Derbyshire Probate: Wills and Administrations

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.

Derbyshire 1858-1928

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.

Further Reading

Building History – Next Steps

A guide to other detailed records and tips for specific types of building.

If you are new to researching the history of a building try our getting started guide first.  There are also more complex records available for discovering the history of property and land, including:

  • Estate records: including rentals and terriers which can be used to identify tenants
  • Manorial records: primarily court rolls/books containing information about land tenure and changes in ownership and occupation.
Sources for standards of living, i.e. wealth of owners/occupiers
  • Wills and probate inventories listing goods and chattels in the house
  • Medieval and early modern Inquisitions Post Mortem are held at The National Archives and provide evidence of land ownership, inheritance and transfer
  • Tax returns, including land tax assessments for 1780-1832 (available on microfilm in Local Studies) and The Derbyshire Hearth tax returns (published 1982).
Farms 
  • For some farms business records may have been deposited, check the online catalogue to see what is available.
  • Surveys of farms were undertaken during both World Wars. The records of the WW2 National Farm Survey are held at The National Archives.  During WW1 surveys were undertaken by local War Agricultural Committees, and only a small number of records survive, including for the Ilkeston (reference D331/1/21).
Churches

For all churches the first place to check is the archive of the parish or church in question.

For Anglican parishes, glebe terriers provide a written survey or inventory of the church’s property in the parish, e.g. the rectory or vicarage, fields and the church itself. They may contain the names of tenants and the holders of adjoining lands, information on cultivated land, or how the income from tithes was calculated and collected.  Most terriers are held under reference D2360/1, but some are in parish or estate collections – search the online catalogue for the place name and the word glebe.

Some Diocese of Derby archive collections will also include information about church property, for example the Diocesan Registers (reference D4633/2) give details of consecrations, mortgages, sequestrations and licences.  Records of Queen Anne’s bounty at The National Archives may also include useful information about Anglican churches and parish property.

Under the Toleration Act of 1688 dissenting congregations were obliged to register their places of worship with the bishop, archdeacon or justices of the peace.  From 1812, registrations were retained by both authorities.  The returns to the justices are held under reference Q/RR/12 and Q/RR/13.

Schools

Search the online catalogue for records relating to a particular school – we recommend searching the Title field using the name of the school – if you’re not sure about the school name or if it might have changed, try searching just for the word school and the town/village name:

For most school buildings it is also worth checking the records of the relevant School Board.  There are also architects plans for many schools that were built in the 19th and 20th century, click here for a full list from the county and borough architects.  

Public Houses

Licensing registers between 1753 and 1827 can be found under Q/RA/1.  There are no registers available between 1827 and about 1870.  Thereafter, the registers were maintained by the local magistrates at the Petty Sessions courts to 1974. Click here for a full list of the Petty Sessions archive collections.

Shops/Trades buildings

Goad maps are detailed rolled street maps showing individual buildings with their uses, for example shop names.  Available in the Local Studies Library for Alfreton, Ashbourne, Bakewell, Belper, Buxton, Chesterfield, Derby, Glossop, Heanor, Ilkeston, Long Eaton, Matlock, Ripley, and Swadlincote.

Trade (and later telephone) directories survive from the mid-19th century, usually listing prominent landowners, officials and residents, with a commercial section arranged by surname and by trade, although not everyone is included.  Original and microfiche copies of Derbyshire directories are available in the Local Studies Library, as are published town guides for the 19th and 20th centuries.

See the Looking for Organisations guidance for tips on searching for archives relating to specific businesses and industries.

Public works/buildings

For County Council buildings contact County Property.  Check the online catalogue for records relating to the authority that owns/owned the building in question – see also Looking for Organisations guidance.

For buildings associated with late 18th to early 20th century public works such as canals, railways, roads, gas and waterworks see deposited maps and plans under reference Q/RP.

Listed Buildings

The Department of Environment Lists of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest can be consulted in the Local Studies Library or online via the National Heritage List for England.  Each listing gives a precise location, historical information and full architectural details of the site.

Also available in Local Studies are Derbyshire County Council Planning Department’s Listed Buildings record cards which often include a photograph.

Further Reading

Always search the online catalogue and the onsite indexes for other sources.  The following publications (and many more) are available in the Local Studies Library

  • Nick Barratt (2006) Tracing the History of your House
  • Anthony Adolph (2006) Collins Tracing your Home’s History
  • Pamela Cunnington (1980) How old is your house?
  • Colin and O-Ian Style (2006) House Histories for Beginners

Family History – Getting Started

A guide to where to start with your family history and the main types of record to help you.

