New post-1858 wills service launches online

By Jon Bauckham, 12 December 2014 - 4:07pm

Researchers can now order digital copies of probate records dating back to 1858 following the creation of a new online system

The new online wills system acts as a replacement for the Principal Probate Registry search facility at the Royal Courts of Justice, which will close permanently on Friday 19 December (Credit: Alamy)

Family historians have a new route for accessing copies of their ancestors’ wills following the creation of a new web system.

The Probate Service has launched an online wills index for England and Wales, enabling people to search for any will dating from 1858-1996 and order a digital copy via their computer.

Searchable by name within specific years, the index links to a digitised version of the National Probate Calendar, showing all matching entries from the appropriate volume.

Once the correct person has been found – indicated by details such as address and court where the will was proved – researchers can then ‘click through’ and order a digital copy at a cost of £10 each. The document will then be made available as a download, generally within 10 working days.

Launched on Thursday (11 December) the new system is to act as a replacement for the Principal Probate Registry search room at the Royal Courts of Justice, which will permanently close on Friday 19 December.

While researchers can apply for wills by post or at district probate registries, the London facility has been the only place the complete National Probate Calendar can be accessed by the public. Although scans of Calendar volumes are available through Ancestry.co.uk – used by many when filling out a postal order form – this set only covers 1858-1966.

Searchable by name within specific years, the index links to a digitised version of the National Probate Calendar, showing all matching entries from the appropriate volume

Full details regarding the changes were welcomed by members of the family history community, who were invited to attend a Probate Service user group meeting in London on 2 December.

While the Society of Genealogists had previously released a statement claiming it was “evidently not sensible” to close the search room while introducing an untested service, genealogist Dr Geoff Swinfield, who attended the meeting, told Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine that reactions to a demonstration of the new system were “positive”.

In particular, researchers had voiced concerns based on the quality of the Probate Service’s online index to post-1996 wills, which went live in September.

While this system can also only be searched within specific years, the lack of detail it provides about each testator means it can sometimes be unclear whether an entry relates to the correct person – especially if they have a common name.

However, according to Dr Swinfield, the Probate Service reassured attendees that it welcomed feedback on both indexes, and would consider adding partial address details to the post-1996 database in the future.

When approached by Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine, a spokesperson from the HM Courts and Tribunal Service, which oversees the Probate Service, confirmed it would be “happy to work with [its] developers to see if issues raised can be addressed”.
 

TAKE IT FURTHER

Search the new Wills and Probate 1858-1996 system by clicking here

 

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