The Ministry of Justice in the U.K. has announced that it’s cutting the cost of ordering English and Welsh probate records from £10 to £1.50 for the next 12 months.
That means that if you are looking for an ancestor’s will for persons whose will was granted probate after 1857 you can save yourself a bit of money!
The Find a Will online service (https://probatesearch.service.gov.uk/) allows family history researchers to search for UK probate records by surname and year of death, but only from 1857. When you find the probate you can then order a digital copy of the record and that usually takes up to 10 working days to arrive.
Read more at the Who Do You Think You Are Magazine website:
But what about earlier English and Welsh wills? These were administered by the Church and not the State and Probate was issued by Church courts. The country was divided into archdiocese with the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC) and the Prerogative Court of York (PCY) at their head.
But they don’t mention that PCC wills (including images sourced from TNA) are available on the subscription site TheGenealogist *
*Disclosure: Please note this post contains an affiliate link for TheGenealogist. This does not mean that you pay more, just that I make a percentage on any sales of subscriptions made from my links. These payments help me pay for the cost of running this site. You may like to read this explanation here:
I watched the Sir Derek Jacobi episode of Who Do You think You Are? with great interest this week. The television researchers showed us that although the famous actor was born into a South London family of humble stock, he was descended from a Huguenot ancestor of status. Joseph De La Plaigne had been imprisoned in France for his protestant beliefs, before making his escape to England in his sixties.
It gave me great delight to find the TV programme showed Sir Derek a copy of his illustrious forebear’s will, as I too had discovered this very same document when looking around the Prerogative Court of Canterbury wills on TheGenealogist’s website.
Many people from all stations of society, including some whom we would not have expected to have, made wills and so it is certainly worth taking a look to see if your ancestors left one.
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.
For more on wills there is a module that reveals more about the subject inside the Family History Researcher Academy course on English/Welsh Family History that is available from the link below. The course takes the student from beginning researching their English/Welsh ancestor to deal with many intermediate level lessons such as wills and much more.
A Happy St David’s day to all my Welsh friends and readers of this blog.
While many of the records for doing Welsh family history are the same as those for neighbouring England, there are some differences when it comes to researching in Wales, or Cymru as it is known in its own language.
For those of us used to finding our family records in the County Record Offices in England will discover that much is the same in Wales. Researchers will find that records of registration of births, deaths and marriages are exactly the same in Wales as in England, and that the Registrar General’s indexes cover both England and Wales.
The census is the same, except for an extra question from 1891 when all those aged 3 and over were asked whether they spoke English only, Welsh only, or both languages.
Anglican parish records are the same as those for England, and are kept in local authority archives in the same way.
Some of the differences, however, that can cause us to stumble are Common names, the favouring of Patronymics, the Welsh language, and that many families were not members of the Established Church.
Nonconformity, being more important in Wales than in some parts of England, may mean that you find that your ancestors didn’t go to the local parish church. In many chapels the language used was Welsh, and some of the records may also be in Welsh.
Because the country has its own language English speakers may find the place names to be unfamiliar to them.
Another difference, from the English system, is that in England the County Record Offices are (in most cases) the diocesan record offices and therefore hold all the records of the diocese, such as Wills, bishop’s transcripts and marriage bonds and licences, as well as parish records. In Wales, the National Library of Wales is the diocesan record office for the whole of Wales, and therefore holds all the bishop’s transcripts, marriage bonds and licences, and Wills proved in Welsh church courts.
The National Library of Wales or Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru is very important for our research as it acts as the main repository for family history research in Wales holding a vast number of records useful to the family historian – census returns, probate records, nonconformist records and tithe maps, to name but a few, will help at some point during research.
Learn more about English and Welsh family history resources to use to find elusive ancestors with the Family History Researcher Course,
Learn more about English and Welsh family history resources which can be used to find your elusive ancestors with the Family History Researcher Course,
A contact asked me about occupations recently and so I found them this really helpful article by professional genealogist Rosamunde Bott. I am sharing it here for everyone to read.
