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. “