12 best websites for finding your ancestors' wills online

By Editor, 13 November 2014 - 12:46pm

It has never been easier to track down your ancestors' wills now that more indexes and documents are going online

Sarah Williams is editor at Who Do You Think You Are? MagazineThursday 13 November 2014
Sarah Williams, editor
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Finding an ancestor’s will used to be a slow, and not always fruitful, process – the sort of job that family historian’s would leave until last. After all, the chances are your forebears didn’t even leave a will – most people didn’t. And, even if they did, there’s no guarantee that it would be where you might expect.

Before wills collections were indexed you could easily spend a day going through boxes of wills at a record office, only to find out that your kin had rather grander ideas and had their will proved by the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC).

The good news is that, as with so many family records, more and more material is coming online, making speculative searches much easier. The bad news is that there is no central database so you really do need to know where to look on the web.

And remember, the wills that have been digitised or indexed are still just the tip of the iceberg. If you really think that someone might have left a will, you will still need to visit that record office, or pay someone to check for you.

So, in alphabetical order, here are 12 websites that will help you track down your ancestors’ last requests:

1) Ancestry.co.uk – This subscription website hosts the National Probate Calendar which gives a short summary of post-1858 wills for England and Wales. To see the complete will you will need to order it from www.gov.uk for £10. Ancestry also has copies of wills proved by the PCC going all the way back to 1384!

2) Borthwick Institute – The Borthwick Institute’s website has detailed information on the probate procedure, especially in relation to the jurisdiction of the court in Yorkshire. 

3) Cyndi's List – Try Cyndi’s List when you are looking for the wills of overseas relatives, since the website provides links to relevant information from across the world.

4) Familysearch.org – This free site includes some probate records, including original wills from the diocese of Durham.

5) Medievalgenealogy.org.uk – If you’ve managed to take your family history back to the Middle Ages, you probably don’t need any advice from me, but this website is great for tracking down early wills.

6) The National Archives – The National Archives holds the records of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, with the wills available to download for £3.30 (ideal if you don’t have a subscription to Ancestry.co.uk).

7) National Library of Wales – If you’ve got Welsh ancestors then you’ve hit the jackpot as far as wills are concerned. The National Library of Wales has digitized its entire collection of pre-1858 wills and put them online for free.

8) Origins.net – With the National Wills index, this site is a must for those researching pre-1858 English wills. Its coverage is far from complete, and in most cases, you will see an abstract or index entry, rather than the will itself. However, some collections, e.g. Oxfordshire, Hertfordshire and Chester, will let you download the original will for a fee.

9) Oxfordshire Family History Society – Oxfordshire Family History Society’s website contains wills that have been transcribed by its members. Check out other local family history societies to see if they have done similar projects. Many local record offices also have online indexes.

10) Probatesearch.service.gov.uk – This government site currently only includes post-1996 and soldiers’ wills but will eventually enable you to order any post-1858 wills online for £10 each.

11) Scotlandspeople.gov.uk – This is a the official central repository for Scottish wills online, both pre and post 1858. Download original documents for a fee.

12) Society of Genealogists – Although the Society of Genealogists doesn’t have original wills, the detailed guidance published on its website can help you locate them.

Find out more about wills and how to track them down in the November issue of Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine. On sale now!


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