English Occupations: Finding More About Your Ancestor
By Rosamunde Bott
Whilst rooting around in your family history, you will learn what your ancestors did for a living – at least as far back to the early 1800s. This is often one of the most fascinating aspects of discovering who your ancestors were. Whether they were a lowly agricultural labourer, or a highly respected surgeon or magistrate, the curious and wide range of English occupations can lead you to further knowledge of how they lived their lives on a day to day basis. For some people it can be exciting to discover that a creative gene, such as writing or painting has made its way down to the present.
Much of this information can be found on the census, at least back to 1841, and sometimes beyond depending on the availability of records. Some earlier parish records did mention a man’s occupation, and other records, such as directories, wills, property deeds and tax records can also give occupational details.
Many of you will have come across occupations that are now obsolete, and will often need further explanation. What, for example, is a night soil man? Or a calenderer? Or a fag ender?
The first of these might have been found in any large town or city, emptying dry toilets in the days before plumbing. Not a job I would like to imagine any of my ancestors doing – but fascinating nonetheless.
The other two are connected to the textile industry, and will usually be found in those industrial areas where cotton was being produced – for example, Manchester. A calenderer was just a generic term for a textile industry worker. A fag ender was someone employed to trim off loose bits of cloth known as fags.
If you trawl through the census records for specific areas, you will of course find a wealth of occupations connected to that area’s industry. Sticking with Manchester for the moment, you will find many jobs associated with the cotton industry, and among the weavers, winders, packers and piecers you might also come across Fustian cutters (cloth workers who trim corded cloth), beamers (people who handle materials before weaving), billiers, billy roller operations or billymen (all terms for cotton spinners) or even an impleachers (cloth weavers).
When you find that an ancestor’s origins are in a particular area, it is worth while finding out about the major industries there, because this will no doubt have had some effect on your ancestor’s life, even if he (or she) was not directly involved in it.
For example, shoemakers are known everywhere – but a shoemaker working in Manchester would probably have had a different experience to a shoemaker who worked in a more rural area, or on the coast. Is he making shoes for factory workers, agricultural labourers, fishermen or for the well-to-do?
If your ancestor moved around, it was very likely it was to find work. Undertaking a bit of historical research on the local industries can give you a good indication of why your ancestor moved from one town to another. My own great-great grandfather started out as a bricklayer in Newcastle-under-Lyme, and moved to Birmingham where he became a builder and employer. You only need to find out about the building boom going on in Birmingham in the mid-19th century to work out why he made the choice to move!
Some occupations can lead you to finding further documentation. For example, workers in skilled trades may well have started out as an apprentice, and you may find the apprenticeship records at the local record office. These can give you further details about his origins and parentage.
If your ancestor worked for a big company, it may be worth finding out whether there are staff records in existence. If the company still exists, they may even keep their own set of archives.
Not only are occupations interesting in themselves – they can lead you to find out further information, whether it is more family records, or information about how your ancestor lived, and under what conditions. Much information about trades and occupations can be found on the internet, and there are many books about various trades and industries. The Society of Genealogists publishes a range of books entitled “My Ancestor was….”
Old English occupations are varied and wide-ranging, and they can tell you much about your ancestor. Make sure you always follow up this line of enquiry and find out as much as possible about what he (or she) did for a living.
Ros is a professional genealogist and runs a UK ancestry tracing service for UK and international researchers who need help with their UK ancestry. Ros offers a one-stop-shop tracing service for all UK ancestors, or record look-ups in Warwickshire and Birmingham. Find out more at Tracing Your Ancestors
These knowledgeable interviewees include practising professional genealogists, with years and years of experience to offer.
Yet others are from the very highest levels of the online data provider companies, like Ancestry and TheGenealogist.
Listen to the download and learn some plain tips that will simplify the often confusing business of researching English/Welsh ancestors. I am going to give you access to these eight professionals so that you can use their advice to break down several brick walls that you may have.
3. The Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives (AGRA) Member. What would the advice be from a professional genealogist practitioner?
Well as many serious professional genealogists belong to this association, I headed over to the AGRA stand and asked a member for his research tips. Points he brought up included the information on documents being only as good as that given by the informant and what to do about conflicting data. There is more to hear in the full interview that you can download here .
