This is probably the least useful section for family history purposes as it's highly likely you already have the information that is included in the will. However to use this database just enter surname and year of death and click the search button. If you don't know the exact date of death you might find it here. There is also an advanced search facility for this section which includes first name and more specific date of death details which is useful if the surname is well used and a couple of hundred individuals are recorded in a particular year. If you find a record for one of your ancestors you can't see anything further unless you're willing to pay £10 to download a copy. Unlike the next section which gives free access to the register of Wills and Probate.
3. Soldier's Wills.
The UK Government Probate Service has an on-line data base of Wills and Probate dated from 1858 to the present day. The data base is fully searchable and you only have to enter the surname of the person you're interested in and the year in which they died.
The search is in three sections.
I found the record of my great, great grandfather's Will and I've ordered a copy of the full document. It takes up to ten working days to become available after you've ordered it. I'm quite excited to find out if it will add any more information to my family's story.
2. Wills and Probate 1858 - 1996
As I don't have Harriet's death certificate this record provides new information about where she lived at the end of her life. It also shows that her husband, Thomas Barratt, was still alive. I'd hit a brickwall trying to determine his death date accurately because there were others of the same name living in his area. Knowing he was still alive in 1947 helped to whittle down the possibilities and allowed me to confirm his death date too. The inheritance Harriet left to her husband would be worth about £6,000 in today's money but what I can't understand is why she felt it necessary to make the Will at all. This leads to the next dilemma: if I pay £10 and get a download of the actual document will it provide any answers?
You can access the register and get the summary information free but if you want more you have to set up an account with the Probate Service and order the Will and pay the fee.
1. Wills and Probate 1996 to the present
Another simple search using surname and year of death takes you straight to the relevant page of the register. If several records share the same surname they are listed alphabetically by first name so it's a quick glance across the page to check if your ancestor left a Will. There is a "zoom" feature in the top right corner of the page if you need a closer look at a record. If you don't have the exact year of death you can go to the next year in the database without having to start a new search. My searches haven't found many records but the ones I have found do add a bit more to the family story.
This is the record for my great grandmother, Harriet Barratt (1881 - 1947).
A couple of weeks ago I was using the Ancestry Soldiers' Effects search to find out about our two ancestors who lost their lives in the First World War. I've tried searching their names in the third section of the Probate Service, Soldiers' Wills, but haven't been able to find any reference to either of them.
Recently I've been helping someone with their First World War research and the subject of the study was listed in the Soldiers' Wills database so we downloaded the document. This part of the site incurs the same £10 fee as the rest of the site. The Soldiers' Wills aren't recorded in the Wills and Probate 1858 - 1996 and there is no indication what the document will contain. In the event this soldier's will was only a sentence long leaving everything he had to his mother but it was nevertheless very moving to see. It had been written on May 3rd 1916 and the twenty five year old plumber's labourer from southern England was killed in action just two months later.
Of course, if you have a subscription to Ancestry you can search the Probate Registers 1858 - 1966 there as well. However, for a free opportunity to add to your family's history, the probate search at https://probatesearch.service.gov.uk/#wills is well worth a look.
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I'm a former primary school head teacher now enjoying family history, e-publishing and gardening. I'm the author of "Cabbage and Semolina: Memories of a 1950s Childhood" and was delighted when the book became an Amazon 2015 bestseller in the Social History category. I'm the founder of Spurwing Ebooks which is at http://www.spurwing-ebooks.com for book details and information about new releases and special offers. Details of my books are at https://www.amazon.co.uk/C.-Murray/e/B009R7CRVC and the other books I've published are at https://www.amazon.co.uk/Michael-Murray/e/B007AQZMZK