We use cookies to track usage and preferences. See Cookie Policy
Pocketmags Digital Magazines
Pocketmags Digital Magazines
   You are currently viewing the Australia version of the site.
Would you like to switch to your local site?
Digital Subscriptions >  Latest Articles > Did your ancestor leave a will?

Did your ancestor leave a will?
Family Tree

Did your ancestor leave a will?

Posted Monday, 2 October 2017   |   1105 views   |   General Interest   |   Comments (0) For non-family historians, the appeal of a long-lost relative’s will is that they might find themselves a beneficiary. But for us, wills can provide an invaluable collection of names, relationships and clues to family members from times gone by. June Terrington examines this rich collection of records

So, you’ve found several ancestors, and used several sources in your family history research, but now you would like to check whether any of your ancestors have left a will.

Finding wills before 1858
Wills and administrations before 1858 were proved by the church court. Not all wills needed proving by a court, not everyone left a will, and to this day many still don’t. However, those that did chose the appropriate court – out of the 250-plus in existence. The wealthy tended to opt for the Prerogative Courts of either Canterbury or York. Mostly Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC) wills dealt with southern England 1384-1858 can be found at the The National Archives (TNA). The Prerogative Court of York, meanwhile, dealt with northern England 1389-1858. Therefore your first task in using wills dating from before 1858 will be to identify which court dealt with your ancestor’s will.

What are probate records?
Probate is the process of dealing with someone’s money, possessions and final wishes after they die. In probate, a will is ‘proved’ in court and accepted as a valid public document that is the true last testament of the deceased. The probate court decides whether the deceased person’s will is valid and grants it to the executor. This then becomes a legal document.

About the National Probate Calendar
The National Probate Calendar (NPC) is an annual index to grants of probate and administration of deceased persons’ estates in England and Wales, from 1858 to the present day. The index has been microfilmed from 1858 up to 1943, and microfiches or microfilm of these years are available to view in many record offices and in some probate offices (not all years may be covered in any particular office). Some offices also have bound volumes for at least some of the years after 1943.

What can you discover from the NPC?
To search the NPC, start with your ancestor’s year of death, if known, and work forward.

• The entries are in surname order and then of first name(s) within each surname.

• A typical entry from the years 1858-1891 will tell you the full name of the deceased, including any aliases, the amount of his/her personal estate, date and place of death, occupation (or marital status for a woman), residence, and sometimes also previous residence, date and place where probate or administration was granted.

• From 1918 onwards, the occupation of the deceased is not given.

The entries in the NPC pertain to people who had money and or property in England and Wales (regardless of which country they actually died in). For some years, Irish and Scottish entries are in a separate section, but for other years they are included in the main index. As well as Irish and Scottish entries, there are some from all over the world, although the details may not be as full as for English and Welsh entries.

What can a will tell you?
If you find a will for a deceased ancestor it may contain useful information on other relatives such as: a spouse or children, whether they were married, or had grandchildren; the death date and age of the deceased; hopefully a birth date and place might be given; often his/her occupation will be mentioned; and also bequests made. Find also the signatures of at least two witnesses (who must not benefit from the will), and the signature of the testator
As you can see, tracking down an ancestor’s will can provide a wealth of evidence for your research!

Where to look for wills?

• www.thegenealogist.co.uk – Find the Prerogative Court of Canterbury wills indexes and images

• www.york.ac.uk/borthwick/holdings/guides/research-guides/probate-courts – research Prerogative Court of York records

• www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk – Explore the index to wills and testaments 1513-1925

• www.llgc.org.uk/en/discover/nlw-resources/wills/ – wills proved in the Welsh Ecclesiastical courts before 1858

• www.willcalendars.nationalarchives.ie/search/cwa/home.jsp – Calendars of Wills
and Administrations 1858-1922      for Ireland

• www.ffhs.org.uk/members2/contacting.php – Can your family history society help? Many have transcribed wills projects. Find the relevant society for the area you’re interested in

• www.findmypast.co.uk – Search Findmypast for transcriptions created by societies too, and other wills collections, such as that for British India.

For more great articles like this get the Family Tree October 2017 issue of Family Tree below or subscribe and save.

Single Issue - May 2018 Replica & Mobile Edition included
Or 799 points
Annual Digital Subscription
Only $ 4.31 per issue
Or 5599 points
6 Month Digital Subscription
Only $ 5.54 per issue
Or 3599 points
Monthly Digital Subscription
Only $ 5.53 per issue
Or 599 points

View Issues

About Family Tree

Family Tree magazine have been supporting family historians from beginner to expert, for more than 30 years. We are devoted to helping you trace your ancestors with practical ways to do your family tree that you’ll find interesting and fun!

More great content like this...

For more great articles like this subscribe to Family Tree today.

Most read articles this month

Christmas Gifts for Her

Christmas Gifts for Her

Stuck for gift ideas for the lovely lady in your life? The Pocketmags team have pooled all their best ideas for gifts for her this Christmas. Get ready to earn some serious brownie points! More...
Christmas Gifts for Him

Christmas Gifts for Him

Why are men so hard to buy for?! If you're looking for gift ideas for the deserving gent in your life, look no further; the Pocketmags team have found some amazing gifts for him this Christmas. Boring socks begone! More...


Nashville songwriter Mark Cawley shares some tactics for reviving those elusive creative juices when you’ve lost the flow More...
3 Free Reads for the New Year

3 Free Reads for the New Year

Spend all your money in December? Us too. We’ve pulled together our 3 favourite free reads available for you on Pocketmags. Everyone loves a free read! More...
How I got  published

How I got published

The author’s debut was actually her sixth novel, she tells Dolores Gordon-Smith More...
Christmas Gifts for Kids

Christmas Gifts for Kids

Treat the smallest (and loudest) members of the family to something fun this festive season! We've rounded up our favourite gifts for kids to help you (oops, we mean Santa) out - just call us the Pocketmags elves! More...
News from the world of the piano

News from the world of the piano

Argerich and Babayan in Cleveland More...
Christmas Gifts for Everyone

Christmas Gifts for Everyone

Here at Pocketmags we're all about going digital, but we know our relatives might not always feel the same. Why not treat someone special to a print subscription from our sister site magazine.co.uk? Buy 3 Christmas gift subscriptions and you'll get £15 off at checkout. That's Christmas sorted! Here are our favourites to pick up and flick through all year round... More...
Christmas Gifts for Geeks

Christmas Gifts for Geeks

Don't get pwned this Christmas - we've got a list of the greatest gifts around for the geekiest member of your household. Prepare to beat Santa at his own game - these beauties are just what they're looking for under the tree... More...
3 Fitness Trends You Haven’t Tried

3 Fitness Trends You Haven’t Tried

We’ve all heard of the crazy exercises people are trying - from animal yoga to orange theory. But if one of your New Year's resolutions is to get fit and find some sort of exercise you’ll enjoy then maybe you will love one of these… More...
Vouchers Gift Cards A magazine subscription is the perfect gift but you'll need something to show on the big day. View All
Ways to Pay Pocketmags Payment Types
At Pocketmags you get Secure Billing Great Offers HTML Reader Gifting options Loyalty Points