A guide to locating Derbyshire wills and administrations
A Will is a legal document by which a person outlines their wishes for how their property and estate should be managed, divided or disposed of after death.
Letters of Adminstration/Admon were granted to an administrator where a person died intestate, i.e. without making a valid will. The Letters are granted by the court of probate.
Probate is the process by which a will is proved to be legal and valid and confirms that the executor or administrator can begin fulfilling the wishes of the deceased as outlined in the will.
Wills would usually have been proved by the court or registry covering the county where the biggest proportion of property was owned, but is also affected by where the person died and how much their estate was worth.
When searching for or obtaining a copy of a will, it is usually the probate copy that survives, i.e. the copy that has been proved to be legal by the relevant court. This means it is not the original as dictated or possibly written by the individual, very few of these survive, and without comparison to the probate copy there is no way to know whether it was the final and therefore legally valid will.
Probate before 1858
Before 1858, proving wills and granting letters of administration was an ecclesiastical responsibility. Derbyshire was not a Diocese in its own right until 1927, but was part of the Diocese of Lichfield and Coventry until 1884 (then the Diocese of Southwell to 1927). Therefore, most pre-1858 Derbyshire wills are held at Staffordshire Record Office and wills proved in the Consistory Court of Lichfield from c1520 are available online through Find My Past.
Wills of persons holding property in more than one diocese would have been proved in one of the two Prerogative Courts depending on where their property was located. The Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC) wills (including those proved 1653-1660 in a court of civil commission which transacted all testamentary jurisdiction during the Commonwealth) are held at The National Archives. Many of these wills, including over 1 million from the Prerogative Court of Canterbury can be searched and viewed online: www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/help-with-your-research/research-guides/wills-1384-1858. For information about the wills proved at the Prerogative Court of York, please see the Borthwick Institute website.
A small number of Derbyshire wills before 1858 (usually originals that do not record a note of probate) are available in the archive collections, often amongst bundles of title deeds. Search the online catalogue, using the ‘AnyText’ field – search for the full name in the first instance, with the parish of residence if necessary.
Since 1858, proving wills (and granting letters of administration) has been a civil responsibility. In Derbyshire, this work was carried out by Derby Probate Registry until 1928 when the Derby office was closed.
The Record Office holds the Probate Books which include copies of all the wills proved at the Derby District Probate Registry between 1858 and 1928, and and letters of administration granted to 1875.
Search the online catalogue entering the person’s name in the ‘Any Text’ field and D96/* in the ‘RefNo’ field. The catalogue entry gives the name of the testator, the year the will was proved (note, this is not necessarily the same as the year of death), place of abode and the total number of pages. The reference number includes the first page number of the will within the book. The catalogue entry also includes the reference number for the DVD or microfilm that the will can be viewed on.
UK after 1858, including Derbyshire after 1928
Following changes within the Probate Service in the last few years, all wills and administrations from 1858 are available to search and purchase through www.gov.uk/wills-probate-inheritance. This includes all wills from 1858, including for Derbyshire.
- The National Wills Index is the largest online resource for pre-1858 English probate material (with over 3.6 million records), containing indexes, abstracts and source documents
- The National Archives guide to Wills and Administrations before 1858
- The National Archives guide to Wills 1384-1858
3 thoughts on “Derbyshire Probate: Wills and Administrations”
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There is a chance that people might misinterpret your words in the latest posting on will and probate. You said “Wills of persons holding property in more than one diocese were proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC)”. Whilst that is true if one of the dioceses was Lichfield, it’s not always the situation. If a person held property in more than one diocese, all of which came under the Province of York, then I believe I’m right in saying that the will would generally be proved in the Prerogative Court of York (PCY). Just for clarification.
I’m very much enjoying your articles – keep up the good work !
Thanks Mike, you are quite right, thank you for pointing out the error, I will get that amended now, Becky