Wills & Probate

Since my last post, I’ve been looking into the government’s much-vaunted wills & probate site at www.gov.uk/search-will-probate.

Wills can prove useful in tracing our ancestors, or finding out about their lives – and although the new site is useful, there are a few matters I’d like to mention.

Firstly, the site is only an index, from which you can purchase a copy of a will. But please bear in mind the difference between grant of probate (which means your ancestor left a will) and grant of letters of administration (which means that there was no will). You can purchase the grant of letters of administration, but it won’t tell you any more than the entry in the index does.

The site is split into three sections:  1996 – present; 1858 – 1996; and soldiers’ wills.

1996 – present

The Basic Search field requires a surname and the year of death.  I’d advise you use the Advanced Search function in which you can enter the date of death, and forename.

There is no facility to enter a range of dates.

1858 – 1996

There is only a basic search function for this period, which is annoying if you’re looking for a popular surname.  Again there is no facility to enter a range of dates; and – importantly – the date which you need to enter is the year in which probate/letters of administration were granted, which is not necessarily the date of death.  I’ve found one grant which was 8 years after the death.

Soldiers’ wills

These cover the period 1850-1986.  There is an Advanced Search function, which includes the option to include the regimental number – which is handy if you know it. Again, there is no facility to enter a range of dates.

But please bear in mind that, although all serving soldiers were required to make a will, it’s clear that in many cases – certainly during the First World War – these wills were never proved.  If a man had no money tied up in a bank account, or in property, then his next of kin probably didn’t bother about probate.

In addition, it’s not clear from the site whether “soldiers” includes sailors and airmen – if anyone can clarify this, I’d be pleased to hear from you.

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Battling with Technology…

Lord only knows I’m not a technophobe, but I must admit defeat when it comes to using our new Tablet. I mean, my fingers are hardly big and clunky, but when it comes to selecting one from a list of links, I’ve got no chance.  So  I tried using the end of a pencil as a probe, but that doesn’t work either…  and I’m none too hot when it comes to making notes on it…

On the other hand, the Tablet (which, in a mad moment the OH decided to name ‘Zeta’ – sometimes it’s wisest not to ask) is excellent when it comes to photographing documents.

OH has now announced that he’s going to buy me a SmartPhone (my present phone, which I’ve had for 20 years,  is anything but smart: I have it only for calls. I don’t even text on it, because I’ve never worked out how to turn off the predictive text.)  This apparently will make my life so much easier…

So, if you see someone in a local archive staggering under the weight of a laptop, a SmartPhone, a Tablet and pencil and paper, do come and say hello – it’s bound to be me.

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Random Jottings: The Benefits of Being a Hoarder

Sometimes I look at the overflowing bookshelves (not to mention the piles of books that either need shelving or form the ‘To Be Read’ pile), and think that I really, really need to be brutal and dispose of some of them.  Then I change my mind, and the books continue to overflow.

Over the last couple of months I’ve been involved in a local project centering around food, allotments and recipes.  And – lo and behold! – on one bookshelf I found these two books, which proved excellent sources:

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“The Wrinkle Book” by Archibald Williams, published in 1920. This was a wedding present for my maternal grandparents (who were married in 1924), and contains a wealth of information on running a home, as well as such varied topics as planning an allotment, advice on a variety of legal matters and self-defence.

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“Cookery Illustrated” by Elizabeth Craig. This copy seems, from internal evidence, to date from early 1940 and contains (amongst much else) detailed instructions on how to construct and use a hay box for ‘fuel-less cookery’.

Both books also have collections of newspaper clippings of recipes and household hints.

My latest project concerns the Victorian pauper apprentices.  And scouring the bookshelves this morning for any background information which I may already have, I came across this, which I cannot recall buying:


“Human Documents of the Industrial Revolution in Britain” by Royston Pike.  It appears to have been bought in a library sale in the early 1980s, but why and where I bought it I have no idea.  Again, it’s packed full of useful information.

My New Year’s resolution for 2015, therefore, has changed from “Dispose of books which appear to be of little interest” to “Never throw a book away again.”

This is one resolution which I might just manage to keep.

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Advent Calendar Day 25 – Merry Christmas!

day 25

The final day of the Blog’s Calendar brings you wordpress – a site which enables you to create your very own website.  Wordpress is, in my opinion, the easiest site to use if you’ve never created a website before: you don’t need to know coding, and the dashboard takes you through the process step by step. It’s the site which I use for this Blog, and I’m very pleased with it.  Again, like yesterday’s site, you can make this public or private, and choose exactly who you want to be able to add posts to it.


So – Merry Christmas, and thanks for all your seasonal greetings. I’m off to see if the sprouts have cooked yet – the Blog is off to lie down in a darkened room, from whence it will not reappear until the New Year.  See you all in 2015!

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Advent Calendar Day 24

day 24

Almost Christmas:  and today’s Advent Calendar link to Tribal Pages will enable to you to create your own online family tree, which you can make private or public, add photographs to, and even list your sources… and it’s well worth searching for names in other people’s family trees on the site!

You can create a free site, or, should you wish, pay a monthly upgrade fee, which enables you to include more names and photographs – then again, you can always create a second tree…


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Advent Calendar Day 23

day 23

It’s always exciting to be able to find old photographs of places where our ancestors lived or worked: the excellent site “Images of England”, which has photographs of all listed buildings at the turn of the 21st century, is a splendid place to start searching:




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Advent Calendar Day 22

day 22

Yesterday the Blog brought you a link to the Plantagenet Roll: today’s link, in similar vein, is to Cracroft’s Peerage – a free site listing all baronetcies and peerages created in the British Isles since the thirteenth century:


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Advent Calendar Day 21

day 21

Only four more sleeps until Christmas – and today the Blog brings you a link to “The Plantagenet Roll”.  This contains family trees of the descendants of King Edward III up until 1911 (when the Roll was published), and can be read as an e-book at this site:


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Advent Calendar Day 20

day 20

Ever wondered on what day of the week Great Aunt Maud was married, or on what date Easter fell in 1763?  The following link, to a Perpetual Calendar, will work all this out for you:


Please note: this is an American site – the reference to the Georgian calendar also affects British dates, and refers to the change to the start of the year from March 25 to January 1. There’s more about this on the Blog page “Dates in Family History”.

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Advent Calendar Day 19

day 19

Day 19 of the Advent Calendar brings a link to that most useful of all online catalogues for British genealogy: the National Archive.  You can download some documents for very little cost – others you can order copies of.  The catalogue also incorporates basic details of resources and documents held in Local Records Offices and archives: very useful indeed for a one-stop search.

The latest version of the catalogue is known as “Discovery”- you can find it here:


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