made available on the Members’ Area of the Society’s website, namely the baptismal registers of the Portuguese Embassy Chapel.

The eight original volumes, bound in calfskin, are still held at the Portuguese Embassy and have been transcribed by Mr L A Muriel. The christenings cover 1663-1844 and took place in a number of buildings over the years, including the Queen’s Chapel in St James Palace, Somerset House Chapel and the Portuguese Chapel.

Member Henry Warriner was delighted to find the baptism of John Belli in the registers, particularly as he had been searching for it for many years.

A free basic search of the registers can be made here  but you will need to become a Society member to view the full entry.

Tim Lawrence

Head of Library Services

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