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About Chester Wills Collection 1519-1940
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About the collection
The Chester Wills Collection comprises the Chester Wills Index and the Cheshire & Lancashire Wills Images.
  • Chester Wills Index includes indexes to all wills proved at Chester up to 1858 and indexes to wills of Cheshire people from 1858-1940. These are held at Cheshire Record Office.
    Plus, as jurisdiction covered south Lancashire, the index also includes Lancashire wills proved at Chester. These are held at Lancashire Record Office.
  • Cheshire Wills Images consists of digitised images of the probate documents held at Cheshire Record Office.
  • Lancashire Wills Images consists of digitised images of some of the probate documents held at the Lancashire Record Office (list of the Lancashire probate images).
The present index is the most comprehensive available for Cheshire probate records. Records are derived from three sources:
  • FamilySearch: The major part of the index has been created from records provided by FamilySearch, which link directly to digitised images of the source documents. 187,831 records are from the FamilySearch index.
  • Cheshire Archives and Local Studies: (CALS): The probate index used within the Cheshire Record Office (the "CALS index") was compared against the FamilySearch index, and 4,635 records in the CALS index which are not in the FamilySearch index have been added to the present index. Most of the documents referred to by these index records are included within the digitised images.
  • Origins.net: We have added further records relating to digitised documents not included in the FamilySearch index.
The index for Lancashire probate records is as yet only partial, but nonetheless contains references to nearly 50,000 Lancashire people. This index was created from records provided by FamilySearch, which link directly to digitised images of the source documents. There are substantial gaps in this index which will be closed during 2013.
Purchasing and viewing original documents online
All Chester probate records held at Cheshire Record Office have been digitised, and these images can be purchased with Pay per View credits and viewed directly from the index records. A portion of the probate records held at Lancashire Record Office have been digitised and can also be purchased with Pay per View credits and viewed directly from the index records. A substantial part of the Lancashire Record Office records are Act Books, which cover wills both of Lancashire and of Cheshire people which were proved at Chester.

The digitised documents include administrations, administration bonds, inventories, tuitions and other documents. The online index generally states which of the main types of documents are present (wills & codicils, administrations, inventories), although there can be other types of unspecified documents also present (e.g. accounts, tuitions, depositions, correspondence, etc). Generally all documents relating to the same person are kept together and have a single index record.
Understanding the index
Types of document
The Chester Wills Index contains over 192,500 records of which 69% refer to pre-1858 probate, i.e. wills proved at Chester. The remaining 31% refer to the registered copies of wills proven from 1858-1940.

There are references to 110,000 wills, over 22,000 admons (of which 21% are associated with a will), and over 24,000 inventories. There are 329 explicit references to
tuitions. About half of these contain the names of more than one child.

Geographic coverage
Many wills from outside Cheshire and Lancashire are included in the collection. They include people who lived outside Cheshire, but may have had a connection with the county, and people who lived in Cheshire at death, but who had previously lived elsewhere. 75% of the index records refer to Cheshire; 22.5% refer to Lancashire (1.2% refer to places in both Cheshire and Lancashire). 3.4% (6,600 records) refer to people with no stated link to Cheshire or Lancashire.

Over 2,000 records are for people in Wales (588 pre-1858), nearly 1,000 for Shropshire, 700 each for Staffordshire and Yorkshire, and nearly 500 for London and Middlesex.

Diocese of Chester
The diocese of Chester originally comprised the whole of Lancashire and Cheshire, the portion of Yorkshire known as Richmondshire, part of Cumberland and Westmorland adjacent to north Lancashire, and some parishes in Flintshire and Denbighshire lying near the borders of Cheshire. After the creation of the new bishopric the wills were proved at Chester with the exception of those in the north of Lancashire, Richmondshire and the parts of Cumberland and Westmorland in the dioces of Chester, which were proved at Richmond.
The source material
Chester probate records 1519-1858
Cheshire ecclesiastic jurisdiction was initially Lichfield Consistory Court. Lichfield Record Office holds original wills from 1472 and register copies from 1516-1541, when the diocese of Chester was created. Thereafter, until 1858, jurisdiction was under the Consistory Court of Chester, except for the Commonwealth period, between 1650 and 1660 (see below).

Chester archdeaconry was responsible for probate relating to south Lancashire as well as Cheshire and some Welsh parishes. In 1949, the original pre-1858 probate records, then held at Somerset House, were distributed. Wills relating to Welsh parishes went to the National Library of Wales, and those relating to pre-1974 Lancashire county boundaries went to the Lancashire Record Office, along with all the probate act books for Chester, which cover the whole area.

