Explore an index of more than 38,000 Berkshire wills and probate records. See if your ancestor’s probate papers have survived through the centuries. The index will give you details about the year of probate, the type of document surviving, and usually an ancestor’s occupation and residence. This collection is published in partnership with Berkshire Family History Society and the Family History Federation.
The detail in each record varies depending upon its date, whether the deceased died testate or intestate, and so on. However, as a minimum you should be able to find the following:
• Year of probate
• Occupation or details of status
• Surviving documents
• Archive reference (for ordering copies of documents)
Please expand the Discover More… section below to discover how to order copies of historical documents.
These records have been prepared and are published by arrangement with the Berkshire Family History Society. We are grateful to the Society for licensing these records for the benefit of researchers on Findmypast.
The records cover the period before probate was centralised as a state activity in 1858. Probate matters before that year were the responsibility of ecclesiastical courts, and in this case those of the Archdeaconry of Berkshire. Historically, the Archdeaconry was within the Anglican Diocese of Salisbury, although for the closing years of the period covered by this record set – 1836-1857 – it was transferred to the Diocese of Oxford.
The probate process
If an individual died testate, his or her estate would be proved in the Court. This process involved establishing the validity of the will, confirming the executors by granting probate, gathering in the assets and distributing the estate to the rightful beneficiaries. There is a wide range of document types associated with these activities – first, of course, the last will and testament and any codicils (addenda) attached to it. In addition, you may find mention of an inventory (an itemisation of the deceased’s assets), the grant empowering the executors to act, the estate account and sundry other documents, such as those relating to trusts.
If a will, or part of a will, failed in such a way as to generate a full or partial intestacy, the estate, or the affected part of it, would then have been administered as if the deceased had died intestate and a will had not been written in the first place.
Ordering copies of documents
The documents listed in the transcriptions on Findmypast are those that survive today; copies can be ordered from the Berkshire Record Office. To do this, please visit the archive’s own website using the Useful Link in the right-hand panel of this search page. You will need to cite the archive’s reference given in the transcription on Findmypast. Note that Berkshire Record Office will charge for its services in retrieving and imaging original documents for you.
When searching the index, please note that this record set covers an extended period of several centuries, at the start of which orthography – spelling conventions – had not been standardised. This means that you can expect spelling variations of familiar names, and need to exercise care and discretion when searching so as not to miss an entry of interest to you. For example, in the earlier years a surname may have a terminal -e (as in Marshe rather than the more common Marsh), the letters i and y could be interchangeable, and names such as Hutchen, Hutchens, Hutchins and Hutchings should be considered phonetically as a cluster rather than expecting an ancestor to appear under the version of the surname that became the family standard in later periods.
It is worth mentioning that, by and large, the only women you should expect to find in the index will be spinsters and widows (who could, of course, be wealthy). Throughout this period, married women did not have a legal right to own and control property in their own right (although marriage settlements and trust instruments may have been used by some families in response to this legal restriction).