Thursday, 11 December 2014

English and Welsh wills available online from 1858-present

The Probate service has now launched its new online ordering service for wills and other probate materials for England and Wales for the period from 1858-1996, extending the already available provision for wills from 1996 to present, and soldiers wills. The service address is at

On the front page there are only two search fields available, surname and year, both of which must be filled in. Once you have performed a search on these a page from the probate calendar for that year is returned (providing abbreviated summaries of estates that went through the court system, appointed executors, value etc), and an online ordering provision, for which you need to type in the date of probate, date of death, surname and forename, the relevant registry office (from a drop down menu), and the folio number. Once filled in, you then add your order to the basket.

I'm assuming that the calendar pages returned are done so on the basis of a search for the first three letters of a surname, as a search of Paton in one year returned two calendar pages, when in fact all those for Paton were located on the first page only. Just be careful when using it that if more than one page of calendar entries is returned, that there are in fact three separate buttons to see additional entries, marked previous year, next page or previous page (depending on which you are currently on), and next year - I've inadvertently clicked on the wrong one when using it before realising my error.

At present, English and Welsh calendar entries have previously only been available on Ancestry from 1858-1966, so this could be a very useful tool to obtain some basic and free information beyond that date before buying the will itself.

One thing I would urge the organisers to add, however, is a simple 'how to' guide and a bit of explanation about the probate system down south. It is great for genealogists and those who have previously read up on it, but for newcomers this site may be a bit spartan. It also wouldn't hurt to actually tell people up front what the costs of a document is going to be if ordered up - it is £10 per entry, and once paid you will have 31 days to access the copy of the will presented.

One other thing I have found is that for the provisions of date of death and date of probate which have to be added, there is a drop down calendar presented for you to select the relevant dates (which are mentioned in the calendar summaries). But it is actually presented in an online calendar format (i.e. a date calendar, not a probate one!), which means that it is also a potentially useful tool if you want to work out what day a particular date occurred on, going back to 1858.

A bit bland in appearance, and perhaps not particularly friendly for complete beginners, but this will certainly become a very useful tool for those studying English and Welsh family history.

(With thanks to Wendy Archer)

UPDATE: I've been reading some online feedback from genealogists who regularly use the English/Welsh service. A couple of issues have been flagged up - the first is that there is an issue in finding probate in 1996 for people who who died in 1995. More alarmingly, it seems that there are quite a few gaps in the calendar images available - so if death took place pre-1967, it may be worth double checking with the Ancestry calendar images also in case there is something available there that isn't on the probate service site. Ancestry's calendars collection is entitled England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966 and is available at

(With thanks to Di Bouglas and Judy Lester)


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1 comment:

  1. There is a large hole between the 1858-1995 and 1996 onwards databases.

    Deaths before 1996 where probate was granted after 1995 are on neither system.

    For example – Wilfred John PARRISH died 13 Sep 1995, Probate 8 Jan 1996 refs 96515355156, 9651535931 and 9651536338.

    David Wharton