Devon - Probate Records

Finding pre-1858 Devon wills is very problematic. (Prior to 1858, wills were proved in Devon in five main ecclesiastical courts: the Archdeaconry courts of Totnes, Barnstaple and Exeter; the Episcopal Consistory Court of Exeter, and the Episcopal Principal Registry of Exeter. These probate records were held in Exeter, where they were destroyed by fire during World War II. Few had been abstracted beforehand, though indexes had been prepared for all except the Totnes wills.)

The Devon Wills Project was a major volunteer effort to address this situation. It ran from 2009 to 2022 and was set up to provide a finding-aid in the form of a Consolidated Index of all Devon wills, and also administrations and inventories. The index shows where copies, transcripts, abstracts or extracts of such original testamentary documents may be found, and in many cases the whereabouts of the original documents themselves - so is the best starting point for Devon will searches.

The DWP Index, which used to be hosted by GENUKI/Devon, takes the form of a browsable set of web pages listing wills, etc., in alphabetical order of testators' names). The DWP Consolidated Index and an associated Search Facility are now hosted by the Devon FHS, and maintained by them in co-operation with the Devon Heritage Centre (to whom all queries and contributions of potential additions to the Database should be addressed.)

(The DFHS Wills Search Facility supersedes that provided by Find My Past which was based on the an earlier edition of the DWP Consolidated index .) 

GENUKI/Devon continues to host a considerable number of Transcriptions and Summaries of Wills and Admons, under 'Probate Records', in the relevant parish pages. - see the  Surname Index identifying the parishes concerned.

See also:

Listings of Heirs, Next of Kin & Legatees (1845-1846) from Trewman's Exter Flying Post, provided by Lindsey Withers.

Inquisitions Post Mortem (IPMs) from the Moger Collection, provided by Fay Sampson Priestley.

Beckerlegge, J.J. (Ed.). Index of the Wills and Administrations relating to the County of Devon proved in the Court of the Archdeaconry of Barnstaple, 1563-1858, and preserved in the Probate Registry at Exeter until destroyed by enemy action in 1942, The Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science, Literature and Art (1950).Beckerlegge, J.J. (Ed.). Index of the Wills and Administrations relating to the County of Devon proved in the Court of the Archdeaconry of Barnstaple, 1563-1858, and preserved in the Probate Registry at Exeter until destroyed by enemy action in 1942, The Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science, Literature and Art (1950).

Crocker, Jannine (Ed.). Elizabethan inventories & wills of the Exeter Orphans' Court, Parts 1 & 2, Devon & Cornwall Record Society, new series, vol. 56-57 (2016).

Fry, E.A. (Ed.). A Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem for Cornwall and Devon from Henry III to Charles I, 1216-1649 - Devon and Cornwall record Society (1906).

Fry, E.A. (Ed.). Calendars of Wills and Administrations relating to the counties of Devon and Cornwall proved in the Principal Registry of the Bishop of Exeter 1559-1799 and of Devon ONLY proved in the Court of the Archdeaconry of Exeter 1540-1799. Vol 35 Index Library, British Record Society (1908, reprinted 1968).

Fry, E.A. (Ed.). Calendar of Wills and Administrations relating to the counties of Devon & Cornwall proved in the Consistory Court of the Bishop of Exeter 1532-1800. Vol 46 Index Library, British Record Society (1914, reprinted 1968).

Grylls, Richard. The Devon Wills Project, Devon Family Historian, vol. 137, (2011) pp.26-27.

Grylls, Richard. Additions to the Devon Wills Project Index: for Reddaway, Westaway and Trist family historians, Devon Family H istorian, vol. 160, (2016) p.36.

Grylls, Richard and Brian Randell. The Devon Wills Project, Devon Family Historian, vol. 30, no. 8 (2014) pp.31-34.

Webb, Cliff (ed.). Wills in the Archdeaconry Court of Barnstaple. Index Library, vol. 128, The British Record Society (2013) [ISBN 13: 9780901505583]. [A statistical analysis of the personal names and parishes in Beckerlegge (1950).]

