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Wills England & Wales (post 1858)

Nature of Source

Details of legacies left by the deceased.

From the 12th January 1858 a single national civil court known as the Principal Probate Registry covering England and Wales was established for proving wills and granting letters of administration (admons). The Principal Registry was in London with numerous district registries set up across England and Wales. Copies of all wills and admons proved in the District Registries were sent to the London Principal Registry and from these annual calendars were compiled.

A will must be proved to allow the named executor the legal right to administer the estate and distribute legacies. A grant of 'Administration' or Admon indicates that the deceased did not leave a valid will which enabled family members to dispose of the estate. A person who died abroad but held land or property in England or Wales could appear in the indexes.

The single national court means that a national index is available arranged annually, however separate indexes for wills and admons exist between 1858 and 1870. The annual indexes are straightforward to search and can be used as an alternative to the quarterly GRO death indexes. The calendars are arranged by date of probate but expect to find a probate record no more than three years after the death and remember that only about 50 per cent of people actually make a will and about 30 per cent die intestate. An entry in the index with the word 'Probate' shown indicates that a will was made whilst an entry with the word 'Administration' indicates only an administration document is available. If no record of a will or admon can be found within a few years of death, it is possible that an unadministered estate could be revealed when the heir dies.

After 1882, a married woman could make a legally valid will and in 1893 a married woman gained complete control of her property. Unmarried women and widows were always free to make wills. Others such as criminals and lunatics were barred from making a will.

Before 1858 probate came under the jurisdiction of the church authorities. See
Wills and Inheritance. Letters of Administration (Admons) (pre 1858)

Where Found

Principal Probate Registry (The Probate Registry holds the national annual Calendar indexes from Probate Registries in England and Wales from 1858. The London public probate searchroom no longer exists. Searchrooms at all District Probate Registries and Probate Sub-Registries throughout England and Wales are also no longer in operation. All wills or ‘grant of representations’ for people who died in or after 1858 cane be searched online. Probate records can be searched by post by downloading and completing Form Number PA1S)
The National Archives (Microfilm copies of the National Probate Calendar, 1858-1942)
County Record Offices (Microfilm copies of the National Probate Calendar, 1858-1942)
Society of Genealogists (Microfilm copies of the National Probate Calendar, 1858-1942)
Guildhall Library (Microfilm copies of the National Probate Calendar, 1858-1942)
LDS FamilySearch Centers (Microfilm copies of the National Probate Calendar, 1858-1942)

Period Covered

1858 - Onwards

Genealogical Value

Includes name, occupation, address, date of death and value of estate of the deceased. Place and date of probate.
The Will
Includes family members and relationships, names, occupations, addresses, land and property held, personal possessions.

Further References

Collins, Audrey. Using Wills After 1858 and First Avenue House: Federation of Family History Societies, 1998


Cox, Jane. Wills, Probate and Death Duty Records: Federation of Family History Societies, 1993


Gibson, Jeremy & Churchill, Else: Probate Jurisdictions: Where to Look for Wills. Federation of Family History Societies, 2002


Grannum, Karen and Taylor, Nigel. Wills and Other Probate Records: The National Archives, 2009


McLaughlin, Eve. Modern Wills from 1858: Varneys Press, 2001


TNA Research Guide: Wills and probate: further research

Websites (TNA Guide, Looking for records of a will or administration after 1858) (Probate Service: Wills, probate and inheritance) (Guide to probate records) (Bona Vacantia Division of the Treasury Solicitor's Department. The department deals with the assets of estates passed to the crown of people who have died without leaving a will or entitled blood relatives in England and Wales. The online leaflet 'Information for Entitled Relatives'explains the process with a chart showing the order of priority of entitled relatives) (Dictionary of legal terms found in Probate and Estate Records) (Glossary of Probate Terms)
Weights and Measures
(Currency converter: 'Old money to new' giving modern equivalents of historical amounts of money and 'Buying power' showing how much wool or labour could be bought with the historical equivalent of a modern amount of money) (Calculator - UK Inflation. How much is British money really worth now compared to the past) (English Weights & Measures and Money & Coins) (Old English Money) (Introduction to Weights and Measures and Money in historical documents) (Various tools for measuring the historic values of money and the purchasing value of the pound since 1264) (Money - Past, Present & Future. Information on Monetary History, Contemporary Developments, and Electronic Money, compiled by Roy Davies)!topic/humanities.lit.authors.shakespeare/5QDH9BDDMKU (Prices of a variety of goods as sold on August 21st 1625 in Southampton) (Relative Value of Sums of Money including earnings and wages) (Guild of St. Michael: Elizabethan Money including Coinage, Wages, Prices and Price Comparisons) (Common Names of British Coin Denominations)

Online Databases (England & Wales, National Probate Calendar,1858-1966, 1973-1995; Index and summaries of wills and administrations. Refer to the search page for information on some gaps in the coverage) (HM Courts & Tribunals Service: Find a will or probate document England and Wales. The site provides access to three search options: Wills and Probate 1858-1996; Wills and Probate 1996 to present; Soldier's Wills [wills of soldiers who died while serving in the British armed forces between 1850 and 1986])
(Probate Calendars Of England & Wales 1858-1959. Containing over 500,000 records, the calendars record the details of wills lodged with the National Probate Registry. Searches can be made for specific information such as full name, town, city or address) (Transcribed data covering 40 square miles around Wirksworth and Matlock, Derbyshire. Data sets include Parish Records 1600-1900, Derbyshire Wills 1525-1928, census returns, Petty sessions, Memorial Inscriptions, Board of Guardians, Hearth Tax and others)
(Bath Record Office: Bath Ancestors Database: Wills, 1603-1990) (Cheshire Probate Records, 1492-1940) (Wills and probate records proved in the Archdeaconry of Chester, 1540-1857 and wills proved in the Chester Probate Court, 1858-1940) (Hampshire Archives and Local Studies. The online catalogue lists wills, admons and inventories of Hampshire and Isle of Wight people from 1398 to 1941. The wills were proved in the church courts of Winchester Diocese, up to 1858 and Winchester Probate Registry, 1858-1941)
(Cheshire Archives and Local Studies. Cheshire wills, 1492-1940. Wills of Cheshire residents proved in Chester)
(Find a Soldier's Will: Search for the will of a soldier who died while serving in the British armed forces between 1850 and 1986. Final handwritten wills and last letters home were kept by troops in their pocket service books and tucked into their uniforms. The wills, owned by Her Majesty's Court and Tribunal Service, include 280,000 soldiers who died in the Great War. See website for progress on the project)
(Essex Wills Beneficiaries Index, 1505-1916. Compiled over 15 years by researcher Thora Broughton, this index contains over 156,000 records and includes all people mentioned in a will, with the exception of witnesses) (Free Databases for Genealogical Searching: Links to free databases of transcribed records)