Engraving of registry of wills, Somerset House (Catalogue reference: ZPER 34/66/96)

This is a brief guide to researching death duty records between 1796 and 1903. Death duty records can be complicated and difficult to understand, so some patience may be required when researching these records.

The majority of the records which still exist can be found either online or at The National Archives in Kew.

  • What do I need to know before I start?

    • Try to find out:

      • the name of the person
      • a geographical location to focus your search
      • an approximate date of death
  • What records can I see online?

  • What records can I find in other archives and organisations?

    • Records held elsewhere

      Search our catalogue and refine your results using the filters.

  • What other resources will help me find information?

    • Books

      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)

      Consult Ham's Inland Revenue yearbook (from c1881) for the official advice on the process of getting a grant of probate or letters of administration, or paying death duties.

Did you know?

Death duty was introduced in 1796.

Many people left estates which were liable for death duties. From 1858 there should be a death duty record for all estates worth more than £20.

Death duty registers can be complicated to interpret. Refer to the research guide Death duties 1796-1903: further research for more information on how to do this.

When searching the death duty registers, you may find:

  • a date of death
  • information about beneficiaries
  • the next of kin
  • their exact relationship to the deceased

From 1815, additional information is sometimes included, such as:

  • the date of death of the spouse
  • the dates of the death or marriage of beneficiaries
  • the births of posthumous children and grandchildren
  • the changes of address and references to law suits

After 1903, death duty registers were replaced with a system of individual files which were destroyed 30 years after being closed - there are therefore no registers after 1903.