Wills and Probate Records
Cheshire Record Office holds over 70,000 original Cheshire wills
and probate records 1540-1857, proved in the Archdeaconry of
Chester. We also hold about 60,000 microfilm copies of wills
proved in the Chester Probate Court between 1858 and 1940.
What are wills and probate records?
- Will - a written document disposing of property after
- Testament - originally, the will dealt with ‘realty’ or real
property (land, buildings) and the testament with ‘personalty’ or
personal property (goods, money, leases), but the two were soon
- Letters of Administration (or 'Admons') – granted to the next
of kin or other adult when someone died intestate (leaving no will)
or where a will was unprovable.
- Codicil – a later addition to a will.
- Probate inventory – a list, drawn up by executors or
administrators, of all the deceased’s property and estimated
value. They are rare after c1750.
What is 'probate'?
- Probate is granted when the relevant court accepts a will.
- Until 1858 – the responsibility of proving a will lay with the
- From 1858 – probate was granted anywhere in the 40 local civil
probate registries. These keep their own registered copies of
wills and send copies to the Principal Probate Registry.
Who made wills?
- Between 1540-1837, a will could be made by any male over 14 and
any unmarried female (ie single or widowed) over 12.
- After 1837, a will could be made by anyone ‘of full age’
- People unable to make a will include prisoners, lunatics,
traitors and, between 1540-1887, married women (as their property
was deemed to pass to their husband at marriage).
- Prior to the 19th century, only a small percentage of people
left wills (possibly around 10%)
- Families would often settle estates before death (eg at a
What information will I find?
- Wills vary considerably in both size and content, from
virtually no detail to the extremely detailed (sometimes enabling
you to construct a family tree of several generations).
- Up until the mid 18th century, it was customary to use the
opening few phrases to dispose of one’s soul and body to God and
- The will consists of a series of itemised directions, usually
starting with any ‘real’ property and then ‘personal’
- Wills usually end with the appointment of executors and sealing
and signature/mark in front of witnesses.
- Probate inventories can also vary considerably in detail. They
will often list household furniture and utensils; livestock, crops
How do I find a Cheshire will?
Search our online
database to either order original wills in the Record
Office searchroom, free of charge, or order copies online.
I can't find the will I'm looking for. Can I try anywhere
If you think that a will was made, but you haven't been able to
find it on the wills database, there are a number of options:
- Unfortunately a number of wills which we know existed in the
early 20th century were lost prior to their deposit in the Cheshire
- Prior to 1858, if a person held property in more than one
diocese their will would have been proved in an archbishop's court
(or Prerogative Court). The records of the Prerogative Court
of York are held at the Borthwick Institute in York, while records
of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury are held at the National
- Cheshire wills proved between 1650 and 1660 are to be found
within the records of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury.
- Check the calendars of grants of probate, which we hold on
microfiche for the years 1858-1943 (also available via the Peoples
Network's Ancestry subscription. These will tell you the
court at which probate was granted. They will also give you
the names of the executors, the value of the estate and the address
of the deceased.
- Once you have found the date and name of the probate court you
can apply to any probate registry for a copy of the will (see
You can also write to:
York Probate Sub-Registry
More information about wills and related records can be found on
The National Archives’