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.
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.