The Devon Wills Project

A co-operation involving the Devon Family History Centre, the Devon Heritage Centre,

GENUKI/Devon, and the Plymouth and West Devon RO



These notes are intended for interested users of the DWP index, and for transcribers who are using the DWP spreadsheet template to record information for adding to the index.To obtain further information about Devon wills and administrations, their history, the courts at which they were proved, etc., please refer to the Devon Heritage Centre's information leaflet on this subject: Wills and Probate Records. Alternatively, for further information on both pre- and post-1857 wills see the TNA Leaflet Wills and Probate Records (archived copy).

As already indicated, the period covered is in general up to end of 1857. However we have in the case of the Devon Record Office, the Plymouth and West Devon Record Office and the North Devon Record Office, relaxed our 1857 limit and tried to provide coverage in DWP of all the wills, administrations and inventories they each hold, including those that have no evident link to Devon. We have treated the North Devon Athenaeum similarly, in view of its close association with the North Devon Record Office.

Square brackets are used in the index to serve four different purposes. Sometimes they indicate an assumption that the co-ordinators or transcribers have made about an item which is supported by other evidence in the original but not actually shown there. They are also used to direct users of the index to variant spellings of a surname or aliases. They sometimes surround a question mark, indicating that the transcriber is uncertain about the transcription of a name. Finally, they are used to indicate standardised modern spellings of place names, inserted when the place name given in the original document used some other spelling or failed to identify a particular parish.

Where a source did not provide or imply information, e.g. concerning the abode of the testator, his/her occupation or status, the Probate Court involved, or an archive reference number, etc., the corresponding cell has simply been left empty.

The spreadsheet's column headers, and hence the use of each column, are we hope largely self-explanatory. However, here are a few notes about the editorial policy governing the filling of each cell in a row:

  • 'Surname' column. This includes variants when these were given in the source, e.g. "Smith alias Jones". All such entries have also been entered (enclosed in square brackets) under the alias surname. When - as is sometimes the case with very early wills - no surname was given, but instead something like "Alice, widow of John" was shown, then the "Alice" is treated as a surname and placed in the 'Surname' column, and "widow of John" in the 'First name' column. With a name such as "Ferdinand de Lesseps", the surname is entered both as "de Lesseps" and "Lesseps".
  • 'First name' column: If a first name included a prefix, then that prefix is shown after the forename and in parentheses, e.g. "Roger (Sir)". Abbreviated forenames are spelled out in full (e.g. "Wm." is transcribed as "William").
  • 'Place' column: Sources typically showed a parish, a town or a large estate. The name is transcribed exactly as given, though the hyphens sometimes used in multi-word place names were replaced by spaces (e.g. "Rose Ash" rather than "Rose-Ash"). If a Devon place-name was given in a non-standard form, then the standard name is added, enclosed in square brackets, e.g. "Twyvordton [Tiverton]". (For more details on standard place names see below.)
  • "County/Country" Column: The appropriate (three-letter) Chapman Code for the county or country is entered here. If a particular source was essentially devoted just to Devon, then the name of the county may well not have been given explicitly in each entry. In such circumstances "DEV" is still inserted in this column, unless there is some reason to doubt that the particular entry was in fact a Devon one.
  • "Occupation/Status" Column: Entries regarding occupation, status or rank are kept as brief as possible, any extra information about a person found in the source being placed in the 'Note' column instead.
  • "Year" Column: The date shown is the year of the document, e.g. for a probate copy the year that the will was proved, not the year it was written. If in a source the year appeared as e.g. 1734/5 - a mixture of the old and new dating styles sometimes used before 1752 - just the earlier year, the old-style year, i.e. 1734, is shown. If a range of dates was shown in a source, e.g. 1828-36, the later date, i.e. 1836, is shown, the date range itself being recorded in the 'Note' column.
  • "Type" Column:
    • 'W' - will: If the source indicated that the will was accompanied by, say, an administration, this fact is shown in the 'Note' column.
    • 'A' - administration: If the source indicated that the administration was accompanied by, say, an inventory, this fact is shown in the 'Note' column.
    • 'I' - inventory: This is used only in cases where an inventory had survived (or been abstracted or transcribed) on its own, and there was no accompanying will or administration.
    • 'O' - other: This is used for documents which were none of the above, but which either included quotations from a will or gave similar information to that given in a will. The type of document, e.g. accounts prepared by the executor, a document stemming from a probate dispute, an inquisition post mortem, etc., is indicated in the 'Note' column.
  • 'Form' Column: This is used to categorize the form of the document the entry related to, using one of the following five codes:
    • 'or' - an original will/administration/inventory (or a photocopy/digital image) bearing the testator's signature or mark
    • 'co' - a copy (such as a draft or probate copy) of a will/administration/inventory (or a photocopy/digital image of the same)
    • 'ab' - an abstract of (or extracts from) a will/administration/inventory
    • 'tr' - a virtually exact transcript of a will/administration/inventory
    • 'le' - a list entry, used when a source (e.g. an index or a calendar) provided brief details (e.g. just name, place, year) of a will/administration/inventory, but no information about its contents or current whereabouts. The principal use for this code is in connection with the Calendars, compiled before 1942, of Devon wills that were subsequently destroyed during World War II.
  • 'Probate Court' column: The most commonly used probate courts for Devon wills were each allotted a code - see Probate Courts. Courts not allotted a code are named in the 'Note' column.
  • 'Source' column: This shows the actual source from which information was extracted, using the appropriate source code from the "List of Sources" on the Homepage. The Sources included in this list typically each contain information about a sizeable number of wills, etc. Sources that contained information about only a small number of wills, etc., are grouped together as MISC (for Miscellaneous).
  • 'Reference' column: This is used to show any information that would help locate the item within a source more easily, such as a document reference number or a volume number in a series, and/or a page or folio number. When the source code given in the 'Source' column is MISC, the first part of the 'Reference' column (before the hyphen) is used to identify the particular miscellaneous minor source used (e.g. Alcock) - see the project's list of Miscellaneous Minor Sources.
  • 'Note' column: This may include additional brief details about the name of a person or place, an explanation of why an item identified with a place outside Devon is included, e.g. "son of John Cruwys of Cruwys Morchard", taken from the source being transcribed, a date range, e.g. "1828-36". When the item was an administration rather than a will, wherever possible the name of the person to whom administration was granted is shown is this column.
  • 'Message' column (in the spreadsheet): This is used for communication, e.g. questions from the transcriber to the project coordinators. It is not retained in the published index..

The set of standard names used is given in this GENUKI listing, which is based on Wilcox's National Index of Parish Registers, Volume 8, Part 5: Devon, and Peskett's Guide to the Parish and Non-Parochial Registers of Devon and Cornmall 1538-1837.

The Online GENUKI/Devon Gazetteer, and its Guide to the Manors of Devon, will often help locate an unknown place or identify a bizarrely-spelled town or parish name, as indeed will Google. A further useful resource is the set of place name indexes in A Descriptive Catalogue of Ancient Deeds.