Find out if your ancestor left a will or was mentioned in one. Search more than 500,000 people listed in the probate calendars between 1858 and 1959. Each entry gives the size of the estate and lists at least the executor and administrator of the will, and sometimes the main beneficiaries. This can show you connections to other branches of the family or close associates and give you other avenues to explore.
Each record contains an image of the page containing the entry. The amount of information can vary but you can find out the following about your ancestor:
Date of death
Address at death
Name of spouse
Names of executors, administrators or beneficiaries (could be children, other family members, friends etc.)
Occupation of those mentioned
Size of estate
Before a will can take effect, a grant of probate must be made by the court. Until 1858, matters of probate were dealt with by the ecclesiastical courts of the Church of England. After 1858 the civil government took over the settlement of all estates and all wills were now probated through the Principal Probate Registry system. There were 11 district registry offices with 18 sub-district registries located around England and Wales. The principal office was in First Avenue House, London.
Once you’ve found your ancestor in the index you can use the information to request a copy of the will from the National Probate Registry.
Notable cases within the Probate Calendars
Among the cases in the calendars are two cases generally accepted as forming part of Charles Dickens’ inspiration for the never-ending Jarndyce v Jarndyce case that runs through Bleak House. The Jennens v Jennens case arose after the death of William Jennens in 1798. Jennens, known as William the Miser or the Miser of Acton, died unmarried and intestate leaving a fortune worth an estimated £2 million, which would be well over £200 million today. According to the Gentleman Magazine he had died with a sealed will in his pocket, unsigned because he had forgotten his glasses on the day he went to visit his solicitor about the matter. The dispute over his will was finally abandoned in 1915 – 117 years after it had begun when the protracted litigation had dried up all the funds.
Dickens may also have been inspired by the notorious Thellusson case which arose after the death of merchant Peter Thellusson, in 1799. He had directed that the income from his property, worth about £5,000 a year and his personal estate – valued at over £600,000, should be accumulated over the lives of his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The estimated value after this period of accumulation was expected to be in the region of £14 million and was to be divided between the living descendants. In 1856 a dispute broke out about who were the actual heirs. It was eventually decided in the House of Lords in 1859 in favour of Lord Rendlesham and Charles Sabine Augustus Thellusson but owing to the expense of the case, the amount inherited was worth little more than the original amount left by Peter Thellusson. In the Calendars you can find the children of Charles Sabine Augustus Thellusson, Aline and Peter of Brodsworth Hall in York.
Use the Full text search to search for specific information such as full name, address etc. Remember that this is a search of the entire text and as such cannot approximate spellings. You will need to spell your search term exactly as it would appear in the text.
To rule out search results that highlight your name search in another context, "West" coming back with "West Yorkshire" for example, use the First letter of Surname search field as well as the Keyword search. In other words your search would be "W" and "West".
Use the Additional keywords search box to use a secondary search term. This means that you can search for both a name and an address.
You will probably get better results if you use broad searches i.e. a town instead of a street address or a Surname instead of a full name.
If you want to search for a full name or address you can use inverted commas to show that you want the words to appear together. Searching for John Smith might get results for pages were John refers to one entry and Smith to another. “John Smith” will look for that phrase on the page.