4. Families in British India Society (FIBIS) Expert. In family history we often have to think a bit outside the box. Well have you considered that your missing ancestor had moved abroad? With 3 million Brits having gone out to India then if we have a missing forbear it could certainly pay us to take a look at the records from this part of the British Empire. Its not just soldiers, the list of people who went out to work there is long as we hear from this FIBIS expert.
5. Celia Heritage – Professional Genealogist, Author and Family History Teacher introduces us to an often under used set of resources in her piece: Death Records. She explains how to use these records to flesh out the bones of our ancestors lives.
Celia is an excellent and knowledgeable speaker and you can just hear the passion that she has for her subject as she dispenses some gems of advice in the free downloadable audio presentation. Its not just death certificates that Celia brings to our attention in this part of the recording!
6. Dr Ian Galbraith – The National Wills Index explains about one of the best single major sources for family historians when I asked him to talk about Wills and Administrations for this audio.
Ian explains why wills can be an important resource with an average of 10 names per will and with half of them being different from that of the testator. Many people are surprised by the fact that all sorts of people left wills, but you won’t be when you have heard the full interview.
7. Brad Argent – Content Director for Ancestry advises family historians to drill down for the information in the online databases in his contribution to the recording. Brad suggests we use the card catalogue to seek out data sets and then use the advance search facility of “exact”, “soundex” and “wildcards” when we are on this large data provider’s site. His advice is compelling.
8. Mark Bayley – Head of Online Content at TheGenealogist, a site that gives really fantastic value and a very wide range of data, introduces us to a great name-rich resource recently published by TheGenealogist, in association with The National Archives.
What is this important resource for England and Wales?
It is, of course, the Tithe collection.
I have been using this set recently to great effect with my own rural ancestors and so I have included a module in my Family History Researcher Guides about the tithes.
The beauty of this data is that it includes both sides of society, with landowners and tenants being recorded and giving names and addresses. As a pre-census data set it is hugely valuable to us! Listen to Mark explain about these exciting records in the free recording you can download now by clicking the link below.
Now you may be asking why I am doing this for free?
Its because I want to introduce you to a set of guides that I have put together. A series of pdf modules that takes the information I gleaned at Who Do You Think You Are? Live and incorporated it, along with much more content into a year’s worth of weekly written guides.
There are extra contributions from various other professional experts who have penned some of the reports, as well as those modules written from my own extensive experience.
I am guessing that, if you have read this far, you are interested in English/Welsh family history and that you have hit at least one of the inevitable brick walls. The solution is to understand more ways to find your ancestors.
So if you would like to dramatically increase your knowledge then I think you will enjoy being a member of my Family History Researcher Guides. This is a 52 weekly series of guides written in an easily accessible form and you can take a two week trial for just £1 by going here:
This week I was pleased to see that Origins.net had released some fully searchable additional Devon Wills from between 1164-1992 for FREE online.
Their updated index now includes over 300,000 Devon probate records from over 60 sources, which is good news for those, like me, with Devon Ancestors.
This index has been created as a combined project by Origins.net and the Devon Wills Project to compile a consolidated index of pre-1858 Devon wills, administrations, inventories, etc. Many Devon probate records were destroyed by enemy action, when the Probate Registry was destroyed in the bombing during the Exeter Blitz in 1942. Thus the aim of this index is to create a finding-aid to enable the researcher to determine what probate materials were originally recorded and most importantly what documents have survived and where they can be located.
At Olympia I caught up with Dr Ian Galbraith from the National Wills project and asked him to give us a few tips about what people should do if they are searching for will records.
“Well the big problem with wills is you can not always tell where the will might have been proved.” he said.
“If you know your ancestors came from a certain place you’ve gotta fix on where their birth records might be, marriage records maybe where they died. With a will although in most cases you probably have an idea where it is. Wills did get proved all over the place, maybe very far fromÂ where you think.
“So when you’re trying to find a will you might go for the obvious places and find there’s nothing there. That doesn’t mean to say that there isn’t a will that’s been proved somewhere else. So it means that if you want to unlock the value of information which is in wills.
