I thought this group might be interested in a few recent experiences I have had
with three Welsh Wills and Administrations at the National Archives at Kew.
You might get the impression from Ancestry that such material is all online, and
of course you would be mistaken. Most of what is online are the Indexes to both
Wills and Administrations up to 1700, and the clerks' copy Wills for their full
date range from 1383 to 1858 in Class PROB 11.
The reasons for PROB 11 being available are probably twofold. They had all been
microfilmed before, and the copy Wills were bound into large volumes, making any
processing into digital images quicker and more convenient.
I was chasing two Wills, that of Theophilus Field, Archbishop of St. David's
from 1627-1635, and then of Hereford from 1635 to 1636 when he died; and of
Thomas Prichard, who had a number of ecclesiastical appointments, including that
of Prebendary of Llandaff, and whose Will was proved in February 1646/7.
The former could not be found by searching under the surname Field, and was
eventually found as just Theophilus, Bishop of St. Davids. For Thomas Prichard
I was interested in making a full transcription of this Will, but on downloading
a copy from the TNA website or viewing it on Ancestry, there were some lines and
words that were undecipherable - partly caused by page bleed-through of the ink
from the next page.
However, on the recommendation of the Helpdesk at the TNA, I pulled up the
original Will itself, which is filed in Class PROB 10/672 for February/March
1646/7. This was a box containing about 6 packets of Wills, about 25 to a
packet, all tied up in alphabetical order. So finding the bundle which
contained Wills of the letter 'P' yielded Thomas Prichard's original Will,
very different handwriting, and perfectly easy to decipher the words I could not
decipher in the copy Will in PROB 11. The Wills have been tightly folded into
the packets, so they take some unravelling and will present significant
challenges and be very time-consuming if the decision is ever taken to digitize
It is worth noting that for the period 1642-1647 there were two Prerogative
Courts of Canterbury (PCC), the one based at London and the other based at
Oxford, where King Charles I ran his Court until his final defeat and capture in
the Civil War. This is what the TNA site for PROB 10 says:
Please Note: PROB 10/639 to PROB 10/642 are available to download free of charge
as part of the Digital Microfilm project. These wills (which were proved by the
Royalist Prerogative Court of Canterbury in Oxford during the 1640s) are not
included in the registers in PROB 11.
Printed Indexes to the PCC Administrations in Class PROB 6 run up to 1700.
These are online at Ancestry (but I am not quite sure about the Administration
Act Books themselves to which they refer).
From 1700 to 1800 there are paper typescript indexes at the National
the open shelves, arranged alphabetically by surname, covering both
Administrations, so this picks up the Administrations between these dates. From
1801 to 1858 the only indexes to Administrations are the original bound index
volumes, which are arranged by Year with the Administrations following the Wills
in two separate sections. The first covers the normal Counties of England and
Wales, the second covers those dying overseas (Pts). I would anticipate with
the gradual diminution of local probate courts which took place between 1801 and
1858 the number of Administrations granted by the PCC will steadily increase
during this time.
Finally, never under-estimate how far back these cases may go. I came across an
Administration of part of the estate of a John Picton in April 1804. It was not
obvious to me at all who this John Picton could be. The original document has
turned out to be 20 pages in length, and seems to relate to land owned by a John
Picton of Rudbaxton who had left a will dated March 1715 and proved 1719 in the
St. David's Archdeaconry. It mentions lands in several parishes in
Pembrokeshire owned by the Cawdor families and others, and may be a legal
creation to ensure proper title was established over previous Indentures taken
out and going back as far as 1701. Only four pages read so far, so sixteen
still to go, and as of now I am still not clear why it was indexed under the
name of John Picton, or are several other surnames also given under the same
All this is just to demonstrate the wealth of material at the National Archives
under the general PROB Subject Class, much of which is still not online, and
thus the challenges in ensuring you cover all sources for this most valuable of
Nowadays I call this the records triangulation problem. In an ideal world you
would be within reasonable reach of the County Archives, the National Library of
Wales and the National Archives at Kew. If you are not within reasonable reach
of any of them, you have a records quadrilateral problem!