Welcome to the Ancestry Academy…

September is here and children all over the country are heading back to school. It’s the perfect time to dig out your pencil case and do some learning of your own – in the Ancestry Academy! Whether you’re a new starter or a top set whiz kid, this week’s lessons will help you develop your family history skills and make brand new discoveries.

Thursday, Third Period, Maths

Probate records:
Calculating your family’s worth

Wills and probate records provide the sum total of your ancestors’ lives. They can tell you how much money a relative had and what possessions they passed on, plus who they gave them to. It all adds up to a detailed picture of their worth when they died.

Teacher’s note: Our probate records are available to Premium and Worldwide members. You may need to upgrade your membership to complete these lessons.

Too easy? Join the Top Set
Take the advanced lesson

Top set

Before 1858, probate cases took place in a variety of different courts all over the country. We’ve gathered together scanned images of wills and other probate records created in these courts – let’s see what they can reveal about your ancestors’ lives.

We’ll adopt Joseph Pratt from Poole in Dorset as our 3x great-grandfather. We think he died around 1785. Can we discover anything about his life?

  1. Too easy?

    1Start your search in Dorset Wills and Probates, 1565-1858. Use Joseph’s name with the year 1780 for Any Event – but as we’re unsure, click ‘Show Advanced’ and use the +/- options to allow five years either way. The first result looks promising, so click ‘View Image’ to see the original will. This Joseph left all his belongings to his children – but he didn’t name them, as clearly they hadn’t been born when he wrote his will!

  2. Too easy?

    2The will was written in 1759, but there’s no note about when it was proved, so we can’t guess at when he died. This is unusual, so try clicking the right arrow to the top right to browse to the next page. You’ll see it’s a short note, stating that the will was proved by Elizabeth Pratt – his widow – on 24th March 1788. It looks like we’ve found our ancestor.

  3. Too easy?

    3Return to Dorset Wills and Probates, 1565-1858 to see if you can find a will for Elizabeth. Just use her name, and the first result is a will written on 16th March 1787. View the image, and you’ll quickly realise it’s the right woman, as she called herself the widow of Joseph. She left everything to her sons Joseph (junior) and James.

  4. Too easy?

    4We have no idea when the younger Joseph died, which may make it difficult to find his will. Let’s fix that in Dorset Deaths and Burials, 1813-2001. Search for Joseph Pratt, and we’ll guess he died in Poole, Dorset. You’ll see one obvious match – Joseph junior was buried on 11th March 1817.

  5. Too easy?

    5Now you can go back to Dorset Wills and Probates, 1565-1858 and look for Joseph Pratt in Poole, specifying 1817 under ‘Any Event’. The results are a bit confusing. The first one is obviously Joseph senior. But the second match gives the years 1846-1857. View the image to clear things up – this is a will from 1817 that has been bundled up with more recent records. Joseph mentioned his late mother Elizabeth, and asked for a John Dunford to look after his estate while he went to sea. Sadly, a note says the will was proved on 13th March 1817 – just eight days after it was written – so Joseph junior must have died almost immediately.

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Are you finished? Start the next lesson


Not all our probate records are wills – other legal documents can also shed light on your ancestors’ circumstances. See if you can find a letter of administration for the John Dunford mentioned in Joseph junior’s will. The letter appoints him to deal with a dead relative’s estate – what is her name?

Note down the answer and keep it safe until the end of the week – you’ll be tested on your responses on Friday!



Monday's free period

Prize Draw 1

Family Tree Maker

Win 1 of 10 copies of our latest software

Be one of the first people to get your hands
on the new and improved version of our award-winning family history software. It comes complete with improved integration with your Ancestry.co.uk account, advanced charts and reports, interactive timelines and maps, and many more great new features.
We have ten copies ready to be won.

Enter the prize draw

Closing date 30th September

Tuesday’s free period

Prize Draw 2

WDYTYA? magazine

10 subscriptions up for grabs

Trace your family's past and discover your roots with Who Do You Think You Are? magazine. Brought to you by the team
behind BBC History Magazine, and the
official companion to the successful TV
series, WDYTYA? magazine's features
range from military to social history, telling
the stories of ordinary and extraordinary people and how they used to live. We have ten subscriptions to give away.

Enter the prize draw

Closing date 30th September

Wednesday’s free period

Prize Draw 3

Worldwide Memberships

Win 1 of 5 annual memberships

Our worldwide membership provides everything you need to trace your family history around the world. Scour the globe
with unlimited access to our entire library
of over 7 billion records, plus guaranteed access to all our new releases. We have
five annual memberships to give away.

Enter the prize draw

Closing date 30th September

Thursday’s free period

Prize Draw 4

National Trust passes

Win 1 of 50 pairs of tickets

We’re working with the National Trust to preserve our nation’s history, and help you uncover your family’s place in it. To
celebrate our partnership, we’re giving away 50 pairs of day passes to the National Trust property of your choice. Don’t miss the
chance to experience the history of Uppark, see the beauty of Fountains Abbey, or visit another of the Trust’s 350 properties.

Enter the prize draw

Closing date 30th September