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.