Devon Names in the Calendars of the
Prerogative Court of Canterbury Wills (1383-1700)
Extracted by Jean E. Harris
In view of the tremendous loss of the old Devon wills and administrations at the time of the bombing of Exeter in 1942, the PCC (Prerogative Court of Canterbury) wills should not be overlooked by those researching Devon ancestors. This has been made easier by the fact that the British Library Society, the Index Library, and others, have published indexes to the PCC calendars.
We owe a great debt of gratitude to those individuals who undertook what must have been a very challenging and time consuming exercise. It would seem that they also took the time to examine some of these old wills in order to obtain as much information as they could for the place names, occupations, etc., of the testators. One of their biggest difficulties was that there are so many English villages and places having the same names but being in different counties. In the preface to volume 77 the editor gives some information as to how they went about this tremendous task and this is something that should be read as it tells just how diligent they were in completing this huge task.
The British Record Society and Index Library volumes should be available in the reference section of any large library of a major city; they can also be seen on microfilms from the Church of the Latter Day Saints, who have also filmed all of the PCC registers for the years that this court existed. Thus, with the year plus the folio number, the relevant microfilm can be ordered into a local Family History Centre. In addition, the National Archives (formerly the Public Record Office), Kew, London, is now making images of these PCC wills available online and for a nominal sum a will can be downloaded from their Discovery web-site.
The National Rrchives' reserch guide for these wills reads as though only those wills of relatively wealthy people were proved by the Prerogative Court of Canterbury. This is misleading as there were many ordinary people having their wills proved in that court for a variety of reasons. Some were mariners or individuals who died at sea, some were those who happened to own property in counties other than the one in which they resided and there were many others as these indexes to 1700 will show by their occupations. There is also the period 1653-1660 during the Interregnum years when all of the wills for the entire country had to be proved by Prerogative Court of Canterbury. The following Devon indexes will lead you to PCC wills for names you are researching and with this you should be able to have a copy downloaded from their wills web-site.
The present Devon name extractions have been taken from the British Record Society and Index Library volumes covering the period 1383-1700, and volumes published by John & George F. Matthews covering 1630-1655, for use in connection with the LDS microfilms, and as an adjunct to the search facilities provided by Documents Online.
Six additional parishes have also been included in these Devon extractions for the following reasons:
|Chardstock||formerly in Dorset - transferred to Devon 1896|
|Churchstanton||formerly in Devon - transferred to Somerset 1896|
|Dalwood||formerly in Dorset - transferred to Devon 1844|
|Hawkchurch||formerly in Dorset - transferred to Devon 1896|
|Stockland||formerly in Dorset - transferred to Devon 1844|
|Thorncombe||formerly in Devon - transferred to Dorset 1844|
The places names given here are ALL in Devon (except those for Dorset) but this county name has been omitted even though it does appear in the indexes from the original PCC calendars.
The following volumes have been used to extract Devon names included in the PCC wills to 1700:
1383-1629: British Record Society, Index Library
|1383-1558||Vols 10 & 11||published 1893|
|1558-1583||Vol 18||published 1898|
|1584-1604||Vol 25||published 1901|
|1605-1619||Vol 43||published 1912|
|1620-1629||Vol 44||published 1912|
1630: Abstracts Register "Scroope", J.H. Morrison 1934
1630-1655: Matthews volumes
The PCC Wills for Devon names in the period 1630-1655 are made available here from the volumes:
Year Book of Probates 1630-1655 (9 vols)
- edited by John & George F. Matthews (pub 1902-1927)
The valid comment written by compiler Jeremy Gibson in Probate Jurisdictions - Where to look for Wills (published Society of Genealogists) is that "The Matthews volumes are very confusingly numbered".
|1630-1634||Matthews||Vol 1||LDS Film 0410185|
|1650-1652||Vol 5||LDS Film 0410187|
|1654||Vol 7||LDS Film 0410188|
|NOTE: Vol 8 has only A-M as N-Z was never published|
The Matthews brothers subsequently published another volume (Latter Day Saints - Film 0392705) which is now available as digitised version at https://www.familysearch.org/search/catalog/426779?availability=Family%20History%20Library.
The title page reads:
Sentences and Complete Index Nominem (Probates and Sentences) for the years 1630-1639
(These relate to disputes between various people and sometimes with executors & settled by these Sentences.)
From their introduction, Matthews abstracts were from the Probate Act Books as there is more information recorded there regarding executors, administrators and the deceased. The Matthews volumes differ in this respect from those of the Index Library, British Record Society, which would seem to be only from the PCC wills calendars. A quote from Matthews:
"PAB is missing for the years 1650, 1653, 1654 and 1662 and accordingly extracts for those years will be made from the truncated notes found in the Registers."
1631-1654: Other Matthews Indexes
To agree somewhat with Jeremy Gibson's remark in the FFHS publication (as above), the Matthews brothers also published more volumes for this period. These have not been used to extract Devon names for this index as they are very different in format and include PCC Admons. The columns in these volumes are headed:
|Surname||Forename||Month||Year||County||Page in PAB|
|PCC Index||1631-1645||LDS Film 0091801|
|PCC Index||1646-1654||LDS Film 0091802|
1653-1660: British Record Society, Index Library
|1653-1656||Vol 54||published 1925|
|1657-1660||Vol 61||published 1936|
During the Interregnum (1653-1660) this court, in the form of a civil institution, had sole jurisdiction in England and Wales, and effectively for the preceding ten years from the outbreak of the Civil War.
1661-1670: Wills, Sentences & Probate Acts - J.H.Morrison (pub. 1935)
It is advised that the preface of this book be read. The writer explains how he compiled this index from both the Registers and the Probate Act Books.
1671-1700: British Record Society, Index Library
|1671-1675||Vol 67||published 1979|
|1676-1685||Vol 71||published 1948|
|1686-1693||Vol 77||published 1958|
|1694-1700||Vol 80||published 1960|
NOTE - abreviations etc.:
|d.b.n.||de bonis non (administratis)|
|P.A.B.||Probate Act Book|
|[ ]||notes by the transcriber, such as clarifications of place names. (Some of the names given are simply the name of a Manor House and the location has been found in White's 1850 Gazeteer and Directory for Devonshire and added here.)|
|( )||Inside these brackets of all British Record Socty volumes - this information is from the body of the will or is their editorial comment.|
|Page Numbers||After finding a reference in the Probate Act Books, some wills were not found in the Registers. In those cases the reference number is to the page in the Probate Act Books and not to the folio in the Register.|