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Help - Wills
Wills can be useful in proving family links and plumping up your family tree.
Wills and administrations
Only a minority of people left a will. The testator or a solicitor wrote the will and the testator appointed one or more executors to carry out bequests: often their wife, son or a brother was nominated. The executor(s) went to a probate court to swear an oath that they would carry out the wishes of the testator, and this created a brief document, found as a footnote to a register copy or original will, known as 'grant of probate' or 'proving of a will'. This often took place within weeks of the testator's death.
Where a person died leaving no will, their next of kin sought agreement by a probate court to access the deceased's estate. They were granted administration (often abbreviated to 'admon') and 'letters of administration' naming the deceased and their administrator (and a few other details) were retained by the court.
Deaths 1858 onwards
If your ancestor died after 1858 their will or administration will be recorded in the National Probate Index: Ancestry website covers 1858-1995, Findmypast has records up to 2019, both sites are searchable by name. Alternatively, the official gov.uk website is at https://www.gov.uk/search-will-probate, but has a gnomic search facility; if you can conquer this, an online copy of a will costs £1.50 as at 2022.
Deaths prior to 1858
Prior to 1858, where an original will (or copy) or administration is held depends upon the probate court used and this is determined by where the testator's estate lay.
If someone had property in both Old and New Brentford, then their will was handled by a higher court: the Consistory Court of London.
If someone had property in two dioceses, such as in Brentford and across the Thames in Surrey, then their will was handled by the Prerogative Court of Canterbury.
Probate Courts (pre-1858)
This note is only relevant if you cannot locate a will but suspect one may exist and are not sure where. As far as I am aware, the majority of original wills and registers copies relating to the courts noted below are held at either London Metropolitan Archives (LMA) or The National Archives at Kew (TNA). The list below gives the area of jurisdiction for each court. The location of the wills is in brackets.
Another aid to finding a probate court is available if death duties were due; these were levied between 1796 and 1903. Findmypast 'Death Duty Registers 1796-1903' provides the name of the deceased, their residence (possibly just a town or county), the executor, their residence plus the abbreviated court name and folio number.
Accessing wills online (pre-1858)
Ancestry has scanned and digitised several collections held by LMA and these are indexed and searchable through their website (£). When searching, bear in mind that if your ancestor was born in Old Brentford their will may describe them as being of Ealing: Old Brentford was part of Ealing parish until 1828.
To locate wills, start from the Ancestry 'Search' tab and select option 'Wills and Probate' to search by name across the entire record set. If there are many matches it is possible to filter the list by Record Set.
There are 158 wills for individuals from Old and New Brentford in this set.
Wills proved at the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC) have been digitised for the National Archives. The images can be accessed and downloaded via Ancestry, through their 'Search' and 'Wills and Probate' option as noted above.
Alternatively, PCC wills can be viewed for free via the TNA website (the image is watermarked but readable). If you are searching for an an uncommon name the simple search should work. For a more common name, used the 'Advanced Search' entering a name and set 'Search for or within references' to 'PROB 11'. If you register (free) then you can download wills for free.
It was planned to provide details of all Brentford PCC wills on this website, and so far the site has a list of around 340 PCC wills for Brentford people, 1800-1858 and notes from over 60..
Findmypast 'Death Duty Registers 1796-1903' has been mentioned above. Once you have the court name and folio number more information can be accessed: see the TNA website Research Guides: 'Death duties 1796 -1903' for more information.
Published November 2010; updated December 2022