October 22, 2021
This week I’m up to my eyebrows in probates. As I described a few weeks ago, I watched a webinar by Paul Milner called “Tracing Your 20th Century English Ancestors” on Legacy Family Tree Webinars (https://familytreewebinars.com/webinar-library/ ). The webinar discussed, among other things, how to order English probates.
Right now the “Find a Will” section of the Gov.UK website (https://probatesearch.service.gov.uk/#wills ) is running a Beta Program which allows you to find and order probates from 1858 forward. Each costs £1.5 ($2.07). In his webinar Paul suggested that now is a good time to order probates for any ancestors from the time period – direct or not.
Knowing that the price will probably never be better, I’ve definitely taken Paul’s advice. I’ve ordered probates for everyone on my tree who was English – great grandparents, great-great grandparents, a great aunt and her family and all manner of cousins. Not everyone had a probate, of course, but it’s surprising how many did. The cutoff for whose estate needed to go through probate was pretty low; some of the ones I’ve gotten were for less than £50, but they still give the same information as those worth many thousands.
One of the best parts of these probates is how quickly they arrive. I’ve actually had them show up in my inbox (did I mention they all come as PDF files?) in two or three days. Talk about instant gratification! In the past, I’ve waited weeks for paper copies of records from England.
The information in the probates ranges from ho-hum to “break down brick walls” amazing. You never know what you might find.
For example, one of my great grandfathers had a younger sister who I’ve chased for years. She shows up in the baptismal records for the parish in which she was born and in a couple of census records thereafter and then just disappears. This is a fairly well-researched family, and there are hundreds of trees online containing this sister, but none of them has any more info than I’ve been able to find.
I had pretty much given up on ever finding out more about her. Then as part of this probate bonanza I’m digging into, I received a copy of her older brother’s probate. He never married, but I’ve learned over the years that those unmarried relatives are often the best sources of family ties. Having no direct descendants of their own, their probates usually list more distant relatives.
That was definitely the case here. He listed four nieces and nephews as his beneficiaries, children of his deceased sister – the lost sister I’d chased for so long! He gave her married name, and within a matter of minutes, I’d found online marriage, census and death records for her. Since she had a common name and had moved to London, she’d been hiding in plain sight all along.
I’m still wading through probates. Almost all of them have secrets to unfold – names, dates and family relationships I’d never known before. The best part is that I still have more records to order. My inbox is going to be a treasure chest of information for the foreseeable future. I can’t wait to see what I find!
If you have any English relatives who died after 1858, now is the time to check the indexes and see whether you too have probates to order. The price will never be better and who knows what brick walls you may break through. I know that there are plenty of probates available; maybe some of them will be yours. Good searching!
Researcher/Director at Large