Wiltshire, Berkshire and Oxfordshire Wills, Beneficiaries and Obituaries - Case Study (Berkshire)

Case Study (Berkshire)

Suppose we want to look for an ancestor who died in Berkshire before 1836 and had enough property to require the will to be proved.

We will look for a Will for Martha Walford who lived in Bray and died in 1795. There are three indexes we need to look at:

  1. Berkshire Probate Index CD

  2. The Wills Project online via Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre

  3. Documents Online at the National Archives

Berkshire Probate Index CD

This indexes Wills proved (and Administrations granted) in the Archidiaconal Court for the Archdeaconry of Berkshire between 1480 and 1857. The borders of the archdeaconry are similar but not quite the same as those for the pre-1974 county.

The original records are held in the Berkshire Record Office in Reading.

The CD has been published by the Berkshire Family History Society on behalf of the project partners including the Berkshire Record Office. The CD is available from  www.berksfhs.org.uk/shop and is also available from some of the project partners.

The index provides surnames, forenames, parishes (and sometimes location) and year of probate as well as the Berkshire Record Office references for wills, administrations, inventories and many other probate documents, including accounts.Extra information is often available, including aliases, occupations, status and other details but the CD does not hold information on executors, witnesses or beneficiaries.

So if you find an entry you can visit the Berkshire Record Office www.berkshirerecordoffice.org.uk and view the probate documents. We don’t find Martha here so her will may be listed elsewhere, perhaps in the higher Bishop’s or Consistory court. Berkshire was part of the Diocese of Salisbury until 1836 when the Archdeaconry then became part of the Diocese of Oxford.

Wiltshire Wills Project

If an ancestor had property in Wiltshire or certain parts of Devon or Dorset that along with Berkshire formed the Diocese of Salisbury then the Will should have been proved in the Bishop’s (Consistory Court).

The index can be searched online at the  Wiltshire Wills Project http://wshc.eu/wiltshire-wills-project.html. This lists all Wills for the Salisbury Diocese including the Archdeaconries of Salisbury and Wiltshire along with other courts with jurisdiction in the area (the so-called ‘peculiars’).

If we can locate the will in the index the records are held at Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre www.wshc.eu in Chippenham, Wiltshire. Approximately 25% of these documents have been digitised and are available online for a small fee. Contact the Record Office for the others.

Unfortunately, Martha’s will is not amongst them and we need to look elsewhere.

Documents Online

Martha’s will may have been proved in a higher court, as required if she had property outside the Diocese of Salisbury. This would be the Archbishop’s or Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC). The Diocese of Salisbury is and was part of the Province of Canterbury. We should not need to consider the Province of York with its own Prerogative Court (PCY).

You can search the index to the PCC wills via the Discovery Catalogue at The National Archives web site http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/records/wills.htm

In our example we are successful in finding an entry for the will of Martha Walford and can download a copy of the document online for a small fee (free when at the National Archives).

Note that Martha is a widow, and the only other female Walfords are spinsters. About 10% of wills are for women and this reflects the fact that a married woman needed her husband’s permission to make a will.

Additional information