DEVON HERITAGE CENTRE - WILLS, ETC., IN A2A
Transcribed by Brian Randell and Lindsey Withers
The Source (DHC-A)
This source provides information concerning wills, administrations and inventories held at the Devon Heritage Centre (DHC), found via The National Archives' Access to Archives (A2A) union catalogue. A number of the items listed concern post-1857 wills, and not all relate to Devon, but all have been included here for the sake of completeness. The DHC contributed about 40-50% of its catalogue to A2A during the period 2000 to 2005, including details of collections of solicitors' and family records amongst which wills are to be found. However the A2A database is no longer being added to.
There are in fact several major sources of information about wills at DHC incorporated into the Devon Wills Project in addition to this A2A source, namely: the DHC's section of a developing online catalogue that is shared with the North Devon Record Office (and which is the basis for DHC-C), together with DHC-W, DHC-U and MALL. No attempt has been made to identify and remove overlaps between these various sources.
DWP's editing process
Unfortunately the A2A catalogue does not provide means of searching for particular categories of record. Thus the items included in this index were found by examining and selecting from the results of searching the A2A catalogue for words and phrases such as "will of", "will (copy)", "will and codicil", "administration", "inventory", "inventories", etc. (These terms are typically found in item descriptions if not in item titles. Searching simply for "will" is not very practical as it occurs frequently as a verb or as part of a word, such as "William".
By no means all the DHC catalogue entries found in A2A provide any explicit indication as to the place or even county of residence of the testator, and some give a non-Devon residence without providing any indication of any link to Devon - all such items have nevertheless been included here. In fact, in some cases - for example when a bequest is made to a named parish, or the will is listed as part of a collection of documents concerning a specific parish - a reasonable inference can be made as to the likely place of residence of a testator, so its name is given in the 'Place' column, though followed by a question mark and surrounded by square brackets.
Catalogue entries typically include a descriptive phrase (included here) which makes it possible to determine the type of document that is being referred to. However, though the phrase 'probate of (the) will' implies just a document confirming that probate had been granted, it is certainly possible that an actual copy of the will may be attached to this document. An enquiry to DHC concerning a particular item might elicit more precise detail of what they hold.
N.B. As implied above, a single document held at the Devon Heritage Centre may appear in more than one of the three lists, DHC-A, DHC-C and DHC-W. Furthermore, because of different transcription rules employed by the various compilers of A2A, of the DHC Online Catalogue and of the Wills Card Index at DHC, this single document may appear in DHC-A, DHC-C and DHC-W with slightly different reference numbers in each. For example there is little consistency regarding the use of spaces within the number (e.g. "1660 A/406" or "1660A/406"). Moreover, A2A sometimes gives a more detailed number than the DHC uses (e.g. 2984 A-5/PZ/4 rather than 2984/5). Such inconsistencies cause little difficulty to the DHC staff when dealing with requests for copies of wills. However, the inconsistencies should be borne in mind when, for example, using a reference number, rather than a testator's name, etc., to look up an item in A2A or the DHC Online Catalogue.
Locating the source and acquiring copies
To obtain information about the possibility of viewing the documents listed, photographing them or acquiring photocopies of them by post, you should contact the Devon Heritage Centre directly. However it is worth first checking any original A2A catalogue entry of interest, since some entries contain details from or abstracts of the will concerned.