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Genealogists will be delighted that Ancestry.co.uk  has just launched  the England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations),1861-1941 – an index to more than six million wills proven across the 19th and 20th centuries .

A free information leaflet for using wills as part of your family history can be found on the Society of Genealogists website

 ‘Probate’ refers to the court’s authority to administer a deceased estate, including granting representation to a person or persons to administer that estate.

In 1857, the Court of Probate Act saw the power to administer estates transfer from the church to the state and it is the probate calendar books, in which grants are summarised and collated annually by the state, that are now on Ancestry.co.uk. Note there are some gaps in the coverage of the calendars found on Ancestry’s site but they hope to add the missing volumes when they get the chance. Currenty the following  are not covered : 

“the books for the years 1858-1860 and there are some gaps for the years 1863, 1868, 1873, 1876, 1877, 1883, 1888, 1899-1903 and 1910-1911″
 

 

In addition to the material value of the estate, probate calendar books provide a rich source of information for family history enthusiasts as each entry may also include the name of the deceased, the date and place of death, the name of the executer and, in some cases, bequest recipients. The calendars lokk like this

Included in the index are numerous famous names such as once-rich polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, who died in 1922 leaving an estate of just £556 (£20,000 today), having lost his fortune in failed money-making schemes while allegedly trying to recapture the adventure of his youth.

Fittingly, the anti-capitalist Karl Marx died in 1883 almost as poor as Shackleton, leaving just £250 (£23,000 today) to his youngest daughter Eleanor.

In contrast, Thomas Holloway, a man who made his fortune selling medicines and ointments, left one of the largest estates in the index, worth £600,000 in 1883 – the equivalent of £55 million today.

Anyone able to locate an ancestor in the England and Wales National Probate Calendar, 1861-1941 will be able to delve further into that person’s life, learning more about their social standing and worldly possessions.

As more than two million living Britons claim to know of a wealthy ancestor or a lost fortune in the family, for the first time many of us will now be able to go online and trace our own family’s missing millions.

Individual entries may also reveal details about the fate of the deceased. Perhaps unsurprisingly, that of Edward John Smith, captain of the ill-fated Titanic, reveals that he was ‘lost at sea’, as do the listings of first-class passengers Benjamin Guggenheim and John Astor, and ship’s builder Thomas Andrews.

Other notable names include:

  • Charles Darwin – the acclaimed naturalist Charles Robert Darwin is listed as having left a personal estate worth £146,911 (around £13 million today) when he died in 1882
  • John Cadbury – the ‘King of Chocolate’ John Cadbury died with a personal estate of £43,773 (around £4.2 million today) when he died in 1889
  • Charles Dickens – the famous Victorian author Charles John Huffham Dickens died leaving ‘effects under £80,000’ (around £7.1 million today) when he died in 1870

Also included are legendary cricketer W G Grace (in 1915 with £7,278 – £620,000 today), former Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (in 1940 with £84,013 – £3.5 million today), scientist Michael Faraday (in 1867 with £6,000 – £500,000 today), and authors Lewis Carroll (in 1898 with £4,145 – £450,000 today) and Arthur Conan Doyle (in 1931 with £63,491 – £3,000,000 today).

Those using the England and Wales National Probate Calendar, 1861-1941 can obtain a full copy of the wills listed from the Probate Registry,  (address on the SoG information leaflet on Wills) which will help them to uncover further information such as details of the deceased’s family and additional detail about the estate.

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Poll Books (Treasures Tuesday 10/08/10)

Poll book are an extremely insightful genealogy tool and the Society of Genealogists has one of the most extensive collection in the world. Do not be deterred if your ancestor was not wealthy enough to vote, there were a few loopholes that may have entitled him. Click here to find out more about this and other Treasures of the Society.

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Members’ Area update – Coleman’s catalogues index

A  new family history resource has recently been added to the Members’ Area of the Society’s website. James Coleman was an heraldic and genealogical bookseller and publisher in London in the second half of the 19th century. As a second hand dealer he sold marriage settlements, wills, rent rolls, peerage claims, private and local Acts of Parliament, appeal cases, pedigrees, deeds, autograph letters, maps and so on as well as new and second hand books on heraldry, topography and biography.

His catalogues give brief details of the items for sale, and the Society has in its library bound copies of these catalogues from 1859-1911.

Colemans Catalogue1 234x300 Members’ Area update   Coleman’s catalogues index

A card index of nearly 50,000 names was compiled by Brigadier-General Alfred Cavendish (1859-1943) in 1936, giving the volume and catalogue number for the item where that person was mentioned. It was this index that was digitised, and additional information added from the catalogue entry regarding date, year and type of document. Mr L A Muriel typed up the original card index and additional detail.

Although the information given about a document is often sparse, it can in some cases (eg. Devon wills) provide reference to a document that no longer exists.

As the documents were sold on the open market, no information is available on their current whereabouts, if they have survived.

A free basic search of the Coleman’s catalogue index can be carried out on the Society’s Members Area. However to view the full entry you will need to be a member.

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Treasures Tuesday (3rd August 2010) Local Directories

This weeks Treasures Tuesday focuses on 18th and 19th century Local Business Directories. To find out more about this and other Treasures of the Society please click here.

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Did your ancestor die at sea or abroad in the 18th century?

If so then he may be mentioned in the latest set of records to be added to the Society of Genealogists Members’ Area http://sog.frontisgroup.com/bin/aps_person_search.php

When a person died without making a will, a relative or creditor could apply for letters of Administration (or Admon). They become known as the Administrator or Administratrix of the estate, the latter often being the widow of the deceased.

Admons include the name, address and occupation of the deceased and administrator, along with the date and place of death and the relationship between them. The identity of beneficiaries is not noted, nor any details of how the estate is distributed.

Letters of administration could be granted in other cases, such as where a will is made but no executors are mentioned. Alternatively a testator might appoint executors who died before the testator or who “renounced” or refused to act in such capacity. In such cases the court granted letters of administration with “Will attached” or “Will annexed”.

The records that have been added to the Members Area are the Admons granted by The Prerogative Court of Canterbury for the period 1750-1800. They are particularly useful to family historians as the court had jurisdiction over the estates of those who died at sea or abroad.

Indeed a third of all the records relate to these 2 categories, reflecting the large number of sailors and soldiers killed in battle during this period (which included the Seven Years War with France (1754-1763), the American War of Independence (1775-1783) and the French Revolutionary Wars (1792-1802).

The serviceman’s dependents would have been entitled to pay or prize money owed to the deceased, and thus an admon may survive for a person who would not otherwise have appeared in probate records.

The Society is grateful to Anthony Camp and the team of dedicated volunteers (listed on the Members Area) who have made this valuable index available to researchers. The original documents can be consulted at the National Archives at Kew.

Non-members can carry out a free surname search on these records by going to http://sog.frontisgroup.com/bin/aps_person_search.php but to view any records found you will need to join the Society.

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