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No city plays a bigger part in family history than London. Even if you don't think of your family as Londoners, it's likely that at least some of your ancestors passed through the capital, in search of wealth, jobs or a better life. Now you can find out more about these people with our new collection of London wills.
London Wills, 1523–1858, is the latest result of our partnership with London Metropolitan Archives. Wills are among the most personal records available to family historians. They offer not just a snapshot of an ancestor's wealth and possessions, but often vital clues about their family connections and even their personality.
Before the proving of wills (known as probate) was centralised in 1858, wills in England and Wales were proved in church courts. These had a complex hierarchy, from individual parishes right up to the Prerogative Courts of Canterbury and York.
Our new collection contains thousands of wills that were proved in the City of London or in Surrey – remember that much of what is now 'south of the river' in London was once in that county.
Where a person's will was proved usually depended on where their property was. Many people who didn't actually live in London owned property in the capital, so their records may well be among our collection.
Inevitably not everyone left a will. But these records provide a rich opportunity to learn more about your London-based forebears. In many cases you'll find details of their burial, close family members and friendships, and sometimes even a complete inventory of their possessions. So, you can build a fascinating picture of how your family lived, centuries ago.
We've been busy adding millions of parish registers to our site, as we strive to create the most comprehensive archive of pre–1837 birth, marriage and death records. Our latest addition is a huge collection of records from West Yorkshire, tracing the region's history and people from Civil War battles to miners' strikes.
From Akworth to Yeadon, this collection includes registers from more than 500 parishes in the area covered by the West Yorkshire Archive Service. During the Industrial Revolution, the population of this region swelled, as people flocked to take advantage of new opportunities.
Perhaps your ancestors worked in the great woollen mills of Leeds, Bradford, Wakefield or Huddersfield? Or maybe they sheared the sheep or mined the coalfields that made West Yorkshire's prosperity possible? They might even have helped construct some of the great factories or commercial halls where fine cloth was traded, worked on the canals or railways, or built the great engines that drove industry.
In total, West Yorkshire Parish Records, 1538–1980, includes more than 8 million records. Most of these are the usual parish registers of baptisms, marriages and burials. So, you can move back through the generations and build a timeline of the key events in your ancestors' lives. Families often stayed in the same parish for many years, so uncover one ancestor, and you'll often open the floodgates to countless more.
The collection also includes registers of confirmations in parish churches. You can see the name, age, address and date of first communion for each young church-goer as they confirmed their commitment to God.
The National Probate Calendar is the single most important resource for finding your ancestors' wills after 1861 – and our site is the only place you can find it online. Now we've added 20,000 more records, to make our collection even more comprehensive.
Our version of the Calendar covers most years from 1861 to 1941, indexing the wills of more than 6 million people. The newly added records cover surnames from L-P in 1925 and those from Q-S in 1930. These alone account for around 630 pages. We've also checked all the record transcriptions, to make sure they're accurate and fixed any problems we could find in the scanned images.
You can search these records by name and date of death, and the calendar entries will give extra information such as the value of the estate and the names of executors, who would probably have been close family members or friends. Armed with this information you can then order the original documents – usually including a detailed will – from the Principal Probate Registry.
Don't forget that these records cover the whole of England and Wales, and include many poorer people as well as the wealthy – anyone who left any property should be listed. Even people who didn't write a will should be included as long as probate was granted.
We've also updated another important probate collection. Andrews Newspaper Index Cards 1790–1976 includes official notices of wills and unclaimed estates, plus birth, marriage and death notices and obituaries. The records were compiled from newspaper and gazette clippings, and were often used by heir hunters. We've now filled in a gap of around 800 records which were previously unavailable.
Old maps are among the most evocative family history resources. They let you go beyond names and dates to explore the historical worlds your ancestors inhabited. Thanks to our new partnership with Cassini, you can now order personalised maps tailored to the time and place in which your family lived.
You've probably heard of Ordnance Survey maps. They began in 1805 with the first black-and-white 1:50,000 plans of England and Wales. Various revisions followed, with the first colour maps in Edwardian times. As early as 1855, though, a six-inches-to-the-mile County Series provided much more detail, showing populated areas in enough detail to identify individual buildings. This was immediately followed by the most meticulous of all, the 1:2,500 County Series.
Now all of these maps are available to you. Cassini specialises in high-quality reproductions of these historical maps, available to download directly to your computer. The maps range from the Old Series right down to the New Popular Edition of the 1940s. All you have to do is enter a postcode or place name to see the options available for your chosen area.
These maps reveal your ancestors' home towns. Not only do they show where they lived but also how these places changed over time, especially with the rapid population growth of the 19th century. The 1:2,500 series in particular can give you an insight into your forebears' communities – local industries, farming patterns and housing density.
You can discover forgotten place names and even trace your ancestors' journeys to work. Then compare your historical chart to a modern map to see what remains of that historical world.
Explore the maps now
Welcome to our Ask the experts section. This is where we answer your questions on all things genealogical, so if you have any pressing queries, send us your questions now*.
If your question doesn't appear here, you can email our Member Services team at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0800 404 9723, and they'll help you with your research.
This month's questions are answered by professional genealogists Chris Paton and Anthony Adolph.
Chris Paton is a professional genealogist with expert knowledge of records from all over the UK.
Anthony Adolph has been a genealogist for 20 years, and has worked on TV shows such as Gene Detectives and Extraordinary Ancestors.
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