U3a wills and probate
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- 1.Where doyoucome from? Wills and Probate
2. Why bother?
- Wills provide a very good resource for the family historian.
- They may contain masses of detail with information about the deceaseds possessions, estate and family members.
- Many early wills have detailed inventories attached, listing all the deceaseds possessions and their value.
3. Will and Testament
- A will is a written document by which a person declares his or her intent for the disposition of property and rights after his or her death, normally signed and witnessed. Originally a will was used to dispose of only land/houses, and a testament was used to dispose of personal property. Eventually the two documents were combined, hence the phrase "last will and testament." Eventually the two terms came to be synonymous.
4. Letters of Administration
- These refer to a document appointing someone to supervise the estates distribution for someone who died "intestate" (without a will). This document gives less information than a will, but may still contain some useful clues. The administrator is usually a relative of the deceased.
- From the Latin probare (to approve or prove). An official act of a court declaring the will to be legally binding and granting the Executor(s) the right to carry out its terms.
- A will has beenprovedwhen probate has been granted.
6. Realty and Personalty
- Realty : Property or interests in land, as opposed to personalty. Originally, most realty (heritable property) could not be divided, or there were limitations on its bequest, therefore the disposition of real property does not usually appear in early probate documents.
- Personalty : Personal property (goods, chattels, credits, etc.) as opposed to real property. Originally, only personalty (moveable property) could be bequeathed, and such a document is technically known as a testament.
7. Before 1858
- Up until January 11, 1858, probate was a matter for one of the ecclesiastical courts of the Church of England. As there were more than 300, this creates research challenges for anyone, and in particular, for those working from a distance.
- In England and Wales there are will registers for the Prerogatives Courts of Canterbury (at The National Archives) and York (at the Borthwick Institute, York) that go up to 1858.
8. Before 1858
- Prior to 1858 probate matters were handled by ecclesiastic authorities. That's why you need to understand the organization of the Church of England in order to understand pre-1858 English probate records. The divisions of the Church of England from smallest to largest are:
- PARISH:District served by a Vicar or a Rector. In rural areas, a parish includes many villages and usually carries the name of the town where the parish church is. If there is more than one church in a parish, the others are chapelries. Larger cities will have many parishes, each having jurisdiction over a portion of the city--sometimes as little as a few blocks.
9. Before 1858
- RURAL DEANERY:An area consisting of a number of parishes, headed by a Dean who is usually also one of the parish ministers within that deanery.
- ARCHEACONRY:An area consisting of a number of Rural Deaneries, with their parishes, headed by an Archdeacon. Yorkshire had five Archdeaconries: The Archdeaconry of York or West Riding, The Archdeaconry of the East Riding, The Archdeaconry of Cleveland, The Archdeaconry of Craven, and The Archdeaconry of Richmond.
- DIOCESE:An area headed by a Bishop, consisting of one or more Archdeaconries. Yorkshire had two Dioceses: The Diocese of York and The Diocese of Ripon. (Note that the Diocese of Ripon wasn't split off from the Diocese of York until 1836 and had no probate jurisdiction).
- PROVINCE:Headed by an Archbishop. Prior to 1920, there are two provinces in England:
- Province of Canterbury( PCC ) for the midland and southern counties and Wales.
- Province of York( PCY ) for the eight northern counties .
10. Before 1858
- A single parish may not fall solely in the jurisdiction of one of these courts. There were many factors that would require probate to be filed in a superior court: the income of the decedent, whether he or she had property in more than one jurisdiction, whether a court was inhibited, etc. Therefore you will often need to search several courts in your search for your will. It can be worth it though, if your search leads you to a pot of genealogy gold!
11. Before 1858
- To find the potential Probate Courts for a parish consultPre-1858 English Probate Jurisdictionspublished by the Genealogical Society of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. These are at most Family History Centres and other genealogical libraries. Locate your parish on the map and check the colour. Then refer to the Probate Jurisdiction Tables to find the Probate Jurisdiction(s). The Probate Jurisdiction Table will suggest an order of search
12. Wills are kept in many record offices
- Before 1858, over 300 church courts dealt with wills and administrations.
- The records of most of these courts are kept in local record offices.
- There is no union index.
- Most wills have been indexed, and many of these indexes have been published.
- Collections of indexes can be seen in several places.
13. Where to find the collections of indexes
- Record office will have indexes for the records they hold, but they may not have indexes for records held by other offices.
- The Society of Genealogists is probably the best place to search efficiently over a wide range of indexes. A small charge is made for visiting their library.
- Many of the indexes to wills can be consulted at the Family History Centres of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The nearest is in Northampton. The indexes you require may have to be ordered in advance so you should make an appointment to do your search.
14. Which court to look for?
- Most wills were proved locally.
- To work out which court is the most likely, you need to know
- a name
- an approximate date of death
- an approximate geographical area
- some idea of the status of the person or family you are looking for
- You may want to consult the booklet by Jeremy Gibson, calledProbate Jurisdictions: Where to Look for Wills.
15. Death Duty Registers
- A 'short-cut' for the period 1796 to 1858 - the indexes to the death duty registers at The National Archives give the court where a will was proved.
- If the grant of probate or administration was made after 1796 and the court of probate is not known, the Death Duty Registers and their indexes may be useful
- These indicate in which court the grant was made, if legacy duty was payable on the estate in question. They are not searchable by name online.
16. Where to begin pre 1858
- Once the decision to search for probate has been made, some thought must be given to a starting pointwith the local archdeaconry court and work up to the PCC, or from the PCC down. Several factors need to be considered.
- 1) The nature of the search, whether for an individual or for all entries of one name over a period of time, and whether restricted to a specific region or spanning the country.
- 2) The social standing of the individual or family. Wealthier families used the higher courts.
- 3) The religion of the deceased. Non-conformists were more likely to use the court of the PCC in London.
17. Where to begin pre 1858
- 4) The time period. There was only one central court in London when Oliver Cromwell was in power, 1653-60.
- 5) If the testator died out of England. For example, sailors dying overseas and owed more than 20 in back pay had their probate handled by the PCC.
- 6) Access to finding aids. Readily available indexes may be worth searching first, whether or not known facts suggest a different court as the starting point.
18. Online documents at the National Archives 19. Prerogative Court of Canterbury wills 20. Prerogative Court of Canterbury wills 21. Nothing free here! 22. Finding Aids at Family Records Centre
- An Index to Wills Proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, 1750-1800 . Originally in 6 volumes
- Index to the Bank of England Will Extracts 1807-1845
- Index to PCC Wills and Administrations 1701-1749
- Printed indexes to wills and administrations for the years up to 1700 (wills, 1383 t0 1700; administrations, 1559 to 1660)
- Index to Death Duty Registers (DDRs) 1812-1857 .
23. England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations),1861-1941
- A Principal Probate Registry was established in London in January 1858, which took control of proving wills and administrations.
- Several district probate registries were created around the country.
- The National probate Calendar provides summaries of the vast majority of probate cases in England and Wales between 1861 and 1941. It ef