“I mean wills are one of the best single sources for the family historian.
“To find it you really need to have access to an index which covers the whole country not just individual counties and that’s what we’ve been trying to do and we’ve got coverage of virtually every county in England.
“Its not complete yet for every county but its the single biggest set of indexes for English probate records.
“That’s complimented also by an increasing collection of digitized images of wills. For example for Oxfordshire, Cheshire, York and a lot of abstracts of wills. Now abstracts make it a lot easier sometimes to find out what’s in a will because somebody else has done the hard work of reading it and transcribing it. They may not put all the text in there but there’s an awful lot of legalese and what they left to the church for candles and so on, masses to be said. But the salient stuff…what they left and to whom they left things that’s in the wills and they are enormously rich things.
“They give you a huge access to the families and the friends of the people who died because they will name them as beneficiaries; so a typical will will contain an average of ten names of other people besides the testator and probably at least half of these people will have different surnames
from the testator.
“So once you get into a will you can suddenly find you’ve got an awful lot more information than you started with. Other leads to follow up. It comes back to the issue of finding them in the first place.”
“Great!” I said, feeling that we had got an enormous amount of useful information from the interview. “And so your website is part of the origins.net?”
“Yes.” he replied. “Yes, Origins.net has been around now for oh, the best part of fifteen years but, erm, we started to concentrate on probate records about five years ago. We already had a reasonable collection but we realized that this is something that we really wanted to look at seriously, because it was one of the big problem areas.
“Births marriages and deaths, parish registers; yeah, there are lots of sites you can go and get really good collections of these. Census records, yeah. Now these are the primary places you’re going to look. You’re going to look at census, you’re going to look at Births, Marriages and Deaths. But where do you go next?
“And one of the major places, perhaps the most important single place to go next is wills; if you can find them.Â And bear in mind also even if your ancestor didn’t leave a will there’s a pretty high chance they’ll be mentioned in the will left by somebody else.
“So so don’t worry, oh my ancestors didn’t leave wills. Not true! All kinds of people left wills. They can be very poor and very rich. It is not just the rich who left wills. Some wills you wonder why. This guy’s got nothing but he’d still make a will and leave it to his relations or to his friends mentioned by name.
“So it really is well worth looking into wills.”
“Great; thank you very much. That is very useful.” I said. “Thank you.”
One of the modules in my popular course in English/Welsh Family History looks at will records. Want to unravel the tangled roots and branches of your family tree?
Become a more knowledgeable researcher with this course.
This week (Thursday 20th, Friday 21st and Saturday 22nd) Who Do You Think You Are? Live comes to Olympia with stands from all the major genealogical websites, family history suppliers, expert advice, talks from celebrities from the TV programme and a myriad of workshops.
The Nosey Genealogist will be there too on stand 56 showcasing our Family History Researcher Beginners English & Welsh Family History Course. As a special show offer we have re-introduced the popular Â£1 trial membership of our course that gives you two weeks lessons and some free bonus content.
The Nosey Genealogists has gathered together in one fixed-term-membership site a collection of 52 weekly lessons that will aid the beginner in English & Welsh family history to become a more knowledgeable researcher.
Also of great value to the more advanced, the course explores the different resources, data sets and documents that can reveal more about your English or Welsh ancestors.
Written from the practical point of view by Nick Thorne, an advanced beginner (as even the most experienced researcher is always learning more) and, with the aid of some lessons penned by professional genealogists, this course is delivered by email to your inbox to do at your own pace.
Topics covered in the 12 months include:
The census collections
The Parish records
The Parish Chest
County Record offices and what valuable treasures they contain
City and Town Directories
Genetics and DNA
Maps and Charts
The National Archives
Family Search Centres
If you are attending the show then do please come over and say hello and tell us that you read this blog. You will then be able to enter our competition to win a free copy of our next product due out soon!
I have seen elsewhere on the internet today that the comedian Al Murray is not happy with a claim that he is related to David Cameron!
This was just some of the publicity that has surrounded the launch today of 2.5 million records from British India records that provide a fascinating glimpse into life on the Indian subcontinent
Family history website findmypast.co.uk has, in partnership with the British Library,Â added 2.5 million records covering over 200 years of history of the British in India and published them online for the first time today.