The first thing to do, is to gather together as much information as you can from present day family members and any family documents you have at home.  Record what you already know such as names, dates and place of birth, marriage and death, then use this to work backwards and fill in any gaps.

Civil Registration of births, marriages and deaths: A national system of registration was introduced in England and Wales on 1 July 1837.  Search the indexes online, e.g. www.gro.gov.uk or www.freebmd.org.uk. Order copy certificates from www.gro.gov.uk or the local register office.

Church registers: as far back as 1538 (and up to the present day), church records that provide information about when people were alive through baptism, marriage and burial registers.  Registers for Anglican churches in Derbyshire can be consulted via Ancestry up to 1916 for baptisms, 1932 for marriages and 1991 for burials.  Free access to this site is available from all Derbyshire libraries.  See guide to Parish Registers Online. Before 1733, almost all of the entries in the church registers are recorded in Latin.

Similar registers are also available for a large number of non-conformist churches. Some are available via Find My Past (also be accessible for free in Derbyshire libraries), with others available on microfilm or as original documents in the archive search room.

Consult the Parish Register List and Non-Conformist Register List for details of the records available.  For more recent registers added to the church collections, please search the online catalogue using the reference number given in the summary guides (Parish Guide and Non-Conformist Guide) or by searching in the Title field as follows:

  • Church of England: place name and the word parish, e.g. Alfreton Parish
  • Non-conformist: place name and the word church (or chapel if applicable), e.g. Gresley church.

For some churchyards and civil cemeteries, local groups have produced Memorial Inscriptions, recording the details of memorials and gravestones in and outside churches, these are often useful for identifying family relationships.

Censusa national census has been taken every ten years since 1801, and from 1841 detailed returns listing individuals have survived.  The returns are available online (for example on Ancestry and Find My Past) up to 1911, and microfilm copies are available to 1901 at the record office.  From 1851, the returns include place of birth, and more detail is added over time making them very useful for helping to trace ancestors who may have moved around.  Depending on the date and place of residence, for some ancestors you may be able to identify the house they lived in, but house numbers and even street names are quite uncommon in most rural and semi-rural towns.

Bishops’ Transcripts: in 1598, parishes were ordered to send an annual copy of all baptisms, marriages and burials for the year to the church authorities.  For some parishes, the ‘Bishop’s Transcripts’, or BTs were made until the late 19th century and can be very useful when the original registers are hard to read or if a register is missing.  Both BTs and parish registers can contain entries not found in the other.  Derbyshire was part of the Diocese of Lichfield until the mid-19th century, so the BTs are held at Staffordshire Record Office.

Cemetery records: copies of cemetery records from 1855 to the 1990s are available on microfilm and DVD.  The registers tend to include more information and there is usually a grave register to help identify the location of the grave itself.

Consult the Cemetery Records Guide on our website for a full list of the records available.

Wills and Probate: by at least the 13th century the Church had succeeded in establishing a jurisdiction in testamentary matters, which it retained until the Court of Probate Act 1857.  Most early Derbyshire wills are to be found amongst the records of the Diocese of Lichfield held at Staffordshire Record Office and can be accessed online via Find My Past. One exception was Dale Abbey manorial court which exercised its own probate jurisdiction until 1858.  Wills of persons holding property in more than one diocese were proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC), see The National Archives guide to Wills or Administrations before 1858 Guide for more information.

Between 1858 and 1928 wills (and letters of administration to 1875) for many Derbyshire residents were proved by the Derby Probate Registry and copies are available on microfilm or DVD – search the catalogue using the person’s name and reference D96/*.

Wills after 1928 can be ordered online from the Probate Service.

There are also thousands of wills amongst family and estate collections, particularly where they form part of a bundle or series of deeds to prove the title to property.  The best way to search for such records is to search for the individual’s name in the ‘Any Text’ field in the online catalogue.

Guides to doing family history:  there is a lot of information online about how to research your family history, and we have lots of general and specific guides (for example relating to ancestors in particular trades, those who broke the law and those who emigrated) in the local studies library to help as well.

Find out more about your ancestors using records for digging deeper.

Probate Registers – free to a good home!

We no longer need our set of probate registers, covering 1901 to 1935.  The volumes are mostly in good condition, but as the information in them is now available online, we no longer need them.  Anyone who wants them should contact record.office@derbyshire.gov.uk.  And anyone who wants to use the online versions without paying for an Ancestry.co.uk subscription should visit our searchroom (or your local Derbyshire library) and ask to use the Ancestry Library website.