Cheshire Archives and Local Studies, at Cheshire Record Office, holds two principal series of original wills up to 1858:
  • the "supra" series relating to estates valued at £40 and over (wills survive for 1543-1650, 1660-1858)
  • the "infra" series for those under £40 (wills survive for 1600-41, 1660-97, 1729-1657).
Both series include administration bonds and inventories and other types of probate-related documents as well as wills.

All Chester probate records held at Cheshire Record Office have been digitised, and these images can be purchased and viewed directly from the index records.

Cheshire Will Registers 1858-1940
After 1857, probate was transferred from the ecclesiastic courts and dealt with centrally. But registered copies are kept locally. Cheshire Record Office holds the Chester Will Registers, which contain copies of wills proved at Chester. The Registers for the period 1858-1840 have been digitised, and are included in the online index. Digitised images of these registered copies may be purchased and viewed online. Please note that the Registers for 1937 and 1938 are not available yet online. We hope to add these in the near future.

Chester probate material at Lancashire Record Office
The Chester Wills Index also covers a substantial amount of the probate material from Chester which is now at the Lancashire Record Office, including:
  • Lancashire "Infra" wills for the years 1751-54 and 1776-1802
  • Chester Act Books for 1736-78, 1811-14, parts of the Act Books for 1814-19 & 1827-31, and 1831-44.
There are over 4,700 Lancashire "Infra" Wills (i.e. infra wills proved at Chester but of Lancashire people) included in the index. The Act Book index includes over 36,000 records for people from Lancashire, out of a total 54,000 entries, of which 15,000 are for Cheshire. (The Act Book entries for Cheshire should match the entries for original Cheshire probate documents, for which digitised images are also available. The images of all the indexed Lancashire "Infra" and of the Act Book entries are available online.

We are intending to complete the Lancashire Wills and Act Book indexes, and also to make available digitised images of the currently unindexed material.

If you are interested in source material at the Lancashire Record Office which is not yet available online we suggest you contact them directly.

Note: A series of indexes to Cheshire & Lancashire probate records was published by the Lancashire & Cheshire Record Society, but this series is now superseded by the present index.
Error reporting
Please let us know if you find any errors, so that we can correct them promptly. Please email support@origins.net quoting the RecordID (always displayed with an index record).
Acknowledgements
The Family Search and CALS indexes and the digitised images of material held at the Cheshire Record Office are published here with the permission of each of these bodies.

Copyright images of probate records held at Chester Record Office are reproduced by courtesy of the Cheshire Archives and Local Studies Service, Chester, England in partnership with brightsolid online publishing ltd.

The Cheshire Archives and Local Studies Service gives no warranty as to the accuracy, completeness or fitness for the purpose of the information provided.

Images may be used only for the purposes of research, private study or education. Applications for any other use should be made to Cheshire Archives and Local Studies Service, Cheshire Record Office, Duke Streeyt, Chester CH1 21RL. Infringement of the above condition may result in legal action.

Copyright images of probate records held at Lancashire Record Office are reproduced by courtesy of Lancashire Archives, Preston, England.

Lancashire Archives give no warranty as to the accuracy, completeness or fitness for the purpose of the information provided.

Images may be used only for the purposes of research, private study or education. Applications for any other use should be made to Lancashire Archives, Lancashire Record Office, Bow Lane, Preston, Lancashire PR1 2RE, UK. Infringement of the above condition may result in legal action.


See also:  Help Searching - Cheshire Wills Collection
  Probate Glossary
  Cheshire Archives and Local Studies
  Lancashire Record Office
  Search the collection
Related National Wills Index collections
Lancashire: See Lancashire Wills at Richmond Index 1457-1812 - Lancashire wills proved at the Archdeaconry of Richmond.

Cheshire: many Cheshire wills were proved in the Prerogative and Exchequer Courts of York and Prerogative Court of Canterbury.
For York courts see: NWI York collections. Hard copies can be ordered directly from the online indexes.
For PCC see British Record Society Probate Collection.
For PCC Registered Wills 1700-1858 search The National Archives online records.

Wills proved between 1649 and 1660 will be found in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC) since during the civil war the church courts were abolished and a single centralised probate system was established. Between this time all wills were proved and all grants of administration made, at one central Court of Probate in London. This was really just the PCC under a different name and thus wills etc proved during this period will be found indexed within the PCC.
See PCC volumes BRS 54, BRS 61, and Matthews 1-9 for this period.
For help negotiating the labyrinth of over 300 pre 1858 probate courts explore our collection of Jeremy Gibson’s probate jurisdiction maps.
Explore Probate Jurisdictions Maps