These records covering 1698-1947 give real insight into the heart warming and heart breaking stories of British citizens living in India during the tenure of the East India Company and the British Raj.
Debra Chatfield, Brand Manager at findmypast.co.uk said of the release: â€œThe new British in India records at findmypast are a great opportunity to find ancestors that previously were considered missing, as so many of our relatives sought their fortune on the subcontinent. Whether your relatives were clergy, aristocracy, tradespeople, merchants, civil servants or soldiers, the lowest and the landed all have stories to be told with these records.â€
I’ve been looking back at an ancestor’s will this week. These family history records are fascinating. Seems that one of my two times great grandfathers left a little money and his house to his wife. In his life he had changed occupations from being a Hatter in Tavistock to being a grocer in Plymouth and it makes me wonder about the economic and social forces at work which made him chose this path.
Another ancestor, on my mother’s family side, seems to have cut his eldest son out of the will, everything being inherited by the children who were next in line! What was the story there, I wonder?
These wills, however, are from the start of the records created by the Probate Registry, which took control of proving wills and administrations in 1858. Before this, four different types of ecclesiastical (church) courts dealt with these cases.
Ancestry.co.uk has recently published online over a million probate records, featuring the last will and testament of some of histories most famous names including William Shakespeare, Jane Austen and Sir Francis Drake.
Ancestry bill this as being “the most comprehensive UK collection of its kind available to view online”. Certainly I have found that other providers give access to these records on their own sites, for example The National ArchivesÂ on Documents OnlineÂ and TheGenealogist.co.uk has a substantialÂ collection of Wills and Will indexes available online, including the index of the Court of York and full Wills for the Court of Canterbury.
The England and Wales, Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC) Wills 1384-1858 covers nearly five centuries worth of history and details how much people owned and who they left it to.
Up until January 1858, the church and other courts proved wills in England and Wales. The PCC was the most important of these courts and was responsible for the probate of wills where the value of assets was greater than five pounds, equivalent to Â£526 today.
Searchable by name, probate date, residence and estimated death year, each record contains information about the final assets of the deceased. Additional notes on their occupation, property and overall standard of living may also be included.
Many famous names can be discovered in the records including world famous playwright William Shakespeare. Dated 25th March 1616, Shakespeareâ€™s will details how he left a sum of one hundred and fifty pounds to both his daughters (over Â£380,000 today) as well as his wife the pleasure of his â€˜second best bedâ€™.
Pride and Prejudice author Jane Austen also appears in collection. Upon her death on 18th July 1817, she possessed assets totalling around Â£800 (Â£60,000 today). The majority of this was given to her sister Cassandra aside from Â£50 to her brother Henry and a further Â£50 to a Madame Bigoen â€“ who had previously acted as a nurse to her family.
The records also reveal that the privateer and explorer Sir Francis Drake was somewhat of a real life Robin Hood. Having plundered many Spanish naval vessels and earned a fortune during his adventures in the Americas, Drake left forty pounds to the ‘poore people’Â of the town and Parish of Plymouth in 1596 – the equivalent of Â£150,000 today.
The original records are held at The National Archives and some of the earliest records in the collection cover males as young as 14 and girls as young as 12. This changed in 1837, when it was decided by the court that both genders must be over the age of 21 to have a will proved.
On top of monetary matters, these records tell us more about the private lives of some very public figures and will help historians discover more about the dynamics of their personal and familial relationships.
The majority of records in the collection also pre-date civil registration, the government system established in 1837 to keep accurate accounts of citizensâ€™ lives in documents such as censuses. As such, the collection is a valuable resource for anybody looking to trace an ancestor living before the mid-19th century.
Ancestry.co.uk Content Manager Miriam SilvermanÂ comments: â€œThese probate records provide fascinating insight into the final fortunes of some of our nations most famous names, right down to who should get their bed.â€
â€œThey are an incredibly valuable family history resource, covering a period in history from which few official documents remain.â€
Disclosure: Some links are compensated affiliate links.