The National Probate Calendar of Wills and Administrations

Big news in the family history and local history world. Today Ancestry.co.uk has launched the National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1861-1941.

The National Library of Wales (NLW) has already provided free access on line to most pre-1858 probate documents for the Welsh dioceses. Ancestry’s new Index together with the digitised calendars on Ancestry cover much of the post-1858 period down to 1941. This is a big step forward for genealogists and also for local historians who want to check if someone left a will or not. Rather than having to travel to a district probate registry to conduct your own searches or paying someone else to do it for you, the new Index and the Calendars are available at your fingertips – but at a cost of course payable to Ancestry.

There are two parts to the collection:

Firstly Ancestry provides a searchable index containing the following information:

  • Name of deceased
  • Date of death
  • Probate year
  • Death place (generally limted to county only)

If you find a possible ancestor you can click through to the second part of the system: the digitised Calendars. These include much more valuable information such as:

  • Name
  • Residence
  • Place of death
  • Date of death
  • Occupation/status
  • Date probate granted
  • Name of person/people to whom probate granted, residence, relationship to deceased, occupation
  • Value of estate

Those of you who have appropriate subscriptions to Ancestry (i.e. Worldwide or Premium) should be able to view both the Index and Calendars without further charge. If you don’t have a subscription, then you will either have to buy one or “pay as you go”. Of course, many libraries and record offices in the UK provide free access to Ancestry and its rivals.

However, unlike the NLW system, Ancestry does not provide with access to the original wills etc themselves. For this you will need to extract data from the Index and/or Calendars and apply to the Probate Registry for a copy.

Be aware that the later Calendars (especially from the 1890s onwards) do not include all the data listed above. But the standard information required to order copies of the documents from the Probate Registry is always included (i.e. name of deceased, date of grant and registry where issued).

Having spent several hours looking at the Index and Calendars this afternoon I quickly found new information about several ancestors, one of whose estate was valued at just £5!. This system is a boon. I do have one criticism however: like Findmypast and its Chelsea Pensioner collection, Ancestry’s Index does not include full address details where the death took place, just the county. As a result it may not be easy to pinpoint an ancestor. Instead you may have to click on several people of the same name to see if they are the one you want. In a land full of too many Davies, Jones and Williams, this is a pain.

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