Worthy, C. Devon Wills, London: Bemrose (1896) 516 pp. (Available from GenFair.) [Index][List of Subscribers]

Exeter District Probate Registry. Calendars of wills and Administrations relating to the counties of Devon and Cornwall ... Plymouth (1908) 2 v. (The Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science, Literature and Art. Transactions. [Extra vol.])

The two main collections of Devonshire will abstracts (which provide information about the actual contents of pre-1858 wills, from Devon and various other courts, including Canterbury) are:

Moger, Olive M. Transcript of Devonshire wills, 1600-1800, Ms., Devon Record Office. [LDS Film nos. 916915, 916916, 916870-916879]

Murray, Oswyn (comp.) Oswyn Murray collection of wills, abt. 1600-1800, . [LDS Film Nos: 917257, 917258, 916897-916914] [Index]

Murray, Sir O A R. Devon wills of the 16th and 17th cent. Trans. Devon. Assoc. 53 (1921).

Another collection is at the British Library:

Vivian (John Lambrick). Col. Abstracts of 16th-18th cent. Wills, etc., chiefly relating to Devon and Cornwall, 19th cent. [Add. MSS 34,546-34,552: Vol. I. (ff. 132) A, B, D; Vol. II. (ff. 231) B; Vol. III. (ff. 212) C; Vol. IV. (ff. 138) E-H; Vol. V. (ff. 139) I-P; Vol. VI. (ff. 67) Q-S; Vol. VII. (ff. 159) T-W, and Add. MSS 34,810 supplementary (Vol. viii.) containing names beginning with Y, followed by miscellaneous entries and an index of names.]

And another at the Society of Genealogists, listed in:

Taylor, Rachel. Devon will abstracts from the Fothergill collection at the Society of Genealogists. Typescript, by Cliff Webb (1979). [DCRS Library]

However, detailed information is available relating to the post-1796 destroyed Devon probate records concerning estates on which death duty was payable. Firstly, many such wills proved between 1812 and 1857 had been made copied by the Estate Duty Office, and the copies relating to Devon are now held in the Devon Record Office. In fact, these copies are complete except for the testator's signature. They are indexed in the TNA's Discovery Catalogue - use the advanced search facility to focus on "Search Other Archives", choosing "The Devon Archives and Local Studies Service (South West Heritage Trust)". The catalogue of Estate Duty records is 1078/IRW, broken down into chunks alphabetically by surname, e.g. "1078/IRW/A - 1078/IRW/B", but the surnames are not always in strict alphabetical order. (The will copies have been filmed by the LDS, on 34 films, with the index in film no. 1278571/2.)

Secondly, the Estate Duty Office's summaries of wills have been recorded in the Registers of Legacy Duty, Succession Duty and Estate Duty (often called the Death Duty Registers). The Registers are in Public Record Office, in PRO IR26, with an index to them in PRO IR27. These Registers in fact provide detailed summaries of many (but by no means all) of the wills that were proved in Devon during the period 1796 to 1903, including those from the Diocese of Exeter and the Archdeaconry of Barnstaple. These have been filmed by the LDS as film nos. 1368366-69 (registers) and 1368371 (index), and details from the Death Duty Registers, 1796-1811 are available from The National Archives' DocumentsOnline service.In addition, after the war, the Devon Record Office attempted to collect or at least locate those few wills and copies that had survived elsewhere:

Devon Record Office. Index to wills, copies and related papers [of the County of Devon], 1200-1900's. [Microfilm of a card index to wills in private deposits, and to a small number of Diocesan wills which were never transferred to the Exeter Probate Office. LDS Film 1278569, 1278570, 1278571/1]

Some Devon parishes came under the Archdeaconry Court of Cornwall, so their wills survive. (The relevant parish pages identify the parishes concerned.)Glencross, R.M. (ed.). Calendar of Wills, Administrations and Accounts Relating to the Counties of Cornwall and Devon in the Connotorial Archdiaconal Court of Cornwall (with which are included the records of the Royal Peculiar of St. Burian) now preserved in the District Probate Office at Bodmin. Index Library, vols. 56 & 59.

