A will is a legal document containing a person’s wishes regarding property disposal when they die. Wills can be very useful when learning about your family history, as they can provide information about the family and possessions of an individual.

What do they show?

Wills can provide information that will allow you to learn about the lives of your ancestors.

Wills show:

  • Charitable bequests – This can help give clue to the persons origin
  • Provisions of the widow – Percentage of the estate given to the widow
  • Provisions of the children – Percentage of the estate given to the children
  • Items of sentimental value – Items such as jewellery, ornaments, clothing, etc, may be listed separately
  • Surprises – Such as the confession of a child born out of wedlock for example. Further details may be given
  • In Scotland, up until 1868, wills were only used to transfer movable property. Inheritance of land and buildings were completed though different processes
  • Wills included the inheritance of land and buildings from 1868 to 1964
  • After this date, most heritable property was passed through testaments or trust deeds

If someone dies without leaving a will, the next of kin can get control of the estate by applying for a grant of administration.

Where can I find them?

There are many places across the country that holds records of wills from different dates. Below is a list of places you are likely to find the wills you are looking for:

  • The National Archives – Holds records from the southern part of England, of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury. Visit www.nationalarchives.gov.uk for further details.
  • Online documents – Records for England and Wales, also held by the National Archive. Visit www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/documentsonline for further details.
  • The Family Record Centre – Copies of wills for England and Wales are available here. Visit www.familyrecords.gov.uk/frc for further details.
  • Borthwick Institute of the University of York – Holds records of wills of the Prerogative Court of York. Visit www.york.ac.uk/inst/bihr for further details.
  • A2A database – Records concerning minor, locally held wills may be described here
  • National Libraries – Holds copies of wills from various dates from that area of the UK.
  • Court Service – Provide information about wills where probate was granted, from 1858 onwards. Visit www.hmcourts-service.gov.uk for further details.
  • National Archives of Scotland – Holds wills of Scotland from the 1500s to 1991. Visit www.nas.gov.uk for further details.
  • Scottish Documents – Holds wills of Scottish ancestors from the 1500s to 1901. Visit www.scottishdocuments.com for further details.
  • Public Records Office of Northern Ireland – Contain wills and copies of wills from 1858. Wills before 1858 were destroyed in a fire, but indexes to these wills are also held here. Visit www.proni.gov.uk for further details.
  • National Archives of Ireland – Holds information on wills proved in the Republic of Ireland. Visit www.nationalarchives.ie for further details.