THE DEVON WILLS PROJECT
A co-operation involving the Devon Family History Society, Devon Heritage Services, GENUKI/Devon,
and the Plymouth and West Devon RO to compile an INDEX of Devon wills, administrations, etc.
Project Co-ordinators: Richard Grylls and Brian Randell
|Contains details of over 300, 000 wills, etc., from almost 550 different sources|
The Devon Wills Project (DWP), undertaken by volunteers from 2009 to 2022, was set up to provide a finding-aid in the form of a consolidated index of all Devon wills, and also administrations and inventories. The index shows where copies, transcripts, abstracts or extracts of such original testamentary documents may be found, and in many cases the whereabouts of the original documents themselves. (Here is an article about the project prepared for the Devon Family Historian.)
Almost all wills and administrations of Devon people were proved or granted in one of two locations, in Devon itself or in London. The originals of those wills proved in London - very nearly all at the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC) - have survived. However the originals of nearly all wills proved in Devon perished during an air-raid on Exeter in 1942. Printed calendars (lists that are more chronological than alphabetical) covering maybe three quarters of the wills proved in Devon had been compiled before the war. It was decided that DWP's index should include every testamentary item that was listed in these calendars, whether or not a copy/transcript/abstract of the item had been located. Thus, our index includes a huge number of entries generated from these calendars that we term 'list entries' ('le' in the 'Form' Column of the index). Although in such cases the original will or administration is lost, and we may have been unable to locate any copy, transcript or abstract of it, at least its existence prior to 1942 is verifiable because it was listed in a calendar.
DWP's primary task has been to try to track down copies, transcripts and abstracts of these lost wills and administrations. If you are lucky, you will therefore find an additional entry nearby in the index showing 'co', 'tr' or 'ab' in the 'Form' Column, which indicates that we have indeed located a copy, a transcript or an abstract of the original.
DWP's results are provided in the form of a Consolidated Index (a browsable set of web pages listing wills, etc., in alphabetical order of testators' names). This index is complemented by a powerful Online Search Facility, provided by Find My Past. (This is a FREE facility, though registration and signing-in is required in order to use it.)
The Devon Wills Project has not itself transcribed or collected transcripts or abstracts of wills, but merely offers information as to where such items may be found. Though we have tried to make sure our index is as accurate and user-friendly as possible, it may well despite our efforts include some errors and ambiguities over and above those in the sources on which we have drawn, for which we can but apologise.
THE SOURCES AND THE COVERAGE
DWP volunteers have scoured well over 500 sources (libraries, museums, record offices, archives, private document collections, catalogues, books, periodicals, indexes, calendars, the internet, etc., etc.) to find items for inclusion in this index. The sources searched are shown directly below in the List of Sources. As can be seen, we have give each source a code name, e.g. ACA, DHC-W, PECU1, these codes always appearing in capital letters. (We also use coded abbreviations, in entries in the DWP index, for the names of the various Probate Courts.)
The index includes only testators (those who made wills) and intestates (those who did not make wills, but whose estates were administered), and not beneficiaries and other people mentioned in those documents. The testators and intestates shown in the index will normally have been born and/or have died in Devon, though some may have had their wills proved or administrations granted outside the county. (However, the index does also include some testators merely because their bequests have been judged as providing sufficient evidence that the testator had a close relationship to Devon.) Also included in the index are some people who definitely lived outside Devon (mostly in Cornwall) but whose wills were proved in Exeter, and were thus lost in 1942.
The period covered is in general up to the end of 1857, at which time ecclesiastical courts were disbanded and the probate of all Devon wills came under the jurisdiction of the Principal Probate Registry (PPR) in London. (A more exact indication of the index's coverage is given in More Detailed Notes.)
NOTE: During the work of the Devon Wills Project, in fact in October 2012, Devon County Council set up Devon Heritage Services. This brought together the newly-created Devon Heritage Centre at Great Moor House, Bittern Road, Sowton, Exeter EX2 7NL (comprising the hitherto separate Devon Record Office, and the Westcountry Studies Library), and the Barnstaple-based North Devon Record Office. In general these pages therefore make reference to the Devon Heritage Centre (DHC), but references to the Centre's constituent former organisations (DRO and WSL) may also be encountered by users, in particular amongst our various sources. The North Devon Record Office itself continues to use the acronym NDRO. (On 1st November, 2014 the Devon Heritage Services came under the management of the South West Heritage Trust, which renamed it the Devon Archives and Local Studies Service.)
USING THE INDEX
- Check in the 'Form' Column - if it doesn't say 'le', you're in luck! Somewhere there is the original, a copy, a transcript or an abstract of that person's will. If it does say 'le', check nearby entries to see if there is a similar entry that says 'or', 'co', 'tr' or 'ab'. If there is only an 'le' entry, then, sadly, we have found no original, copy, transcript or abstract. BUT, see also 5 below.
- If you were 'in luck', make a note of the information shown, particularly noting the code given in the 'Source' column. If that source code is MISC, note also the code or name before the hyphen in the next ("Reference") Column, (e.g. "Hooper2")
- Return to the homepage, look in the List of Sources, locate the relevant source code (e.g. DHC-C) and note the actual source name (e.g. "Devon Heritage Centre Online Catalogue"). Then click on that source name (or on the relevant source section). The webpage you thus reach describes the source in detail, and also indicates where you should go, or who you should contact, to see (or perhaps obtain your own copy of) that particular will, administration or inventory.
- If the source of your will was shown as MISC, click on the link Miscellaneous Minor Sources in the MISC row in the List of Sources. (These sources are "minor" in the sense of containing only a relatively few items.) On the Miscellaneous Minor Sources webpage look for the code or name you recorded from the 'Reference' column. Note the precise details given of the relevant minor source (e.g. Hooper2: Hooper, Hilda J. Pedigrees to the name Hooper, Howper, Hoper etc. Manuscript volume (c.1950) [LMA]). The minor source will often be a book or periodical, which could be sought at a good reference library. If the minor source is not a published one, then the details given will indicate its location - the London Metropolitan Archives in this example.
- If at first you cannot locate the will you hope to find in our index, consider the ways in which that person's surname might have been spoken, and thus possible phonetically-based spelling variations of the name. It is often the first vowel in a surname which proved flexible, e.g. Hallman/Helman/Hillman/Holman, Peeke/Pick/Pyke, Harrell/Hearle, Toker/Tucker, Berry/Burie, Diamond/Deyman, Lang/Long, Butler/Boteler.
- There will be cases where there are several entries (from different Sources) relating to the same original will or administration, e.g. identifying where an official copy of a will is held, and the locations of transcripts and/or abstracts of this will. You should be able to work out which source would be most convenient for you to inspect. Note also that index entries referring to the same will or administration may differ minutely, due to inconsistencies among the various Sources, transcription errors, etc.
- Note that the consolidated index, which will probably have been your first "port of call", is only updated at intervals. You should also check the listing of Latest Additions for items that have not yet been incorporated into the consolidated index.
Consolidated index final update: 8 Oct 2022