- Locating Records
- Research Sources
- Search Sequence
- Probate Registry Guide
- Ramsdale Wills Database
- Search Form
There are three steps to locating pre-1858 probate records:
- determine when the Will might have been proved;
- determine the court or courts that had jurisdiction: Ecclesiastical jurisdictions, which help determine the court, are given in Topographical Dictionary of England (Samuel Lewis) or A Genealogical Gazetteer of England (Frank Smith);
- search the indexes and records of the court or courts.
- A Simplified Guide to Probate Jurisdictions: Where to Look for Wills; Gibson, J.S.W, 3rd ed. Solihull, England: Federation of Family History Societies, 1985, updated 1988. Lists probate courts and records with the location of, and dates covered by, original records.
- Wills and Their Whereabouts; 4th ed. London: Anthony J. Camp, 1974. Describes jurisdictions and lists records, time periods covered, and availability of indexes by repository with addresses.
- Wills and Where to Find Them; Gibson, J.S.W.,Chichester, England: Phillimore and Co., Ltd., 1974. Discusses probates by county with list of courts, records and records offices. Includes basic maps and glossary.
- Published PCC indexes 1383 to 1700, 1750, especially 1653 to 1660 which covers all Wills - see page 2 of A Simplified Guide To Probate Jurisdictions
- Society of Genealogists card index of PCC Wills 1750 to 1800 (by special permission)
- Estate Duty Office consolidated index 1812 to 1857 (PRO)
- Estate Duty Office separate indexes for PCC Wills, PCC Admons and all relevant local courts 1796 to 1812 (PRO)
- Society of Genealogists microfilm copies of indexes of relevant local courts
- Other indexes held by local record offices
- PRO Indexes of PCC Wills by first letter of surname 1701 to 1750
- PCY Wills at Borthwick Institute, York
- In many courts, there are separate indexes for Administrations and Wills. Search both indexes to find a possible probate record in that court;
- When a higher church authority made an official visit, the lower court was inhibited (prevented from acting). This was called an ecclesiastical visitation. Records of estates probated during an ecclesiastical visitation are often with the records of the higher court;
- If the court presiding officer was not present, another court probated the Will. For example, the Court of the Dean and Chapter usually acted when there was no bishop;
- Other courts, such as the Court of Common Pleas or the county quarter sessions, may have probated or received a copy of the Will;
- Technically, church courts did not have jurisdiction over real property. Some Wills and many disputes over real property were handled by the Chancery Court. Some of the Wills in this and other courts are listed in A List of Wills, Administrations, etc. in the Public Record Office, London, England: 12th to 19th Century; (Baltimore: Magna Carta Book Company, 1968);
- A totally different court may have been used for the convenience of the executor. To overcome these problems, search the records of all probate courts having jurisdiction over the areas where the individual had property. You may also need to extend your search several years after the individual's death.
Probate Registry Guide
The Principal Registry of the Family Division
First Avenue House
42 - 49 High Holborn
London WC1V 6NP
(Tel: 020 7947 7000).
What Records are available ?
Almost all Wills proved and Grants of Representation issued in England and Wales since 1858. Grants of Representation and proved Wills are public records; anyone is entitled to obtain copies of them. However, not all estates need a Grant to be taken or a Will to be proved: copies are only available if a Grant has issued.
What is a Grant of Representation ?
A grant of representation is a document issued by the Court which enables the person(s) named in it to deal with the assets and belongings ("estate") of the deceased. It allows the money in banks, building societies etc. to be collected, property to be sold or transferred and debts to be paid. There are three types of grant of representation:
- Probate: granted to the executors named in the Will
- Letter of Administration (with Will): granted to someone other than an executor when the deceased left a valid Will and
- Letters of Administration: granted when the deceased did not leave a Will.
All these documents give the same authority to administer the estate. Throughout this pamphlet, the word "grant" will be used to describe all three.
How do I find out whether a Grant has been taken ?
There is no time limit by which a grant must be obtained. A search of the Probate Calendar (National Index) will reveal whether a grant has issued. There is a calendar for every year from 1858 up to date. Prior to 1973, the calendars were in book form but after that they were recorded on microfiche. Since 1998, the calendar from 1996 onwards is kept on computer. Entries are made in the calendar in the year in which the grant issued (which is not necessarily the year in which the deceased died) and are arranged in alphabetical order by the surname of the deceased. The amount of information given in the calendars has changed slightly over the years, but every entry will include the following details:
- full name and last address
- the date of death
- the type of grant issued
- the Registry at which the grant issued and the date of issue
- the gross value of the estate
The calendars include all grants issued throughout England and Wales.
There is no charge for you to search the calendars yourself. If you need any help, staff will explain how you can do this.
Where are the Calendars kept ?
The only place where there is a complete set of calendars (from 1858) available for public inspection is First Avenue House in London. Most District Probate Registries have calendars covering at least the last fifty years. If you intend to visit a Registry specifically to look at the records, you are recommended to contact the Registry beforehand (a list of addresses and telephone numbers appears overleaf) to check what is available.
