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

New starters

The National Probate Calendar, 1861-1941, is only available online at Ancestry.co.uk. We’ll show you how you can use it to discover where and when your ancestors died – and how much they left behind.

For this lesson, we’ll take Robert Freeman from Hull in Yorkshire as our great-grandfather. We know he died on 28th August 1903. Can we discover more?

  1. Too easy?

    1Search the National Probate Calendar. Use Robert’s full name and date of death, with Hull, Yorkshire as the location, and click ‘Search’. The first result is obviously correct, so click the View Image icon to see the original record, and scroll down to find Robert’s entry. You’ll see that it includes his full address. There’s a list of the executors, the first of which is an estate agent also named Robert Freeman – this is surely his son. The value of the estate is over £16,000 – a very impressive sum for that time.

  2. Too easy?

    2We’d now like to find Robert’s father Luke in the Calendar. But we’re not sure when he died – we just know he was born around 1808. So, first turn to the FreeBMD Death Index: 1837-1915. Search for Luke using his name and birth year. You’ll find there’s one clear match, which tells us that our 2x great-grandfather died in the last quarter of 1867 in Hull.

  3. Too easy?

    3Now return to the National Probate Calendar. Enter Luke’s name, with 1867 for the death year and Hull, Yorkshire for the location. There seem to be two correct results. Click ‘View Image’ for the first one and scroll to the bottom – Luke’s entry runs over two pages, which is why there were two results. The first half gives his address and occupation – bricklayer – plus the fact that his estate was worth less than £100. This tells us that Robert was very successful, as he inherited very little, but ended up as a wealthy man.

  4. Too easy?

    4To see the second page of Luke’s entry, click the right arrow to the top right. It gives us his precise date of death. Even more importantly, you can see that the sole executor was Ann Freeman, who’s named as his widow. If we wanted to, we could now carry on and see if she’s included in the Calendar.

  5. Too easy?

    5The National Probate Calendar entries are summaries of probate cases that happened when people died all over England and Wales. You can use the information they provide to order your ancestors’ complete records – often including a detailed will – from the Principal Probate Registry. So, if we wanted to, we could order Robert’s documents, and see what possessions and property added up to the value of £16,000. Download an application form and further instructions.

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Too easy? See how you do in the Top Set
Take the advanced lesson

Are you finished? Start the next lesson


You can continue to follow the trail of money through your family tree in the National Probate Calendar. For example, Robert Freeman’s son Walter died on 22nd May 1898. Can you find his entry, and discover the value of his estate?

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