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

Did your ancestor leave a will?
Family Tree

Did your ancestor leave a will?

Posted Monday, October 2, 2017   |   94 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 - Your Guide to DNA Replica Edition included
Or 299 points
Please be aware that this issue and other special issues are not included in any of the subscription options unless stated.
Annual Digital Subscription
Only £ 2.69 per issue
Or 3499 points
6 Month Digital Subscription
Only £ 3.38 per issue
Or 2199 points
Monthly Digital Subscription
Only £ 3.68 per issue
Or 399 points

View Issues

About Family Tree

Family Tree is the original and best family history magazine devoted to helping you trace your ancestors. If you’re looking for practical ways to do your family tree, this is the magazine for you.

More great content like this...

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

Most read articles this month

Ghost towns!

Ghost towns!

Abandoned towns, empty cities, uninhabited villages… You can find ghost towns all over the world. Here are a few famous ones. [Please note, the complete article comes complete with a glossary box, an audio file, and exercises.] More...
48 hours in Venice, by land and water

48 hours in Venice, by land and water

From the pages of Italia!, Sara Scarpa takes us on a tour of her native Venice, following a route that accentuates the close relationship the city has with the water that surrounds it… More...
How do digital magazines work?

How do digital magazines work?

Digital magazines can seem like an alien experience for devoted magazine fans. Where will you be without that new glossy magazine smell? The sound of the page turning? A quiet half hour to just devour the latest news and views on your favourite hobby? More...
STAFF PICK: Blocks Magazine

STAFF PICK: Blocks Magazine

Adam Osborn reviews Blocks Magazine More...
STAFF PICK: Autosport

STAFF PICK: Autosport

This week we ask our Marketing Executive Jimmy about his favourite digital magazine. More...
7 Ways to Stick to Your Workout with Your Fitness

7 Ways to Stick to Your Workout with Your Fitness

Whether it’s a busy schedule, life commitments or simply a lack of motivation, it can be tough to stay on track with your exercise regime. Your Fitness magazine asked Jim and Fiona Crossley, the founders of F45 Kingston (f45kingston.co.uk), for their tips on how to keep up with your training and achieve your fitness goals. More...
 3 Vegan Nice Creams from Vegan Food & Living

3 Vegan Nice Creams from Vegan Food & Living

The shades are out, the sunscreen is on and all you need to complete your summer chill is the best ice cream! More...


Felicity Mikellides reviews Olive magazine More...
Carping4Heroes weekend raises £10k

Carping4Heroes weekend raises £10k

More than £10,000 was raised for Help for Heroes during the Carping4Heroes weekend, held for the first time at Cudmore Fisheries, Staffordshire. More...
STAFF PICK: Look magazine

STAFF PICK: Look magazine

Kate Ashley reviews Look magazine 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