Guide to Wills 1384-1858
Wills are a valuable source of genealogical information as they can give details of family members, places of residence and burial, as well as revealing details about their possessions.
Before 1858, England and Wales were divided into two provinces. The largest and most influential was Canterbury, which covered the South of England up to the Midlands and also Wales. The other was York, which covered Durham, Yorkshire, Northumberland, Westmorland, Cumberland, Lancashire, Cheshire, Nottinghamshire, and the Isle of Man. The two provinces of Canterbury and York each had their own Archbishop, and were divided into several dioceses. Each diocese had a minimum of two bishops, and these dioceses were also divided again into archdeaconries.
All wills, up until 12 January 1858, had to be proven in a church court to ensure that the will was legal. Wills were proven in over 250 church courts across the country, and the records of these are now stored mostly in local record offices.
Where a will was proved depended on which lands the property covered, and if it was contained within a single archdeaconry, then the will would be proven in the Archdeacon's court. If the property stretched across several archdeaconries, it would have to be proven in a Bishop's Court, or in the Archbishop's Prerogative Court if it covered more than one diocese. There were, however, occasional exceptions to this rule, such as if the person died abroad then the will would be proven at the Prerogative Court of Canterbury regardless of where the property was.
Wills proven in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury are now held at the National Archives in Kew. TheGenealogist is undergoing a project to transcribe the records so that they are available to access online as part of Premium and Personal Plus subscriptions.
Wills proven in the Prerogative Court of York are currently held at Bothwick Institute, part of the University of York.
All other wills up to 1858 are held in local record offices across the country, apart from those in Wales from 1521, which are held at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth.
Wills on TheGenealogist
Locating wills can be quite a difficult task, so it's wise to try to locate an index before heading off to the archives to see if a will exists. Many indexes are now available on CD and online, and TheGenealogist has a collection available for Personal Plus, Gold and Diamond Premium subscribers, which currently includes the following:
Berkshire Wills and Administrations 1508 - 1652
Chester Wills 1545-1620
Chester Wills 1681-1700
Chester Wills 1701-1720
Chester Wills 1721-1740
Lancashire & Cheshire Funeral Certificates 1600-1678
Devonshire Wills 1559-1799
Dorset Wills 1568 - 1799
Index of Dorset Wills 1500-1799
Bristol Wills 1572-1792
Gloucestershire Wills 1660 - 1800
1479-1652 Huntingdon Wills
Irish Wills 1536 - 1810
Canterbury Wills 1383-1558
Canterbury Wills 1558-1583
Canterbury Wills 1657-1660
Lancashire Wills 1681-1748
Lancashire Wills 1748-1792
Lancashire and Cheshire Wills 1301-1752
Lancaster Wills 1793-1812
Lancashire Wills 1621-1650
Lancashire and Cheshire Wills 1660-1680
Lancashire and Cheshire Wills 1681-1700
Leicestershire Wills 1495
Leicestershire Wills 1660
Lincoln Wills 1540 - 1659
London Wills 1258-1358
London Wills 1358-1688
Northamptonshire and Rutland Calendar of Wills 1510-1652
Oxford Wills 1436 - 1814
Edinburgh Wills 1601 - 1700
Lichfield Wills 1516-1652
Suffolk, Calendar of Wills 1383-1604
Suffolk, Bury, Calendar of Prereformation Wills
Surrey Wills 1484-1490
Chichester Calendar of Wills 1482-1800
Worcestershire Wills 1451 - 1600
Worcestershire Wills 1601 - 1652
Yorks Wills 1514 - 1553
Yorks Wills 1568 - 1585
Yorks Wills 1612 - 1619
Yorks Wills 1627 - 1636
Yorks Wills 1620 - 1627
Yorks Wills 1585 - 1594
Yorks Wills 1554 - 1568
Yorks Wills 1594 - 1602
Yorks Wills 1636 - 1652
Yorks Wills 1603 - 1611
Yorks Wills 1389 - 1514
Exclusive Diamond Content:
- 1682-1800 America, Delaware New Castle County Wills
- 1733-1744 America, Maryland Calendar of Wills Vol.VIII
- 1626-1836 America, New York Calendar of Wills
- Genealogical Abstracts of Wills, Register 'Wootton' 1658
Other Wills available
*exclusive Diamond content
PCC Wills - Prerogative Court of Canterbury and related Probate Jurisdictions: Will Registers Covering dates 1384-1858.
Lancashire and Cheshire Wills (The Record Society 1896 Vol.30) 1301-1752*
Lancashire & Cheshire Funeral Certificates 1600-1678*
London Wills 1258-1688
Surrey Wills 1484-1490
How to: Using the Will Indexes Online
The Will Indexes are listed by area on your Search page under 'Wills, Probates and Testaments'. Once you select the area and continue to the search page, you'll be able to select a specific volume.
From the search page, you can either choose to browse the volume page by page and by using the bookmarks, or you can use the forename and surname search to enter the name of the person you are looking for. Our OCR system (Optical Character Recognition) turns the pages into searchable text, allowing you to enter search terms and bring back all the pages with matching results.
There are over 1 million records in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury wills and probate collection, which covers the years 1384 to January 1858. The records are copies of registered wills, which were written into volumes by the clerks at the church courts, and many earlier records are in Latin.
An example, showing the will of author Jane Austin is detailed below:
We have now added over 200 years of these records to TheGenealogist, which will shortly be expanded to cover all years. The records are searchable by name, year of will, year of probate, area and profession. The search results also show the image of the original record.
How to: Using the PCC Wills Online
The PCC Wills are located on your Search page under 'Wills, Probates and Testaments' or available to search using the Master Search.
The Standard Search page provides a form which allows you to enter forename, surname and year of probate. To narrow your search down, select the Advanced Search link, which will then also allow you to enter the Year of Will, Profession and Place. The year of probate relates to the year that the will was proven by the church courts, where-as the year of will is the date when the person actually recorded the will.
The results will be listed under the search box, and will show all the details included on the advanced search form. There are also links on the right of each entry, which allow you to submit a correction to our data team, open up the original page image, and also view the will as a printable transcript.