This is a guest post by Andrew Millard who maintains a very useful webpage listing probate records
Probate records are a gold mine of information for genealogists, but the records can be hard to find. Prior to the creation of national civil probate courts (1858 in England, Wales and Ireland, 1876 in Scotland) one has to search the records of local, regional and national jurisdictions depending on where one’s ancestor owned property, and that means searching multiple indexes or calendars and accessing records from various archives.
For over 30 years I have been conducting a one-name study of the name Bodimeade, and ten years ago I had reached a point where I decided that a systematic check of every probate index was the next logical step. I also had some other surnames where I regularly collected all references in pre-1850 or pre-1800 records as I found them (in case you are interested: Brooksby, Littlechild, Redington, Spriddle), and intended to collect all the index entries for them as well. So how did I go about it?
I started with the book Probate Jurisdictions: where to look for wills by Jeremy Gibson and Else Churchill which describes the area cover by each court and lists all known indexes (and their deficiencies). Although it was last updated in 2002 this book is invaluable as a concise guide to the courts, the printed indexes and the locations of the original records. My copy is very well thumbed!
As I have easy access to a major research library, I started by systematically working through all the probate indexes published by the British Record Society. Then I went to Probate Jurisdictions to identify other indexes and checked as many of them as were in the library. I made slow but steady progress in lunchtime sessions in the library, but after a while it became obvious that there were new indexes appearing that weren’t in Probate Jurisdictions, so I started annotating my copy and checking them as well.
It’s all very well writing ‘see BRS 102, 108, 111’ in the margin of book to denote a new set of indexes for the London Commissary Court but I soon started finding online indexes, and added notes like ‘online index bristol.gov.uk/ccm/content/Leisure-Culture/records-and-archives/bristol-wills-index-1793-1858.en’ for the Bristol Consistory Court. When I revisited an index that had to be typed out again, and I decided that I’d be better off creating a webpage with the links in. So my page Recent Indexes to English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish Probate Records was born, initially just for my own use. As it developed I made it public because it seemed others could benefit from my efforts in compiling it.
Since then it has growed like Topsy. Although I have tried not to duplicate material from Probate Jurisdictions, I have included older indexes that have been scanned and placed online. I periodically search sites with major collections of scanned books, like archive.org and books.familysearch.org for newly scanned indexes. In doing this I’ve found a handful that were omitted from Probate Jurisdictions. That might be because they are superseded by a later index, but in some cases I know of no other index.
New indexes are coming out frequently, and existing ones move to new web addresses, so it is a never-ending task to keep my list up-to-date. Even if it is up-to-date it is not comprehensive, as many indexes published in the 20th century are in copyright and not digitised. So please do use my list to find indexes to pursue probates relating to your ancestors, but don’t forget to refer to Probate Jurisdictions to find indexes only available in print. Inevitably you will want to look at original documents not just an index, and if images of the originals are not online, then Probate Jurisdictions: where to look for wills will tell you where to find them.
About Andrew: Apart from his full-time day job teaching at Durham University, Andrew somehow finds time to act in the following capacities;
Chair, Trustees of Genuki: www.genuki.org.uk
Maintainer, Genuki Middx + London: www.genuki.org.uk/big/eng/MDX/ + ../LND/
Academic Co-ordinator, Guild of One-Name Studies: http://www.one-name.org
Bodimeade one-name study: community.dur.ac.uk/a.r.millard/genealogy/Bodimeade/
My genealogy: community.dur.ac.uk/a.r.millard/genealogy/