Tracing your British ancestry needs the family history researcher to understand what records and resources are available to them in the country where their British Ancestor came from. There are different legal jurisdictions in Britain with different laws that may mean different records. The British Isles include England & Wales, Scotland, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man and Northern Ireland. The Republic of Ireland, while part of the geographical area known as the British Isles, is now a separate country.
Finding your English or Welsh ancestors’ wills before 1858 in the Church courts Before 1858 there was an intricate system of probate courts in existence coming under the jurisdiction of the church. It befell to these ecclesiastical courts, ranging from Bishop’s courts to Archdeacon’s courts and some Peculiar courts, to grant probate on the last will and testament of our English and Welsh forebears. If someone was particularly wealthy, or they had goods in more than one diocese or jurisdiction, then probate would be granted by the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, for the southern province of the country, or the Prerogative Court of York for the Northern province. Where the testator had goods in both the north and southern province then the PCC granted probate.
The copies of the wills for the Prerogative Court of Canterbury are held at The National Archives in Kew while the Prerogative Court of York are at the Borthwick Institute.
This short video is intended to introduce you to the subject of pre-1858 English/Welsh wills, but to find out more there is a lesson on the subject within the Family History Researcher course on English and Welsh family history (links in the tabs at the top of the page).
The best way to discover the records of your ancestors is to learn as much as you can about the hundreds of records, data research sites and various archives that there are by taking a genealogy course. Nick, The Nosey Genealogist has a really useful blog packed with family history tips and also various learning material. His extremely well received family history course – that can quickly put you back on track – is available from a link above.
For those people starting to research their British family history one of the important things is to take notice of anything that you are told by your relatives, by your family, because although it may not be 100 percent true there is always something that somebody will know that will give you the idea as to where to go and find other records. It’s important, also, that you take the information in official documents as having a degree of accuracy – although that information is only as good as what was given by the informant at the time. So any information on a birth certificate or a census can be wrong from day one because your ancestors didn’t want you to know the real truth. And that can confuse people, so the other alternative, or the best way of doing this, is to make sure you look at every type of document.
So look at a civil registration certificate; look at a parish register; look at a census; try and get a will and look at anything else that will give you the full details relevant to that particular individual. That way you’re able to build up a picture of what you are aiming to achieve.
As you progress you will find that it becomes complex. You’ll find that you may hit brick walls; you find that you may have conflicting information and in some instances it’s going to be necessary for you to actually go along and work different lines of the family, different individuals, because what you have got to do is make sure that you eliminate those that aren’t part of your family. Its ever so easy to go down a wrong line because you haven’t been clear enough in making sure the family or the individual that you have is the right person. And sometimes that’s beyond the experience and the expertise of the average family historian and that’s where you need to talk to the professionals.
That’s where members of ARGA, The Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives can help because they are accredited, they have proven their ability to to do this and yes, they might not find all the answers because if somebody doesn’t want to be found in officialdom, they wont! Irrespective of how good you are and how through you are, but you stand a better chance with using a professional because they know perhaps a little bit more of the overall number of documents that you can use to do that.
Hit a brick wall with family history research? Perhaps these tips from British professional genealogist, family history teacher and author Anthony Adolph will help.
Anthony has contributed to the Family History Researcher Course published by The Nosey Genealogist online.
This is Anthony Adolph who is a professional genealogist and author and we asked him for his tips:
“So, Anthony can you give my viewers some tips on how to do their family history?”
“Well the first thing is talk to your relatives and find out what they know.
“But I would advise being healthy sceptical about what they tell you and check that they are giving you the right names and the right dates and don’t take it for gospel. Go away and look at the original records and check.
“And that brings us to another good tip, actually – that is when you’re looking for records you’re going to be looking for birth marriage and death records often and they’re on many of the web sites where you can find references to births marriages & deaths. Now my advice is buy the certificate don’t try and save the money by not buying the certificate and then second-guessing what might be on it because you can go really badly wrong so buy the certificate. Then you are on solid ground and that means you can work further back with confidence.
“And maybe a third tip… I’d say have a DNA test. Have genes tested particularly if you can have your Y chromosome male line DNA tested because that will tell you where your family tree is going to go in terms of thousands of years. And once you know where the family trees going to go than all the rest of the genealogical researcher you’re doing is going to be building back along a path which already to a certain extent laid out. So I think DNA tests are really the way forward, actually. “
This must be the easiest way to break through those brick walls you have with your English or Welsh family history, without a lot of work struggling to understand which websites will help you – or wasting valuable time looking in all the wrong places, when on a visit to the archives. Discover where to look and what resources to use with this course. Find your English or Welsh ancestors and fill out your Family Tree.
I have been writing about researching British family history for several years and I am often contracted to put together a case-study article using the records of TheGenealogist. The aim of these pieces are to showcase how you can discover your English or Welsh ancestors by using their data website. These pieces appear all over the place, with or without my name as the author as they use them for publicity. Some of these articles are written exclusively for their website’s ‘Featured Article’ section, including those about the UK series of Who Do You Think You Are? celebrities:
Other stories are use by their business as promotional articles in several of the British family tree magazines such as Your Family History Magazine (and its predecessor the U.K. published Your Family Tree Magazine),Family Tree, Discover Your Ancestors Bookazine and Discover Your Ancestors Periodical.
If you want a taste of what I have written in the past then you couldn’t do better than looking at Genealogy Reviews where a number of the magazine articles have been republished online at this genealogy review site:
Drawing up your English/Welsh family tree may be a simple matter for many of us just as long as we know where to look for our ancestors. The problem can be that we just don’t know in which of the many genealogical records to go and look for them in. We may have tried the easy and obvious ones, but have we looked everywhere?
If your forebears come from England or Wales then, with a bit of knowledge of the various different record sets and resources that are out there you should be able to easily put your family tree together and add your ancestors to its branches.
Sometimes, however, you may come up against an annoying brick wall in your research. When you can’t find an elusive English or Welsh ancestor, don’t despair as quite often it will be possible to get around this logjam by simply making use of a different research tactic to tease out that oh so difficult to find ancestor that you had thought had seemingly disappeared. Other times you may just need to use one of the many other record sets other than the ones you have been using to discover your ancestor and so get your family tree research back on track.
The best way to discover your ancestors is usually to learn a bit more about all the many records, data research sites and various archives that are available to you. Think about taking a genealogy course such as the one here at the Family History Researcher Academy.