How to look for Wills or administrations before 1858

How can I view the records covered in this guide?

View online

How many are online?

  • None
  • Some
  • All

Order copies

We can either copy our records onto paper or deliver them to you digitally

Pay for research

Use our paid search service or find an independent researcher

Visit us

Visit us in Kew to see original documents or view online records for free

What do I need to know before I start?

Try to find out:

  • the name of the person
  • the geographical location
  • an approximate date of death

What records can I see online?

Wills proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (1384-1858)

Wills proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC) mainly relate to testators resident in the south of England, although all parts of England and Wales are represented in the records.

Search and download Prerogative Court of Canterbury wills (1384-1858) (PROB 11) from our website (£). We hold over 1 million PCC wills proved before 1858.

Selected original wills (1643-1645)

Browse and download selected original wills (PROB 10/639 – PROB 10/642) on digital microfilm.

Try browsing PROB 10 (1484-1858) instead if you do not locate any records relevant to your research. Please note, not all these records are online. Visit us to view these records.

What records can I find at The National Archives at Kew?

Original Prerogative Court of Canterbury indexes (1383-1858)

Consult the original indexes to wills and administrations of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury in PROB 12.

Administration Act Books (1559-1858)

Look in Administration Act Books of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury in PROB 6. Some indexes are available in the reading rooms.

To access these records you will either need to visit us, pay for research (£) or, where you can identify a specific record reference, order a copy (£).

What records can I find in other archives and organisations?

Welsh wills (pre 1858)

Search wills proved in the Welsh Ecclesiastical courts online at the National Library of Wales.

Wills and administrations from other courts

Visit local archives for wills and administrations from courts other than the Prerogative Court of Canterbury. Read Probate jurisdictions: Where to look for wills by Jeremy Gibson online on Find My Past to identify relevant record offices for your search.

Online indexes of wills held by other archives

Search a number of indexes and digitised collections of wills and administrations on (£) and (£). Some county record offices also host indexes or digitised collections of wills on their own websites.

What other resources will help me find information?


Search The National Archives’ bookshop to see whether any of the publications below may be available to buy. Alternatively, look in The National Archives’ library catalogue to see what is available to consult at Kew.

Karen Grannum and Nigel Taylor, Wills and probate records: A guide for family historians, 2nd edition (The National Archives, 2009)

British Record Society indexes

Consult indexes to Prerogative Court of Canterbury wills (1383-1700) and administrations (1559-1660) published by the British Record Society.


Identify the relevant probate court using the English jurisdictions 1851 map.

Did you know?

The Prerogative Court of Canterbury was the highest church court in England and Wales until 1858.

An application for administration would be made when a person died without leaving a will.

Not everyone left a will and not all wills needed to be proved by a court.

Most people used the appropriate church court. Even in the late 1850s, just before the national court was established, the Prerogative Court of Canterbury was only proving about 40% of the national total of 21,653 wills.

How to determine which court dealt with a will or administration before 1858

Consult the Phillimore Atlas and Index of Parish Registers for maps of the areas covered by each church court and details of their surviving records.

Alternatively, see Tracing your ancestors in The National Archives by Amanda Bevan for a table showing where to look for records by county.

There were three main factors determining in which court a will would be proved:

  • where the person died
  • the value of the goods
  • how these goods were distributed geographically

In the period up to 1858 the country was divided into two provinces:

  • York
  • Canterbury

The associated courts were the Prerogative Courts of Canterbury and York (or Archbishop’s prerogative courts).

The two provinces were split into a number of dioceses. These turn were divided into several archdeaconries, which were then split into rural deaneries. If a person was relatively poor the estate was usually dealt with in the archdeacon’s court.

The will of a person with goods in more than one archdeaconry was proved in the bishop’s diocesan court. There were also various other courts, known as ‘peculiars’, administered by the deans and chapters of cathedrals.

The list below may help you establish which type of court would have proved a will if it was:

  • within one archdeaconry then the will was proved in an Archdeacon’s court
  • within more than one archdeaconry but all in the same diocese then the will was proved in a Bischop’s court
  • within more than one diocese or if the goods were valued at more than £5 (or £10 in London) then it was proved in an Archbishop’s prerogative court