Channel Islands Probate Records
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Wills and Probates
Research use: They are mainly used to show relationship and to verify the information found in church and vital records. Extremely valuable in proving linkage and names of living children and children's spouses that can not be found elsewhere. The realty wills contain better pedigree connections than those found in the Land records and though some of the information is duplicated these wills are needed.
Record type: Wills, administrations, inventories, abstracts.
Time period: 1660 to present.
Contents: On the Channel Islands land could not be left by a will until 1841 on Guernsey and 1851 on Jersey. Therefore, probate records deal mainly with personal property. Wills: name of testator; residence; heirs; relationships; will and/or probate date; signature; witnesses; executor(s). Administration: name of deceased; residence; next of kin; and administrator(s). After 1841 and 1851 there are sometimes still separate documents that refer only to the real property and not to the personal estate of the deceased. These documents are called realty wills.
Location: Royal Court, Jersey and Greffe, Guernsey, Channel Islands.
Population coverage: 30 %.
Jersey Archive has index of Wills on line in their Public Access Catalogue.
There are Wills of Personalty (cash and personal possessions).
Wills of Realty (from 1851) fixed property (houses, land, rentes and hypotecs) are at the Land Registry. Both have been filmed by the LDS and are available on film at Family History Centres.
Wills of Personalty (each book indexed individually in Greffe) and Wills of Realty (one big card index in Greffe) H.M. Greffier, The Royal Court House, St. Peter Port, Guernsey GY1 2PB. Hours 9a.m.-5p.m.
The former are the responsibility of the Ecclesiastical Court from whom permission must be sought before copies are made. The Greffier can do this for you.
As of 2006, Copying Costs were 30 pence per page - minimum handling charge 2 pounds. Payment by sterling chques or drafts drawn on a British Bank.
Alderney and Sark
Wills are also hed at the Greffe.
More information about Wills of Personalty and Realty, Laws of Inheritance, Origins of Customary Property Rights.
300 years worth of such records have been filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah and are available for reading worldwide.
Jersey had clear inheritance laws, so there are no Wills of Realty before 1851. There were Wills of Personalty (cash and personal possessions) and many left these including those without land, and particularly women who had assets.
A Will of Personalty is more likely to be made by those without children or who had property outside the Channel Islands.
Wills of Realty (from 1851) fixed property (from 1851) - fixed property (houses, land, rents and hypotecs) are held at the Land Registry. These too have been filmed.
Wills of Personalty As with Realty, strict Laws of Inheritance were applicable to "personal property". Until 1948 all probate was dealt with by the Ecclesiastical Court, and subsequent to that, by the Judicial Greffe.
The Jersey Archives holds all wills and testaments of movable property held by the Judicial Greffe from 1660-1948 and they can be consulted individually. All wills and testaments have been catalogued and are indexed under name on the Jersey Archives catalogue. The Wills and Testaments 1948-1960 are held at the Jersey Archives and can be found in a volume of name indexes.
Laws of Inheritance
The ancient customary laws of Normandy required a man to leave a third of his personal estate to his wife, if she survived him, and a third to children born in wedlock. If no wife survived him, then two thirds of his estate went to his children. If there was a wife and no children, then half of the estate went to her. A woman was required by the same law to leave two thirds of her personal estate to her children. There were also extensive restrictions on her right to deal in real estate. Those restrictions were removed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Only the concept of a reserved portion for the surviving spouse and children has been retained (Wills and Succession Law - Jersey 1993. This Act made some changes to the customary law.
Do remember that most Channel Island Wills were written in French. However, you do not need to be able to speak the language to get the gist of what they contain, and they mostly follow a standad format. Any Will written prior to 1948 is essentially an ecclesiastical document, so will contain a declaration of faith. Legacies are sometimes made to Trustees - kinsmen or well-beloved friends - on trust to manage them in specified ways. There are sometimes quite complex chains of fall back positions in case a legatee dies, especially where a legacy is only to be executed when the legatee attains the age of majority at 21 or marries. The Legacy is of the "residue" - all the remainder of the estate not herein before specifically bequeathed. If the Will is a book copy, the names of the witnesses and the Testator are shown. Original wills will give the Testator's signature or mark if they are not able to write their signature. Remember the Wills are available on Microfilm and start in the year 1660 FHL British Film 431261.
- The Family History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Family History Record Profile: Channel Islands,” Word document, private files of the FamilySearch Content Strategy Team, 1990-1998.