An index to over 30,000 Somerset probate records can now be searched via our online catalogue.

The story of Somerset’s wills is a sad one. Until 1858 the proving of wills and the granting of administrations came under the jurisdiction of the church courts. Having been centralised at Exeter, most of the county’s original pre 1858 probate records were destroyed during the Baedeker Raids in 1942, as were those for Devon and Cornwall.

In spite of these losses, a number of original, draft and copies of wills, as well as other probate records, can be found amongst the family and solicitors’ collections held at the Somerset Heritage Centre. A wealth of probate related papers can also be found in the archive of the Diocese of Bath and Wells, including surviving wills and inventories proved by the Diocese for the period 1575-1640 (ref. D/D/ct) and will registers for the period 1543-1626 (ref. D/D/ctr).

Will of Isabel Patch of Congresbury, 1546 (ref. D/D/ctr/2 no. 26)

Over the years, the majority of wills and inventories discovered during cataloguing have been recorded on two card indexes known as the Somerset Heritage Centre Index of Office Wills and the Probate Inventory Index. Last year we completed a mammoth project to increase access to this resource by typing up the handwritten indexes. Comprising over 30,000 entries, both indexes can now be searched via our online catalogue. Any future discoveries will be added to the index periodically.

Inventory of William Blewett of Thorne St Margaret, 1583 (ref. DD/SF/11/19)

Feel free to have a browse and make a note of wills, etc., you would like to view or request copies of once we re-open and our services have resumed.

For further information about records created during the process of probate, including details of indexes to Estate Duty Wills and Letters of Administration, abstracts of wills proved by church courts, and Somerset wills held elsewhere, take a look at our Wills and Probate Research Guide. Details of our other online indexes, comprising over 320,000 entries in total, can be found on our online catalogue