Cornwall Record Office. Cornish Probate Records, 1600-1649 (5 vols.), Truro, Cornwall County Council (1984).

Alcock, N.W. Surviving Devon Wills and Inventories, Devon & Cornwall Notes & Queries, vol. 31, (1968-70) pp.182. [Brief details relating to Uffculme, Woodbury, Werrington, North Petherwin and St Giles in the Heath.]

Fursdon, C.A.T. Wills and Administrations [mainly 1620-1633], Typescript (1931). [D&CRS Library: R WIL]

Fursdon, C.A.T. Genealogical contents of Devon and Cornish wills and inventories [ca.1558-1810] ; Thorverton marriage licences 1528-1834, Typescript (1931). [D&CRS Library: R WIL]

Fursdon, C.A.T. Index of a collection of Devon & Cornwall wills preserved in Exeter Cathedral, Typescript ([1935?]). [D&CRS Library: R WIL] [Covers period ca.1580-1835] [These are now in in the DRO]

Moger, O.M. Some Notes on the Whereabouts of Devon Wills, Devon & Cornwall Notes & Queries, vol. 25, (1952-53) pp.9-10.

Some other Devon wills for the parish of Uffculme also survive in Wiltshire County Record Office.

About three thousand 13th to 17th century Inquisitions Postmortem (probate inventories) survive for the Westcountry - a number are transcribed in:

Cash, M. Devon Inventories of the 16th and 17th centuries, Devon and Cornwall Record Series (New Series) No. 11. (1966) 206 pp.

Finally, Devon residents might well for some reason have had their wills proved in London, at the Prerogative Court of Canterbury - see under Probate Records on the GENUKI/England page, in particular PRO Legal Records Information Note 23. These PCC wills are available on microfilm at LDS Family History Centres, and images spanning the period 1384-1858 are available for purchase from the National Archives' Discovery search facility.

Extremely useful listings of Devon names are provided in PCC Wills (1383-1700) and PCC Administrations (1569-1660) by Jean Harris, for use in connection with the LDS microfilms, and as an adjunct to the search facilities provided by the National Archives' Discovery facility.

Other similar lists of Devon-related entries in the Commissary Court of London 1374-1649 & 1661-1700, the Court of Arches and the Archdeaconry Court of London have also been produced by Jean Harris.

For another full account see the Devon County Council's Wills and Probate Records and Locating Devon Wills and Administrations (archived copy).

Westcountry Jewish Wills - from the Susser Archive.

Published Devon wills relating to particular family names:

Conybeare, Henry Crawford. Conybeare wills and administrations 1563-1864: part 4. London: [H.C.Conybeare] [1914] 45p. Bound with: Conybeare wills & adminis...1706-1815. [Westcountry Studies Library s929.2/CON]

Trist, Peter J. Additions to the Devon Wills Project, including an index to over 550 'other surnames', Devon Family Historian, vol. 161, (2017) p.25.

Greenslade, John George. Greenslade wills and administrations 1532-1858. [Westcountry Studies Library s929.2/GRE]

Extracts from wills etc, relating to the families of Pollard, Melhuish & Bloomfield. Manuscript [1870?]. [Westcountry Studies Library msx929.2/POL]

A county index to post-1858 wills is held at the Exeter Probate Sub Registry (Finance House, Barnfield Rd., Exeter, EX1 1QR).

Devon names in Surrogate Court index of Ontario, Canada, 1859-1900, extracted by Elizabeth Howard.

Devon section of Tom's Wills (Addresses in UK wills 1931-1939).

Tucker collection of Devon & Somerset wills SoG Data Online DE/GEN (SoG Members only)

See also:

Why Does Devon Have Very Few Original Wills, Devon Family Historian, no. 187, (2023) p.47.

Indexing Inland Revenue Wills, Devon Family Historian, no. 187, (2023) pp.47-49.