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English Wills After 1858

The Court of Probate in Holborn London holds all Wills issued after 12 January 1858, they are indexed and you are able to order them by post.


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The National Probate Calendar, as it is known, is the index for all wills proved from 1858. They can be searched by going through the index books themselves at the Principal Probate Registry in Holborn London, or can be widely searched on microfiche and film. The indexes are called calendars, and the downfall here is that they are indexed in annual volumes, not indexed as a whole. But it really doesn't take that long to do a sweep of years. The indexes are in alphabetical sequence so the searching is pretty quick.

The calendars themselves give enough information for you to know you have the right person. Strangely enough, the earlier calendars give more information than the later one; full name and address of person; name and address of executors; and relationship to the deceased; plus date and place of death; and at the bottom will be the value of the deceased's estate. However, from 1892 the relationship and address of the executor is now left out.

The calendars can be found in London in the National Archives, The Family Record Centre, The Society of Genealogists, and the Guildhall Library. You can go and access these calendars yourself by visiting:

(TEL: 0044 20 79476000)

If you have the date of the death you can order a copy by post. Send to:


When you have the chance to buy a will, you have the choice of just the Will or the grant of probate. It is always wise to get both. The latter is normally very small and generally does not contain any extra information that you haven't seen in the will, but occasionally, if there has been a big delay in the grant of probate--for example the will has not come to light--then it can contain addresses of executors and other information.

Death Duty Registers can be of use when the person dies intestate leaving no will. In all honesty they are better used before 1858. But if a trust were left by the deceased person--annuities and legacies etc., then the Death Duty Registers can be of particular use in actually following the family through from one generation to another via the heirs, giving information such as marriages and children, death dates, etc. The information for the Death Duty Registers is not the same as found on the wills, as it is following what happens to the fortune after the will. After 1858 for estates over £20 there should be, in theory, a death duty record. However, the register was not filled in always, unless there were more than £1500 worth of assets, as the death duty tax would not be collected. The Death Duty worked on taxing bequests to anyone other than the husband and wife . The Death Duty records are held as original documents in the National Archives in Kew. Consequently, to obtain copies, a researcher would have to hire a record agent to seek them out.

What about disputed wills? The National Archives only have about seven percent of actual papers on will disputes, but these can be easily checked online, on the archives website. Their catalogue formerly known as PROCAT can be found at, and are found in the series called J121. Plus, another path is that the Death Duty Registers would state if there was litigation.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2006.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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