As genealogist’s we know the value of probate records in our research. Probate records are court records made after the death of an individual and relate to how that person’s estate is dispersed, the directions to heirs and creditors and the care of dependents. There are numerous records created during the probate process including wills, petitions and inventories. Probate records may include a death certificate, guardianship records and sometimes even land records.
A will can sometimes be the only document you find that shows a relationship between people, or which gives you the name of a family member you did not know about. It provides the full name of the individual, the date of death and often occupation. A will may name the spouse and children, may give a daughter’s married name and many times the names of grandchildren. A will gives us a personal glimpse into what was important to our ancestor.
So how do we go about finding an ancestor’s will? Much of my research is in the British Isles and this post focuses on finding a will in England. I recently came across a service provided by gov.uk. The Find a Will website is located at https://www.gov.uk/search-will-probate and consists of three databases:
- Wills and Probate 1858-1996
- Wills and Probate 1996 to date
- Soldier’s Wills
I decided to try to find the will of my great-aunt, Charlotte Lillie Davis, who I have recently discovered had married in Germany, to a man by the name of Oluf Antonius Jensen. The Find a Will website requires that you already know the year of death. So there is a little work to do if you do not already have this information. Besides parish registers, below are a couple of databases that may help you find a year of death:
- FreeBMD contains information from the Civil Registration Index to Births, Marriages and Deaths from 1837-1983. Not all years are complete yet. (Free)
- Ancestry.com has the Civil Registration Death Index 1916-2007 ($)
- Ancestry.com also has the England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1996, 1973-1995 ($)
- Findmypast.com has England & Wales deaths 1837-2007 Transcription ($)
- Findmypast.com also has Probate Calendars of England and Wales 1858-1959 as well as many individual County probate indexes. ($)
I did not have Charlotte’s year of death but a quick search on Ancestry.com came up with both a civil registration death index record and a probate record.
According to the Civil Death Index Charlotte Lillie Jensen’s death was registered in the 4th Quarter of 1982. The Probate record gave me the specific date of death as 13 December 1982 and a probate date of 11 February 1983.
Using this information I went to the Find a Will website and entered the Surname and Year of Death.
Charlotte Lillie Jensen was at the top of the second page of Probate Indexes.
The next step is to use the information you have just found in the Probate Index and fill in the form to the left of the results. I was able to find Charlotte Lillie Jensen’s probate index entry using Ancestry.com but the Find a Will website will search the Probate Index provided you have the year of death.
A PDF of the will costs £10 (about $12) and can take up to 10 working days to be delivered electronically. Once you receive an email letting you know the will is available you have 30 days to download it.
I ordered Charlotte Lillie Jensen’s will on October 19, 2016 and it was ready for download by October 24, 2016. This is an easy to use and valuable service for genealogists. In my opinion it is well worth the £10.