Wills

This section explains where to look for wills and administrations in Essex, Kent and Suffolk.

 

Index

 

Copyright and Licence

Creative Commons Licence
The work on this page is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales Licence.
Briefly, this means that you can display, distribute and make verbatim copies for non-commercial purposes, and the source of the information must be given.

 

Wills proved after 1857

From 12th January 1858, all grants of probate have been managed by what is now called the HM Courts & Tribunals Service which is part of the Civil court system.

It is now possible to search online for the grant of probate, either by going to https://probatesearch.service.gov.uk/#wills or by using the England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1995 dataset on Ancestry's web-site.

 

A shortcut for 1796-1903

The National Archives at Kew holds copies of the "Death duty registers" on microfilm in class IR26. The page How to look for records of... Death duties 1796-1903 gives a detailed description of the records. A simplistic explanation is that tax was payable on the estate of a person who died, so the registers contain a summary of the legacies and legatees, and the amounts of tax due. In some cases, there is more information in the Death duty register than there is in the will so it is worthwhile to look at the registers.

The Death duty registers are indexed by the first 3 letters of the surname, and the indices which survive can be searched online on the FindMyPast web-site (the site charges for viewing the records).

The complete registers for 1796-1811 have been published on The National Archives DocumentsOnline web-site.

It is possible to view or order copies of the registers for the period 1796-1903 at The National Archives, Kew.

The index to the "Death duty registers" can be used as a way to find out whether a will or administration exists for a person, and to identify the court in which the grant of probate was made.
Here is an example entry from 1813:

Testator

Executors

Court

Register

Fuller, Edmund

William Wright of Boxford, Suffolk

Bishop of London's CommissaryCourt (Essex + Herts.)

1 - 83

 

Wills proved before 1858

Before 1858 Wills were administered by the Church of England (except for the period of the Civil War) and there were several levels of courts. For 1653-1660, all wills and administrations are now held as part of the PCC (Prerogative Court of Canterbury).

Usually there are 2 copies of a will - the original which was written by the testator (or his/her Attorney), and the registered copy which was created when the will was proved in the relevant court. Occasionally one of the versions may not exist so, if it is possible, you should check both collections. Note that for the PCC, the wills available are the registered copies.

Warning

I have seen many examples of wills which have been proved in courts other than the ones applicable to where the person lived. Especially if a person held property, you should check other courts just in case.
Using the Archdeaconry of Suffolk for the period 1444-1700 as an example, here are some counts for places of residence outside of the area covered by the court:

The British Record Society publishes indices to the wills and administrations proved before 1858 and you may find it worthwhile to buy or look at the books that they have published. Many of these books have now been added to the FindMyPast web-site.

 

Wills proved in Essex before 1858

These have all been indexed, digitised and published on the Essex Archives Online web-site. Searching the index is free but it is necessary to buy a subscription to be able to view and/or download the images of original wills.

 

Wills proved in Kent before 1858

See the Kent Archives and Local History web-site and the link to their "guide to probate records" document.

Canterbury Cathedral Archives has published the full calendar of wills and administations proved in the Canterbury Archdeaconry and Consistory Courts (note that this does not include the Prerogative Court of Canterbury) on the page Canterbury Probate Records (1396-1858) Database.

 

Wills proved in London before 1858

See the London Metropolitan Archives web-site and their (PDF) Wills for London, Middlesex and Surrey before 1858 guide.

Note that many of the wills are available on Ancestry's web-site in the dataset London, England, Wills and Probate, 1507-1858.

 

Wills proved in Suffolk before 1858

  1. The lowest level was the local manorial court which could administer transfers of land. I've only come across one (possible) example of this so far.
  2. The next level up was the courts of the Archdeaconry of Sudbury [West Suffolk] and the Archdeaconry of Suffolk [East Suffolk].

    The deaneries in the Archdeaconry of Sudbury were:

    The deaneries in the Archdeaconry of Suffolk were:

    Note that for the period 1837-1858, the parishes within the deaneries of Stow and Hartismere still belonged to the Court of the Archdeaconry of Sudbury even though the deaneries were moved to the Archdeaconry of Suffolk Archdeaconry of Suffolk for other purposes.

    Several parishes were in Peculiars - they were administered by other courts. The parishes were:

    The page Suffolk Parishes shows the Deanery or Peculiar to which each parish belonged.

  3. The next level up was the Consistory Court of Norwich which covered most of East Anglia.
    These wills are held at Norfolk Record Office.
  4. The highest level was the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (except for very complex cases involving legal action).
    These wills are held at The National Archives, Kew.
    When you look at the indices, if you see 'Pts' as the county this means that the person was either on a ship or held properties abroad (e.g. in the Colonies, India, USA, etc.)

How did this work?
The court which granted probate was determined on two criteria - the value of the estate; and whether the court had jurisdiction over the location of the properties in the will.
Taking the Fuller family of Buxhall/Stowmarket as an example:

 

Where are the records held?

 

Indices published

  1. Archdeaconry of Sudbury
  2. Peculiar of the Bishop of Rochester
  3. Archdeaconry of Suffolk
  4. Essex
  5. Consistory Court of Norwich
  6. Prerogative Court of Canterbury

 

Recommended reading

  1. Probate Jurisdictions: Where to Look for Wills by J. S. W. Gibson, published by the Federation of Family History Societies, ISBN number 1 860061 52 4.
  2. Prerogative Court of Canterbury Wills and Other Probate Records by Miriam Scott, published by the PRO, ISBN number 1 873162 23 5.

 

Copyright and Licence

Creative Commons Licence
The work on this page is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales Licence.
Briefly, this means that you can display, distribute and make verbatim copies for non-commercial purposes, and the source of the information must be given.