How to find a will

Wills and testaments pre 1858

This page explains how to find a will when looking for a Will dated pre 1858. 

Wills dated before 1858 are harder to locate because they had to be proved in courts administered by the church. They were called ecclesiastical courts and there were many such courts across the country.

The location of any property your ancestor might have held determined the court to which the application for probate was made, but the deceased could have held land in more than one place.

Archdeacons' Courts

The archdeacons’ court had jurisdiction over a large number of parishes and these normally covered the majority of a county. An application should be made to this court if the deceased’s property and/or land lay within one archdeaconry.

Superior Courts

If the deceased’s property was valued at £5 or more and they had property of this value in more than one archdeaconry then the application for probate should be made to this court. This court was that of a bishop or archbishop. The application could be made to the bishop’s consistory court if the property was in one diocese.

Prerogative Court of Canterbury

The Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC) was the most important court dealing with individuals who had property in different dioceses, but in the same archbishop’s province. The index is available at the National Archives and is available from 1384-1858. When ordering a will from this source the price per will is currently £3.50.

Courts of York

Research should be carried out in the courts of the Archbishop of York. The jurisdictions of the foregoing judicatures varied, so to find a possible will it is advisable to peruse the records from the Consistory Court of York, the Prerogative Court of York and the Exchequer Court.

Probate Records for the York province are held at the Borthwick Institute of Historical Research and are indexed from 1688-1858.

Peculiar Parishes

These were parishes that were in one archdeaconry or diocese, but came under another jurisdiction that was usually other church officials and their judicatures. Some peculiar parishes had their own probate courts.

How to find a will - Wills and testaments after 1858

This will explain how to find a will when looking for a will dated after 1858. Any will or administration proved after 1858 is held by The Principal Registry in London along with the indexes that are known as The National Probate Calendar.

It was not uncommon for it to take months or years before probate was granted so any research should first be made in the year of death and up to 2 years afterwards.

A copy of an entry in the calendar:

Hill Emma of 19 Harvills Hawthorn West Bromwich Staffordshire widow died 23 June 1909 Administration Lichfield 29 November to Emma Hill spinster Effects £62 11s

A will can be very useful to the genealogist because they give details of the deceased's family and provide details of what the person owned at the time of death from houses to personal effects.