How to Document a Death in England and Wales, Part II: Wills and Probate Records Online

This is actually the third installment of this series on vital records in the British Isles and Part II for documenting a death.  Our subject is Wills and Probate Records available online.

Nearly 25% of wills filed were made by women–of all social classes and locations.  And while only 15-20% of all people filed wills, those wills include up to 48% of the population in any given county.  These stats require that you search for a will naming your ancestors and tying those relatives into their family units.


Over one million English will images are now available through the National Archives as part of Documents Online.  And new images are posting monthly.

__$ Will indexes, with some images.


Search the Wiki by name of county + probate records for a description of the local probate records and the jurisdictions that produced the records.  Live links are provided for indexes, transcripts, and images available online for your county and parish.  Use the same search terms on Google and other search engines to locate other online records that apply to your ancestors.

Search for your ancestors in these resources by name.  Look for wills of siblings, in-laws, namesakes, and other relatives.  Those siblings who never married or who died without heirs, often leave their stuff to relatives who may be unknown to you.

Read wills for 50-100 years from the date of marriage and within 15-20 miles of their last known residence.  This kind of an “area search” for your surnames of interest usually yields additional family relationships.

This strategy is based on actual research:  Read Ronald Hill, “Maximizing Probate Research:  An Analysis of Potential Using English Records from Cornwall,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 84 (Dec 1996): 261-74.  Dr. Hill read every will for 32 parishes and concluded:  “For every probate case existing for a surname in this study, there are on average two or three relevant other-name probates in the same or adjoining parishes…that mention the family of interest.”

County and local family history societies throughout England and Wales have or are indexing the wills of their areas.  These now appear in print, on CD-Rom, and online.  The Family History Library in Salt Lake City UT has acquired most of these.  Many of these indexes and abstracts are not available, usually, through your local FamilySearch center.  They are only available on the desktop computers at the FHLibrary in Salt Lake City. [Refer to Lookup volunteers referenced in the first two parts of this series for aid in searching these tools–Genealogy Blog 8 Jan 2011 and 15 Jan 2011.]

This approach is not a one-time shot–you will want to check these sites frequently for newly indexed records that may include your ancestors.  Your favorite genealogist, Arlene Eakle

PS  Watch for additional parts to this series–including county and regional will indexes you can order for your own personal research library.

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