Dorset Probate RecordsEdit This Page
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Probate is the legal court process by which the estate of a deceased person is distributed to his or her heirs. Probate records include wills and administrations. This article is about probate records in Dorset. For a general description of England probate records, click here.
1858 to the Present
Beginning in 1858, the Principal Probate Registry had the authority for probating estates. Click on the link to learn more.
Before 1858, Church of England ecclesiastical courts had authority for this process. To search for a pre-1858 probate record in Dorset, follow these steps:
Step 1. Search Indexes
Here are some online indexes to probate records that include individuals who lived in Dorset. Search these indexes first:
- http://www.familyhistoryonline.net/database/SussexFHGprobate.shtml -- compiled by the Sussex Family History Group which has transcribed the names of 12,300 individuals found in Sussex wills, including testators, executors, beneficiaries or witnesses. The information recorded includes name, date and place.
- The Sussex Record Society has published four volumes of indexes to Sussex wills, and these can be viewed on their website. They are arranged by parish then by surname.
- Prerogative Court of Canterbury wills (1384-1858).
Did you find a reference to a probate record?
- If yes, go to Step 4 below.
- If no, go to Step 2 below.
Step 2. Identify when and where your ancestor died
Determine when your ancestor died. If you aren't sure, use an approximate date.
Determine where your ancestor died. It is easier to find a probate record if you know whether the place where your ancestor lived or died is a parish. To learn whether it is a parish, look it up in a gazetteer. Here is a link to the 1872 Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales online:
The gazetteer will either tell you:
- A place is a parish, or
- What parish it is a part of, or
- What place it is near.
If the latter, look that place up in the gazetteer and see if it is a parish.
Once you have identified the parish, go to Step 3.
Step 3. Identify court jurisdictions by parish
Once you have identified the parish where your ancestor lived or died, learn which courts had jurisdiction over it then search indexes for those courts. Every town and parish in Dorset fell under the probate jurisdiction of a primary court and several secondary courts. Click on a link below for the letter the parish begins with.
Dorset Probate Courts
Most of Dorset was under the pre-1858 probate jurisdiction of the Court of the Archdeaconry of Dorset. The majority of probate searches will be in the records of this court and its superior courts. However, the following courts also had some pre-1858 jurisdiction within the county. Click on a court name to learn about records and indexes.
- Court of the Bishop of Bristol (Episcopal Consistory, Dorset Division)
- Court of the Peculiar of Canford Magna and Poole
- Court of the Prebendal Peculiar of Chardstock and Wambrook
- Court of the Peculiar of Corfe Castle
- Court of the Prebendal Peculiar of Fordington
- Court of the Manor and Liberty of Frampton
- Court of the Peculiar of Gillingham
- Court of the Prebendal Peculiar of Lyme Regis and Halstock
- Court of the Peculiar of Milton Abbas
- Court of the Prebendal Peculiar of Netherbury
- Court of the Prebendal Peculiar of Preston and Sutton Poyntz
- Court of the Peculiar of the Dean of Salisbury
- Court of the Dean and Chapter of Salisbury
- Court of the Bishop of Salisbury (Episcopal Consistory)
- Court of the Peculiar of Sturminster Marshall
- Court of the Peculiar of Wimborne Minster
- Court of the Prebendal Peculiar of Yetminster
In addition, the Prerogative Court of the Archbishop of Canterbury had jurisdiction over the whole of England and specifically in the following cases.
- Wealthy individuals
- Interregnum, 1649-1660, because the Prerogative Court was the only court.
- Property in more than one diocese in the Province of Canterbury.
- Property in both the Province of Canterbury and Province of York.
- People who died outside England, including British citizens and others who held property in England.
Any probate that was disputed and could not be settled by the county courts could be sent to these higher appeals courts:
The Prerogative Court of the Archbishop of Canterbury also acted as an appeals court.
