Wills Archives


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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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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London Principal Probate Office Closed 19th & 22nd February

 

Please be advised that if you are planning to visit the London Probate Department located at:
 
PRFD, First Avenue House
42-49 High Holborn
Ground Floor
Holborn London
England
WC1V 6NP

The Probate Office will be moving from the ground floor to the 7th floor between 19 February and 22nd February 2010. To facilitate the move the office will be closed on Friday 19 February and Monday 22 February.
 
The London Probate Registry is open to the public from Monday to Friday between 10.00am and 4.30pm and appointments for interview at London are arranged between Monday and Friday between the hours of 10.00am and 3.50pm, depending on demand.

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190,000 Welsh Wills Online – Free to View at National Library of Wales

News from the National Library of Wales – 190,000 Welsh Wills Online
The National Library of Wales has good news for family historians, social historians … and the inquisitive! Over 190,000 Welsh wills (some 800,000 pages) have been digitised and are now available on the Library’s website or direct on our online catalogue and are free to view.

Wills which were proved in the Welsh ecclesiastical courts before the introduction of Civil Probate on 11 January 1858 have long been deposited at The National Library of Wales. An online index and an opportunity to view digital images of these wills within the Library building has been available for sometime, however, remote users are now also be able to view the digital images.

Amongst the collection is the will of Twm Siôn Cati alias Thomas Johnes, Fountaine Gate, Caron (SD1609-20), this year being the 400th anniversary of his death. The will of Howell Harris, the famous Welsh religious reformer can also be seen (BR1773-51).

As well as being a fabulous source of information the National Library’s online wills offer the ability to view all 193,000 wills free of charge, a service few other similar institutions are able to offer. Whilst most institutions charge readers to view their documents, the Library only charges for providing copies of them.

In addition to the images of the Welsh wills anyone can request a printed copy of any will by completing the online enquiry form quoting the reference number of the will e.g. BR1773-51.
The covering dates of the surviving probate records are available for the following ecclesiastical jurisdictions:

Bangor: 1635 – 1858
Brecon: 1543 – 1858
Chester (Welsh wills): 1557 – 1858
Hawarden: 1554 – 1858
Llandaf: 1568 – 1857
St Asaph: 1565 – 1857
St David’s: 1556 – 1858

At the moment no digital images are available for Hawarden, Brecon or St Asaph pre 1660.
The Society of Genealogists Library  has long held printed indexs to the Welsh wills proved in many of the Welsh Courts and  the indexes are listed on the SoG website website  and library catalogue.

This online resource from the National Library of Wales will suplement the references in these indexs.
A link to the National Library of Wales website  http://cat.llgc.org.uk/cgi-bin/gw/chameleon?skin=profeb&lng=en

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