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The Estate or Death Duty registers are among the most important genealogical records in England and Wales. They are little known and often overlooked as a source for locating information about people.
Several legacy, residue, and succession duty acts between 1796 and 1858 required that a duty (tax) be paid on all bequests and succession to property over a certain value. The amount levied varied over time and according to the relationship of the beneficiary to the deceased. Duties were deposited with the Legacy Duty Department of the Stamp Office. Very small estates, and those who died serving their country, were excluded from paying the required duty.
The records are especially helpful for counties Cornwall, Devon and Somerset, since many of the records for the probate courts in those areas were destroyed during World War II.
Understanding the Records
The problem facing a researcher looking for probate material before 1858 is knowing which one of the more than 300 courts administered the desired probate. Records were housed in many places throughout England, and there was no central index. The Estate duty indexes and registers provide a solution by allowing you to search across many courts at one time. A register could be annotated for many years, possibly listing date of death of the spouse, marriage and death dates of beneficiaries, births of children or grandchildren born after the duty was paid, and have cross references to other entries.
Estate duties were administered through a group of country courts, so named because they were located outside London, and the central court of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury. The names of the country courts were:
| Bath and Wells
Information In the Records
Estate Duty abstracts can add a lot to what was found in an original will or administration. They can show:
- Name, address and last occupation of the deceased
- Date of death
- Place and date of probate
- Names of heirs and their relationship to the deceased, even if not mentioned in the will
- Residence or death of heirs (rarely)
- Names, addresses and occupations of the executors
- Details of estates and related matters
- Amount of the duty paid
Before 1812, entry numbers were used instead of folio numbers in the indexes. The folios are usually given in the top right corner of the page. Entry numbers are written on the page next to the beginning of each new abstract. Some are difficult to read because of the condition of the original documents.
The indexes are actually not true indexes, but calendars. This means surnames beginning with the same letter(s) are on the same page, but in chronological order rather than strict alphabetical order. These calendar indexes show:
- Name of the testator or intestate.
- His or her residence.
- Name of the executor.
- Name of the court where originally probated.
- Reference number needed to locate a copy of the the estate duty document.
These death duty registers cover both Wills and Administrations.
Search the index first before attempting to locate an abstract. The indexes for the country courts from 1796 to 1811 can be searched online, with the actual register also available online for a fee (as of Oct 2009, £3.50). After 1811, one index covers all courts and may be viewed on film through the Family History Library, or online with a paid subscription to FindMyPast.
Finding the Records
The National Archives
The original records are housed in the collection of The National Archives of the UK at Kew near London, England.
Read more about these records in the leaflets from The National Archives.
Family History Library
The Family History Library has microfilmed copies of the Estate Duty indexes and registers. They can be viewed in the library or through a family history center. The registers are grouped into two sections: the Prerogative Court of Canterbury and the country courts. Prior to 1811, there are separate indexes for each court. From 1812-1858, there are two indexes--one for the PCC and another for all other courts (country courts). Unless you are sure of the name of the court, search the indexes for both.
To find film numbers for the indexes and records listed in the Family History Library Catalog, click on a link.
- Index to death duty registers in the Estate Duty Office, 1812-1903
- Death duty register for abstracts of administrations and probates of wills for country courts, 1796-1811
- Death duty register for wills in the country courts, 1812-1857
- Death duty register for abstracts of administrations in the country courts, 1812-1857
- Death duty register for wills in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, 1796-1811; and administrations, 1796-1857 and indexes.
- The country courts, 1796-1811, can be searched in DocumentsOnline.
- The indexes to Estate Duty registers can be viewed online at FindMyPast.
For More Information
Information is also in the following books.
- Cox, Jane. Affection Defying the Power of Death: Wills, Probate & Death Duty Records.
- Cox, Jane. New to Kew?: a first time guide for family historians at the Public Record Office.
- Bevan, Amanda and Andrea Duncan. Tracing Your Ancestors in the Public Record Office.