CALENDAR OF WILLS AND ADMINISTRATIONS RELATING TO THE COUNTIES OF DEVON AND CORNWALL,
PROVED IN THE CONSISTORY COURT OF THE BISHOP OF EXETER, 1532-1800
By E.A. Fry
Transcribed by Brian Randell
The Source (FRYB)
Fry, E.A. (ed.) Calendar of Wills and Administrations relating to the counties of Devon and Cornwall, proved in the Consistory Court of the Bishop of Exeter, 1532-1800. British Record Society Index Library Vol 46 (1914)
The FRYB Calendar, together with the FRYA and BECK Calendars, having been compiled before World War 2, provide the only overall record of the Exeter and Barnstaple wills that were lost through the destruction of the Exeter Probate Registry in 1942. (Regrettably, no comparable record existed for the Archdeaconry of Totnes wills held at the Registry that were destroyed at the same time.)
It therefore should be noted and remembered that, sadly, source FRYB consists entirely of list entries, and the likelihood of an original copy of any of FRYB's 20,000+ wills and administrations surviving is exceedingly close to zero. However, with luck, you may find (by examining our index further) that before 1942 someone had made an abstract or copy of the now-lost original document that you were seeking, an abstract or copy that can now be found in some other source.
DWP's editing process
The Probate Registry numbers and reference codes given in the FRYB Calendar - which are for the sake of completeness included here - have little utility, now that the original wills and administrations no longer exist. In fact the numbers refer to the folio in the Probate Registry volumes containing the will transcripts. However the meaning of many of the codes is quite obscure, since only a few are explained, in fact in the FRYA Calendar's introductory text, namely: "a. means 'administration', t. means 'testament', m. means 'missing', c. means 'copy of'". The most common abbreviations are: W. which presumably means 'Will', with A. meaning 'Administration' and I. or Inv. meaning 'Inventory'. Other less frequent, and more obscure, abbreviations include nunc. ('nuncupative'), d.b.n. ('de bonis non'), spec., comp. and tutela. (None are explained anywhere in the FRYB calendar.)
The FRYB Calendar contains many entries that incorporate name aliases, e.g. "Smith alias Jones, Thomas". We have in each such case introduced corresponding additional entries, e.g. "[Jones, Thomas] - [See Smith alias Jones, Thomas]" even though the Calendar itself includes entries for some such alias names, e.g. "Jones alias Smith, Thomas". We have not attempted the time-consuming and error-prone process of checking for and deleting the duplicates that have thus been introduced.
With very few exceptions Calendar entries do not specify a county. The county indications given here have virtually all been introduced by the National Wills Index (see below) or us, with uncertain cases marked by an appended question mark. Standard parish names have been added in where necessary, enclosed in square brackets.
The chances of there being errors in our source FRYB are sadly rather high. What has been entered into our database is an edited version of a digitised transcript of a printed book, a book that was compiled from a handwritten copy of the original handwritten will calendars held in Exeter courts. At every stage errors may have crept in. It is not quite clear how Edward Alexander Fry and his colleagues recorded what they found in calendars in the Exeter probate courts, but it is absolutely certain that, when their efforts were put into print (by the Devonshire Association and the British Record Society), errors crept in. Some of the surnames and place names recorded in the printed books just cannot have been right, and presumably the proof-reading that was carried out at the time was inadequate. However, despite these minor drawbacks, family and local historians still owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Mr Fry and his colleagues, particularly in view of what happened to the original wills (and the original calendars of them) in 1942.
The digitised transcripts of the FRYA and FRYB calendars were made in 2012 for the National Wills Index (NWI). The digitisers on the whole seem to have done an excellent job. However the actual style of printing adopted for the Fry volumes in the early 1900s was not always totally clear, sometimes making the job of digitisers (who were presumably working from some photographic presentation of the actual books) not at all easy. Letters which sometimes appeared confusingly similar to the digitisers were h & b i & l e & c u & n y & v, and inevitably they sometimes made the wrong choices, and so introduced additional errors.
It has not proved possible (for time and manpower reasons) to do a complete proof-read of the 2012 version to produce this set of index entries. However a considerable effort has been made to eliminate the more 'glaring' errors introduced by the digitisation process, and so make our FRYB entries reflect the printed information provided by the FRYB Calendar as closely as possible.
The digitised transcript from which we have compiled this collection of index entries was kindly made available to us by the NWI, in exchange for a copy of our transcript of the BECK Calendar.
Note: Though the Fry Calendars stop at the end of 1799, all wills (or rather abstracts of them) proved at Devon courts between 1800 and 1857 fortunately are listed and do appear either in Inland Revenue or Death Duty sources, i.e. in our sources DDR1 (covering 1796-1811) and IRW (covering 1812-1857).
Locating the source and acquiring copies
There are of course no original wills or administrations to make copies of. However, copies of the FRYB Calendar (BRS Vol. 46) are held by SOG, WSL (now part of DHC), the LDS Family History Library, and a number of major reference libraries and various record offices. A scanned copy is now also available online in the Internet Archive.