Probate Indexes Online
Before looking for a will, you should search an index. The following index, 1540-1858, covers many parishes and places:
This catalogue gives access to wills and other probate records of the diocese of Salisbury which used to cover not only Wiltshire but also Berkshire (under certain circumstances) and parts of Dorset and Devon. You can search for people by name, place, occupation and date. Searching the catalogue is FREE. In addition, there are digital images for some of the documents (just over 25%) which can be viewed following on-line payment or free of charge by people visiting the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre. Wills and inventories give useful information about people’s financial status and property, and also their family relationships and friendships, which make them a wonderful resource for family and local history.
FOR RECORDS FROM
SWANAGE - LANGTON MATRAVERS - WORTH MATRAVERS - STUDLAND - CHURCH KNOWLE
A calendar of wills and administrations relating to the county of Dorset : proved in the Consistory court (Dorsetshire division) of the late diocese of Bristol, 1681-1792, and in the Archdeaconry court of Dorset, 1568-1792, and in the several peculiars, 1660-1799, all now preserved at the probate registry, Blandford 
Prerogative Court of Canterbury wills (1384 - 1858) 
- A calendar of wills and administrations relating to the county of Dorset : proved in the Consistory court (Dorsetshire division) of the late diocese of Bristol, 1681-1792, and in the Archdeaconry court of Dorset, 1568-1792, and in the several peculiars, 1660-1799, all now preserved at the probate registry, Blandford 
- Church of England. Archdeaconry of Dorset. Court Probate records, 1568-1857 
- Indexes to Sarum peculiar courts 1462-1800 which cover Chardstock 1639-1799, Fordington 1660-1799, Lyne Regis and Halstock 1664-1799, Netherbury and Beaminster 1608-1799, Preston and Sutton Pointz 1761-1799, Yatminster and Grimston 1654-1799, and Gillingham 1658-1799 FHL Film 97430 Indexes to Sarum peculiar courts early to 1857 FHL Film 97429
- Peculiar Court of Great Canford and Poole Probate records, 1650-1857
- Peculiar Court Corfe Castle Probate records, 1576-1846 Includes the Chapelry of Kingston
- Peculiar Court of Sturminister Marshall Probate records, 1641-1857 Jurisdiction: Sturminister Marshall, Corfe Mullen, Hamworth and Lytchet Minister 
- Peculiar Court Wimborne Minster Probate records, 1603-1857 
- Wills at Salisbury 1464-1858 Contents: v. 122. A-K -- v. 123. K-Z. 
- Calendars of wills and administrations relating to the county of Dorset 
- The Genealogists' magazine - v. 5 (1929-1931) Miscellaneous Dorset Wills from the Episcopal Consistory Court of Sarum: A-B, 1550-1737 pages 140-141; C-F, 1550-1737, pages 172-173; F-Loc, 1555-1810, pages 209-210; Lon-RE, 1560-1805, Pages 248-249; Ri-W, 1556-1731, pages 278-280 
- Notes and queries for Somerset and Dorset - v. 27 (1955-1960) pages 229-233
- Manorial Court of Frampton 1678-1755 
- Court books for the manor and liberty of Frampton, 1670-1881 
Some Explanatory Notes on the Dorset Probate Courts
In 1836, the parish of Stockland and the Chapelry of Dalwood were transferred from the Court of the Archdeacon of Dorset to the Court of the Archdeacon of Exeter and were united with Devon. At the same time, the parish of Thornecombe and part of the parish of Axminster were transferred from Devonshire to Dorset with a corresponding change in ecclesiastical jurisdiction.
The Salisbury prebends were inhibited triennually for six months by the Court of the Peculiar of the Dean of Salisbury.
It is known that probate records were kept for Fampton, 1678-1755, and evidently none were proved after this date; however, probates of people in this area may well be found in surrounding courts throughout the period, as well as after 1755.
It is said that Burton Bradstock was independent in probate matters, in which case there may be probate information in the Manorial Records which are still in the custody of the Lord of the Manor.
Estate Duty Records
Starting in 1796, a tax or death duty was payable on estates over a certain value. Estate duty abstracts may add considerable information not found elsewhere. Estate duty indexes may help locate a will. For more information, go to Estate Duty Records.
Probates After 1857
Beginning in 1858, the government took over the settlement of estates and all wills are now probated through the Principal Probate Registry system. For more information, go to Principal Probate Registry.