Transcribed by Patric Dickinson, Richard Grylls, Sylvie Matthews and Lindsey Withers

Historical background and the Source (CA)

The holdings of the College of Arms (Queen Victoria Street, London EC4V 4BT) include a vast collection of notes and evidence assembled over the centuries by individual heralds while undertaking genealogical research for their clients. In the process of such research heralds often employed their own searchers or agents to make abstracts of wills and other documents held outside London. These documents would have included Devon and Cornwall probate records held in Exeter Cathedral Library or Exeter Probate Office.

It might be imagined that the heralds would only have been interested in the wills of gentry families, but that was not the case. The searcher's brief would often have been to examine and abstract a quantity of wills of all people of a particular surname, in the hope that some of those wills would aid the compiling of a pedigree. Often the wills abstracted would have been of no help to the herald, but the fact that the abstracts were made at all, and that they were made from wills that subsequently perished in the 2nd World War, is potentially very valuable to present-day people researching their own Devon families.

Two heralds who concerned themselves with West Country families were Stephen Tucker (1835-1887) and Alfred Trego Butler (1880-1946). Tucker's working papers were absorbed into those of his successor, Sir Henry Farnham Burke (1859-1930), and bound into volumes which are described as being part of the Burke Collection. (It would appear that the actual will abstracts were made by 'CW', who has been identified as Charles Worthy, the author of Devonshire Wills.) At different points in the 19th and 20th centuries 'calendars' were compiled of the will abstracts that had been made for both Tucker and Butler.

There must be a great many other abstracts of Devon wills and administrations scattered amongst the collections held at the College of Arms. The Burke and Butler abstracts were readily identifiable because they had been bound up in individual volumes. There is no single comprehensive index to the College's collections and to identify other such items would require a careful study of the various indexes that do exist and a painstaking examination of unindexed material. It is nonetheless hoped that in course of time it will be possible to include further entries from the heralds' collections in the Devon Wills Project.


DWP's editing process

Copies of one Burke calendar and one Butler calendar at the College of Arms were later supplied to the Devon Heritage Centre, where they are bound together in a file entitled Devon Wills kept at the College of Arms. It is from this file that items for our index have been extracted. However, details from the file have been edited and added to at the College of Arms itself (in 2012), before being fed into the Devon Wills Project index.

TUCKER (BURKE) - Tucker had information extracted about individuals surnamed Toker/Tucker (and variants) and Mortimer, over 1500 of them. The calendars of these abstracts have the enormous advantage that, below the entry for each testator, the names of most of the beneficiaries are listed. However, many entries in this calendar do not show the abode of the testator/intestate, and for many of the early wills proved at the Archdeaconry Courts of Exeter and Totnes (EXE & TOT) no year is shown either. So, for the purposes of the Devon Wills Project, this information (where available) has been extracted from the original abstracts at the College of Arms and added. At the end of the Mortimer calendar is a short list of documents the originals of which Tucker's searcher was unable to find, indicating that these originals were lost well before the 2nd World War. These are recorded in the DWP index as 'list entry' items. A great many of those wills listed by Tucker and shown in our index with the source CA and a 'Butler' reference number were in fact abstracted and included by Charles Worthy in his book Devonshire Wills, and thus also appear in our index with the source WOR. The full text of Worthy's book is available online.

N.B. The Tucker abstracts are bound up in different (Burke) volumes, one for each probate court. It is only necessary to note the number of the (Burke) volume in which a Tucker abstract appears. However, the Mortimer abstracts are contained in a single volume (Burke Vol. 149), but sub-divided by probate court. Each court has its individual reference number series, so it is important to note in which court a will was proved.

BUTLER - The Devon Heritage Centre holds a copy of the index to just one volume in the Butler Collection, a volume which is dedicated entirely to abstracts of probate records that existed in Devon before 1942 (Volume 14). These abstracts cover families with some 40 different names (including several variant spellings of each surname) and the abstracts in the volume number just under 600. At some point in time, a second indexer added abodes to Butler's index but unfortunately did not quite complete the task. However this task has now been completed, and various other details of each abstract noted. The complete contents of Volume 14 of the Butler Collection is now included in our index.

The College of Arms holds a second volume of Devon probate records in their Butler Collection (Volume 37). No index of this volume has been located outside the College itself. The will and administration abstracts to be found in this volume have now been added to our index (September 2015).

The Devon Wills Project would like to thank Patric Dickinson, Clarenceux King of Arms, for his noble assistance with the digital indexing of these various volumes.


Locating the source and acquiring copies

If you find a will in the Burke Collection that is of interest to you, please contact the College of Arms (address given above). A photocopy of the desired abstract should be available for a fee. If you are happy just to know the names of the beneficiaries of a particular Tucker or Mortimer testator, then the Devon Heritage Centre should be able to supply you with this information from the relevant section of their copy of the Burke index (though do make sure you give the court as well as the folio reference). As was mentioned above, most of the Tucker will abstracts are included in Charles Worthy's book Devonshire Wills, the full text of which is available online.

If a family history researcher happens to know the name of a herald who worked on a Devon surname in which they are interested, then it might be possible for a search to be made of that herald's papers. But it should be emphasised that by no means all heralds' papers have ended up in the College's collections. It should also be said that the College of Arms is unsupported from public funds and for that reason fees are chargeable for searches in the College's records and collections.