In this guide we will explain how you can look for your ancestors’ wills in England and Wales for the period between the year 1384 and 12 January 1858.

If you’re looking for Probate records and wills from 1858 onwards, please see this article.

Look for Records of Wills at The National Archives

The records available through The Natonal Archives are all registered copies of the original probates written into volumes by clerks at the church courts. Until 1858, all wills had to be proved by the church and other courts, the PCC being the most important of these courts that dealth with relatively wealthy individuals living mainly in the south of England and most of Wales.

The information contained in these wills includes where the person lived, the name of the one responsible for carrying out the wishes (executor), the date of will, its witnesses and the chief beneficiaries.

How to Search for Records of Wills

The National Archives provides a Search functionality that allows you to look through the records in their catalogue. To do so, you need to fill in an online search form.

Not all fields in it are mandatory, and it’s recommended that you use a wildcard * to search for variants of a name or ? to replace a letter because the spelling of first and last names may vary considerably. For example, you would use Sm* or Sm?th for the different spellings of Smith.

14th century: Thomas Kennardesle 2 December 1391 (PDF, 0.22MB)
The 14th century will of Thomas Kennardesle, dated 2 December 1391. Courtesy of The National Archives.

You will only find an entry if the will was proved by the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (which covered the south of England and Wales). There were three main factors that determined in which court a will would be proved: where the person died, the value of the goods and how these goods were distributed geographically.

Please note that only registered copies are included, not originals. 

The wills are a page long on average, although they can range from a mere five lines to more than 20 pages. The majority of them are written in English, and in the cases where wills are written in French, Dutch or other European languages, they are accompanied by an authenticated translation. Before 1733, sentences and probates clauses were written in Latin, with the exception of those from the Interregnum (1651-1660), which are in English.

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