Berkshire Probate Index

Project Objective

Berkshire Family History Society gave both practical and financial support to this project, working with partners (Berkshire Record Office, Berkshire Record Society, Berkshire Local History Association, the Marc Fitch Fund and Oxfordshire Family History Society) to produce a new electronic index to the probate documents of the Archdeaconry of Berkshire.

Completion date

This project is completed. Datasets were prepared by Berkshire Family History Society (on behalf of the project partners) and, early in 2012, the CD was built and extensively tested. It went on sale at the end of April 2012 and you can order your copy of the Berkshire Probate Index CD from the shop

Period covered


Area covered

The boundary of the Berkshire archdeaconry matched, almost exactly, that of the 'old' Royal County of Berkshire. A few parishes fell outside the archdeacon's jurisdiction, into one of three 'peculiars'. The Peculiar of Faringdon also included Little Coxwell. The Peculiar of the Dean and Canons of Windsor comprised Hungerford, Shalbourne and Wantage. The Peculiar of the Dean of Salisbury covered Arborfield, Aston Upthorpe, Blewbury, Hurst, Ruscombe, Sandhurst, Sonning, Upton and Wokingham.

NOTE:There are documents from most of these 'exceptions' in the archdeaconry collection and they are included in the index.

Outputs and publications

An early project element addressed the period from 1480-1652 and Berkshire Record Society has published a three-volume printed index following completion of this part of the project.

Berkshire Family History Society (on behalf of the project partners) prepared an fully searchable electronic index in CD format for the entire Berkshire Archdeaconry probate collection (from 1480-1857).

The Berkshire Probate Index CD contains details of some 38,000 people (and over 9,000 distinct surnames) and 39,000 documents. Most relate to Berkshire but 18 further English and Welsh counties are identified, with single entries for Flanders and even the USA!

The CD offers users:

  • nine finding aids

  • three overview datasets and

  • a 'full details' report

Ordered by probate year and then by surname and forename(s) of the deceased, the 'full details' report provides:

  • SURNAME and Forename(s) of the deceased

  • OCCUPATION (where given)

  • OTHER DETAILS examples include aliases, employers, relationships, status and other notes

  • PLACE NAMES usually a PARISH but can be preceded by a hamlet and followed by a county (historic and modern parishes are identified)

  • DOCUMENTS -  over 40 document types are included, the most common being will, administration, inventory and probate account

  • Berkshire Record Office References - to help when ordering original documents before a visit, or when requesting copies

NOTE The CD does not contain details of executors, witnesses or beneficiaries (information that is available by reference to original documents at Berkshire Record Office, in Reading).

The Berkshire Probate Index CD is easy to use, fully searchable and datasets are bookmarked extensively. It is presented in PDF format (minimum requirements Adobe Reader 7.0 and above and a copy of Adobe Reader for Windows is supplied).


Start: 2008 Completion: April 2012

Nature of work involved

A printed index first appeared in 1893 for the earliest Berkshire wills, and a series of typed indexes to those from later periods followed.

During this project, significant levels of errors were found in those early indexes.

An entirely new index was created for the years 1480-1652  (first published in printed form, January 2011).

In the second part of the project, Berkshire Family History Society volunteers checked randomised samples (c 5%) from historic typed indexes against the original documents, to evaluate levels of accuracy and completeness.

Indexes for later years (1711-1857) were generally found to be accurate.

However, greatly intensified checking was needed for earlier documents (1653-1710) where a much higher than expected number of errors and omissions were found in historic typed and printed indexes.

Number and type of volunteers

Volunteers and a project co-ordinator came from Berkshire Family History Society. Volunteers worked in pairs, one person reading a probate document, the other checking/entering data on a spreadsheet. Roles were usually reversed during working sessions and there was good interaction among team members.

Publication first required the merging of subsidiary databases covering different time periods into a single database, followed by very many hours of work to ensure internal consistency, as data was refined and resorted. Then came the tasks of building the CD, testing it, checking it and, in the final step, fully linking and generously bookmarking the content before publication.

Where the work was done

Mainly at Berkshire Record Office in Reading, where original documents for the 'old' Royal County of Berkshire are held.


page last reviewed and revised 24th May 2017










Additional information