Wills & Probates, Estates & Guardian Records

Collection Information

Most of our probate collections are indexes – essential aids to help you track down the full records. The largest of these is the National Probate Calendar, which is the single most important resource for tracking wills and probate records after 1858. After you’ve found an ancestor in the Calendar, it’s far easier to order a copy of their documents from the Principal Probate Registry.

Probate records that pre-date 1858 are scattered all over the country, often in local record offices or private archives. Our collections reflect this, as we have indexes from a variety of places and sources. Most of these indexes contain references, which will help you track down the original documents.

Probate records are court documents created by the distribution of a person’s estate after they die. The most important of these is usually a will, which lists the deceased’s property and outlines who it has been left to. These records offer a rare view into your ancestors’ daily lives.

The value of the estate suggests whether they lived in luxury or squalor. The possessions themselves offer clues about hobbies and interests. And the other family members mentioned often provide completely new avenues to research.

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Search Tips

  • When searching by year, remember that the date probate was granted won’t be the same as the date of death – in many cases it’s several years later. If you’re unsure, either leave the field blank, or use the +/- options to widen your search.
  • The National Probate Calendar mainly covers deaths in England and Wales. However, several entries relate to people who died abroad. Many of these deaths won’t appear in the official indexes, so the Calendar might explain mysterious disappearances in your family.
  • Before 1882, most married women couldn’t leave a will, as their property was assumed to belong to their husbands. However, you may find records for spinsters and widows.
  • Don’t assume only wealthy forebears left wills. Poorer people often used these documents to express their hopes and desires for their families, as well as distributing their meagre possessions.