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 jurisdiction within one county. To find the name of the archive where the relevant record collections are held, consult the set of maps featured in the following publication - 
    Probate jurisdictions : where to look for wills.
    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

Pre 1858 wills

Records available from home

Records available in the library

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

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

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

Note - we have just upgraded our Library catalogue and are updating some links on our guides.

As we do this some catalogue links may not resolve correctly.