1. When trying to recover probate records for your ancestor, you should bear in mind that the record will be dated quite a while after the actual date of death. Begin your search with the year of death or estimated year.
2. While most will be within the same year – it is possible to find records up to 3 years after the person died. So be prepared for a long search, checking each year separately. After 3 years, it’s fair to assume that probate was unnecessary.
3. If you still cannot find anything – there are a small number of cases where un-administered estates come to light when their heir’s die. So, try searching for the records of their descendants.
4. Another trick is to search Scottish and Irish probate records too. If your ancestor owned property in Ireland or Scotland, probate may have been granted there. For example, the England and Wales National Calendar contains 110,000 instances of deaths that occurred in Scotland. You can also check records in other English speaking countries such as America, Canada and Australia.
5. When you find the entry, you will see a grant type is listed. ‘Administration’ means that your ancestor did not leave a will. However, it is still worth obtaining copies of documents. The probate grant will show you who applied for letters of administration to ‘wind up’ the estate, their relationship with the deceased and the value of the estate.
6. When you obtain copies of probate records; review the information carefully. Does it verify what you already know? Are there any conflicts? Is there a chance that it is not your ancestor?
7. Be careful how you interpret the information contained within the documents. See our guide to reading historic wills
8. A codicil is an amendment made to a will. These contain valuable information as they normally indicate a change in family circumstances.
9. Methodically go through the records and write down every piece of factual information you can glean. You may be able to find other sources to search or new family members to research.
10. You may be able to find out more about your ancestor from the Inland Revenue or Estate Duty tax on estates 1796-1903.
If you’re having trouble with your search, IWC offer a will tracing service for just £49, including copies of all documents found. Just enter as much info as you can into our form and we’ll do the rest.
What is probate?
Probate is the process of administering a deceased person’s estate. The term is derived from the Latin word verb probo (to prove) – the validity of a will. The executor/administrator must apply to the court to be granted the legal right to wind up the estate. To do this they must provide supporting documents such as the death certificate, an inventory of assets, a copy of the will.
What information can I find?
Wills are rich information that’s especially valuable in genealogical research. You can find out where your ancestor lived, what they owned, who they left their possessions to, what they did for a living, and lots more. Aside from factual information it can give you a real personal insight into the life of your ancestor, who they favoured, religious preferences, their social standing, hobbies and interests. You’ll even get to see their signature.
What if my ancestor didn’t make a will?
Even if your ancestors did not make a will, there are still records produced during the probate process that can provide valuable information about your family history. Documents include the letters of administration – a formal document appointing a representative to administer the estate and an inventory of the deceased’s possessions. It will also contain names, places, addresses, dates, to further your search.
How far do records go back?
The Probate Registry took control of wills and administrations in 1858. At this time the principle registry was established in London, along with several district registries around the country. Prior to this, 300 different church courts dealt with probate, therefore records are scattered.
How do I access probate records?
IWC offer a will finding service for genealogy researchers. Enter all the information you have into our form and we’ll trace your ancestors will on your behalf. Order probate records
If you’re looking to find your family tree, check out our genealogy research store. We supply a fantastic selection of tried and tested genealogy books, software and research materials.
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There are glossaries, step by step guides, tips, techniques and much more. Here’s our guide to some of the best:
Genealogy for beginners
The Genealogist's Internet: The Essential Guide to Researching Your Family History Online By Peter Christian
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Publishing your family history
While some people find genealogical research an exciting hobby, others become impatient and want to reach the end-goal at a faster pace. If you’re not enjoying the genealogy journey and would prefer to have a professional do the work on your behalf, IWC offer complete genealogical record packages from just £220.
Rather than spending money on resources and research guides, you can purchase a research package containing all Birth, Marriage and Death Certificates. You’re then free to take a more in-depth look and delve into the past of certain family members or branches.
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All you need to do is enter as much information as you can into our online form. Or call and speak to a professional researcher on 0800 612 6105.
There is a vast fortune of wealth sitting in the coffers of the treasury waiting to be claimed. An estimated £15bn in total of inheritance exists for which no beneficiary has been found.
Given the size of the fortune involved there is no surprise in the fact that a huge industry has grown up around the issue of unclaimed estates with many dedicated legal firms focussing solely on the function of tracing the lineage for some of this wealth. It is a topic which has given rise to a popular daytime television programme and been the subject of innumerable tabloid column inches.
Heir-hunters invest in very expensive and sophisticated search techniques, in the hope of finding the rightful heirs to the estate. Each time details of a new unclaimed estate are published, there’s a frenzy of activity and a race begins to trace the deceased’s relatives, before anyone once else. This is because they are paid a percentage of the estate value for their trouble. If they don’t get their first, they don’t get paid.
With all of this interest and publicity; you might be forgiven for thinking that there is little point developing your own family tree, with the vague hope of finding a connection to a long lost relative. This is not necessarily the case, last year alone the treasury absorbed £43 million from unclaimed inheritances.
Search the list
If you think there’s a chance you could be heir to an estate and have basic information available such as the deceased’s name and place of death – you can perform your own search of the Bona Vacantia (Ownerless Goods List):
Find your family tree
In many cases, long lost heirs come from large, displaced families. When contacted, many are not even aware of the existence of their benefactor. While this may seem unusual and perhaps a little far-fetched, it is more common than you might think.
For example, imagine your grandfather had a brother who he lost contact with. He never mentioned his brother because they’d not been a part of each-others’ lives for so long. Let’s say that your ‘great uncle’ married and moved to the other side of the country after the war. They weren’t blessed with any children of their own and both passed away, without heirs. Your grandfather would be the closest living relative of the deceased and according to the laws of intestacy, would be the rightful heir of the estate. This right then passes to his children and their children.
Genealogical research, often presents people with whole new branches of their family tree. These discoveries can result in reconnections with people and long lost property too.