SOCIETY OF GENEALOGISTS
Transcribed by Richard Grylls and Elizabeth Kipp
The Source (SOG)
A considerable number of copies or abstracts of Devon Wills are held in the library of the Society of Genealogists (SOG), which is located at 14 Charterhouse Buildings, Goswell Road, London EC1M 7BA. Most of these will copies/abstracts are to be found in the Society's 'Document Collection', which essentially consists of a vast number of cardboard boxes full of envelopes containing documents and notes on family history. These were collected and compiled by genealogists both amateur and professional. The Society has an index of the surnames covered by this collection, but no index of its precise contents (as yet).
DWP's editing process
The Devon Wills Project's collection of SOG Source items, of both will copies/abstracts and will listings, is a very provisional one. It is expected that, in about three years' time (2014), volunteers at the Society of Genealogists will have indexed all the wills to be found in the Document Collections. DWP hopes then to be allowed to extract the Devon entries from their index, and the resulting set of items will eventually replace this current set of under-detailed items with a more detailed and up-to-date set. The inclusion in the present SOG source set of a good number of wills of people who lived and died in Cornwall (but had their wills proved in Exeter) is deliberate. All the original copies of these wills were held in Exeter and thus perished during the 2nd World War, as did all other wills proved in Devon. A trawl of the Document Collection boxes at the Society of Genealogists, looking specifically for Devon wills, has indeed been made previously, by Sir Mervyn Medlycott and David Hawkings. Their findings are listed in our source MED. Many items in the index below do indeed duplicate their findings. The origins of this current 'provisional' index are threefold:
1) The Society of Genealogists publishes a periodical, Genealogists' Magazine. Since the first issue of this in 1925, that periodical has listed quarter yearly (with varying degrees of detail) 'acquisitions' to their library, including documents such as wills. The whole run of Genealogists' Magazine, from 1925 to the present day, has been searched for mentions of Devon wills, and the findings added to our set of SOG source items. (The findings have been edited, and do not include items which are described in section 3 below.) In several cases the Document Collections themselves at the Society of Genealogists have been searched in order to check whether the will copy mentioned in 'acquisitions' still exists in their collection. Where such copies have been found, they have been clearly marked 'co', 'tr' or 'ab' (copy, transcript or abstract). For time reasons this task has not been completely done, so it should be clearly understood that, if we have listed an item in our source SOG as 'le' (list entry), it does not necessarily mean that no copy survives - a copy may well exist, waiting to be found in one of the Document Collection boxes.
2) A genealogist named Reginald M. Glencross, who had a special interest in west-country families, donated in 1941 his complete collection of genealogical papers to the Society of Genealogists. Those papers were not indexed collectively, but were sorted into family collections and added to the papers already within the Document Collection concerning a particular surname. (This same dispersal process seems also to have happened to the Whitmore Collection (which included some Devon items) and a collection of Exeter and Taunton will copies, whose acquisition was noted in The Genealogists' Magazine Vol. 9/10, p. 414.) In addition R.M. Glencross presented the Society with his card index, an index of some 850,000+ cards (now on microfilm). His card index was obviously very useful to him during his researches. He recorded on cards a lot of information about wills and their existence, without necessarily making a copy or abstract of each will. Once again lack of time has made it impossible to check which cards referred to an actual will copy or abstract that he made, and which merely listed for his own information the existence of a will. (For instance, it appears that he made cards recording all early Cornish wills proved in Exeter courts for surnames beginning with A, B and C, and every will concerning the Courtney, Edgcombe and Vivian families, but he only made abstracts of a handful of these.) His whole card index has been searched, and information from all cards that mention a will proved in Devon was extracted. All these entries are shown as 'le', but once again there is a fair chance a copy of the will may well exist in the Document Collection.
3) Since 1992 all acquisitions to the Library of the Society of Genealogists have been entered on computer. Tim Lawrence, the Society's librarian, kindly extracted all the Devon wills that appeared on this computerised acquisition list so that we could include them in DWP. (The entries emanating from this source can be identified because they show the 'Donor' of the item in the 'Reference' column.) This acquisition list also included some wills that had merely been listed, rather than transcribed or abstracted. In these cases 'le' really does indicate that there is no 'copy' in any format at the Society of Genealogists. It is possible that some testamentary items received by the Society before 1992 also appear in their computerised acquisition index, maybe having been entered when they were microfiched.
For the most part wills proved after 1857 found in any of the three sources mentioned above have not been included in our set of SOG source items.
Locating the source and acquiring copies
For further information about any will or administration found as an SOG source item in the DWP index, please contact the Society of Genealogists. 14 Charterhouse Buildings, London EC1M 7BA by mail or email, but do please be aware of the uncertainties mentioned above relating to all items marked 'le' in our index.