What if I cannot get to First Avenue House or a Registry ?
Registry officials will make a search on your behalf. There is a charge for this but if a grant is traced, the search fee includes the provision of a copy of the grant and (if any), the Will.
You must write to the Postal Searches and Copies Department at York (addresses overleaf) giving the full name, address and date of death of the deceased, stating what you require and enclosing the appropriate fee.
Requests cannot be accepted by telephone.
What if I do not have the full information ?
If you are prepared to spend the time, you might be able to find what you are looking for with very little information other than the surname of the deceased.
If you ask the Registry to make the search for you, we will do our best with whatever information you can supply, but without at least the correct full name, and the year from which you want the search to begin it will not be possible to identify the correct record.
What if I cannot find an entry in the Calendar ?
If the death occurred a long time ago (years), it probably means that a grant was not needed, in which case we will be unable to help you further. If the death was more recent, it may mean either that no grant was needed, or that a grant has not yet been obtained. If you think that a grant is likely to issue, you may wait for a while before making another search, or ask for a "standing search" in the estate.
What is a Standing Search ?
A standing search is valid for six months, and if a grant issues within that time, you will automatically receive a copy of the grant and a copy of the Will.
You may extend a standing search for further six month periods until you either receive a copy or conclude that a grant is unlikely to be taken.
I know the details of the Grant - how do I get the copies I want ?
Once you know when and where a grant issued, you can have copies of the Grant and the Will (if any). You may order copies at First Avenue House or any District Probate Registry. You should state the full name of the deceased, the date of the grant, the Registry where it issued, what copies you want and pay the appropriate fee. You may order copies by post or by attending any Registry. Telephone orders cannot be accepted.
How long does it take to obtain copies ?
The length of time taken to supply copies varies, depending upon where the original documents are kept. In some cases we may be able to give you a copy "on the spot" but generally we have to order them from the place where the original documents are held.
The Probate Service aims to supply copies within 21 working days of your application.
What does it cost ?
- If you make your own search and order copies at the counter: £5 (this includes a copy of the will, if any) additional copies of the same document costs £1 per copy
- If you make your own search and order copies by post: £5 for each estate: this fee includes a copy of the Will (if any), regardless of the number of pages, and a copy of the grant.
- If you write to York and ask for a search: £5 (This covers the four year period from the date of death). There is a further search fee of £3 for each subsequent 4 year period searched. If a grant is traced, the fee includes a copy of the Will (if any), regardless of the number of pages, and copy of the grant.
- If you wish to write for a search and/or copy, you should write to The Postal Searches & Copies Dept, York Probate Sub-Registry, Duncombe Place, York, YO1 7EA where a special unit deals with such requests.
A "standing search" (and extension of a "standing search"). £5 this includes a copy of the grant and a copy of the Will.
Payment should be made by cheque or postal order, payable to H M Paymaster General.
If you are applying from outside the UK, payment should be made by international money order expressed in pounds sterling). If you attend an office in person, you may of course pay cash.
Indexes to these Wills ("Calendars") may also be inspected and copies ordered at any of the offices shown below.
The Priory Courts
33 Bull Street
Tel 0121 681 3400
Tel 0127 368 4071
The Crescent Centre
Tel 0117 927 3915
2 Park Street
Tel 029 2037 6467
17 Lower Brook Street
Tel 01473 253724
Tel 0113 243 1505
Queen Elizabeth II Law Courts
Tel 0151 236 8264
Tel 0161 834 4319
Newcastle Upon Tyne
Tel 0191 261 8383
Oxford Combined Court Building
Tel 01865 793 055
Tel 01962 853046
Calendars are also retained at local branches of LDS Family History Centres.
For information regarding grants issued elsewhere in the UK and in the Irish Republic you should contact:
Scotland: H M General Register Office
Up to 1985: H M Register Office, H M Register House Princes Street, Edinburgh EH1 3YY
Tel 0131 535 1352
After 1985: H M Commissary Office, 27 Chambers St, Edinburgh EH1 1LB
Tel 0131 247 2850
N Ireland: Probate & Matrimonial Office, Royal Courts of Justice (Ulster), Chichester Street, Belfast BT1 3JF
Tel 028 9023 5111
Rep Ireland: Probate Office, Four Courts, Dublin
Tel Dublin 725555
Ramsdale Wills Database
The Ramsdale Wills Database currently contains 314 entries for Wills registered under the surname RAMSDALE in the period 1383 to 1967. This data has been extracted from the following sources
- Indexes compiled by the British Record Society of Wills proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury in the period 1383 to 1857, and
- Indexes of Wills proved between 1858 and 1967 maintained by the Principal Registry of the Family Division, First Avenue House, 42 - 49 High Holborn, London WC1V 6NP
If the online Ramsdale Wills Database file is too large to load, complete and submit the following form to request a search of the Database for the probate records of a Ramsdale ancestor.