Researching your ancestors from Great Britain and Ireland

A guide to researching your ancestors in England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, using resources at State Library Victoria.

England & Wales

Prior to 1858 the granting of probate came within the jurisdiction of ecclesiastical courts administered by the church. There were over 300 church probate courts arranged in a hierarchy of jurisdiction. Most of their records are now kept in local archive offices.

The old system was abolished in 1858 when probate jurisdiction was passed from the Church to a newly created Court of Probate. From this date onwards records were collected in a Calendar index. These indexes summarise probate grants for a particular year and act as a table of contents for the vast store of records held by the Probate Registries.

Where to start

There are three steps to locating probate records.

  • Determine the year and the parish in which your ancestor died
  • Determine the court or courts that had jurisdiction over the parish
    Locating the correct court can be a difficult task as several probate courts may have jurisidiction within one county. To find the name of the archive where the relevant record collections are held, consult the set of maps on the Origins.Net Probate jurisdictions: where to look for wills website. This site includes links to collections of English county probate records available through the National Wills Index.
    Or you can use GENUKI to search for a county's probate records. This will provide links to any digitised collections as well as the names of relevant archival offices.
  • Search the indexes and records of the court[s]

Pre 1858 wills

Records available from home

  • The National Wills Index - hosted by Origins.net, contains approximately 90% of the English county indexes. Some indexes are free however you have to pay to see digitised images of wills.
  • Index to wills from the Welsh ecclesiastical courts is available online through the National Library of Wales.

Records available in the library

  • UK, Extracted Probate Records 1269-1975, Ancestry Library Edition.
  • Wales, Wills and Probate, 1513-1858, Ancestry Library Edition.
  • Index to Death Duty Registers 1796-1903, FindMyPast UK  (only available in the library).
  • Various online will indexes and abstracts can be found via Ancestry  and  FindMyPast UK  (both databases are only available in the library)  These include:
    • all records proved in the Prerogative Court of York - covering York, Durham, Northumberland, Westmoreland, Cumberland, Lancashire, Cheshire, Nottinghamshire and the Isle of Man.
    • British Record Society probate indexes
    • Oxfordshire and Chester original images, and the Devon Wills Project, among others
    • local will indexes
  • In the Family History & Newspaper room you will find a wide range of indexes to county wills. Search the library catalogue for the name of the county and the keyword `wills', i.e. Hertfordshire wills.

Post 1858 wills

Records available from home

  • Search for the will or probate of any person in the UK who died after 1858 via the GOV.UK Probate Search. Copies of wills can be downloaded for £10.

Records available in the library

  • England & Wales National Probate Calendar (Index of wills and administrations), 1858-1966, can be searched via the Ancestry Library Edition. This collection contains summaries of a vast majority of the probate cases approved between 1858-1966.
  • Probate Calendars Of England & Wales 1858-1959, can be searched via the FindMyPast UK database. Each entry gives the size of the estate and lists the executor and administrator of the will, and sometimes the main beneficiaries.

Soldiers Wills

  • Search for the will of a soldier who died while serving in the British armed forces between 1850 and 1986 via the GOV.UK Probate Search. Copies of wills can be downloaded for £10.

Further information

State Library Victoria

LIBRARY CLOSURE  

As of June 15 2020 the Library is open with reduced spaces and services.

Our Ask A Librarian  reference service is still available to assist with your research inquiries.