Bedfordshire Probate Records
For an explanation of probate records in England, click here.
Probate is the legal court process by which the estate of a deceased person is distributed to his or her heirs. The Church of England ecclesiastical courts had authority for this process until to 1858. Beginning in 1858, authority over probate matters was taken from ecclesiastical courts and put under the civil authority of the Principal Probate Registry. The Post-1857 Probate Records section below contains links to additional information about the records of this court.
To look for a probate record before 1858:
- Discover when and where your ancestor died. If you don’t know, use the approximate date and place where they lived.
- Go to Court Jurisdictions section below and follow the instructions there.
Bedfordshire Probate Courts
Most of Bedfordshire was under the pre-1858 probate jurisdiction of the Court of the Archdeaconry of Bedford. 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 Archdeaconry of Bedford
- Court of the Bishop of Lincoln (Episcopal Consistory)
- Court of the Bishop of Ely (Episcopal Consistory)
- Court of the Peculiar of the Dean and Chapter of Lincoln
- Court of the Peculiar of Aylesbury
- Court of the Peculiar of Biggleswade
- Court of the Peculiar of Leighton Buzzard
In addition, the Prerogative Court of the Archbishop of Canterbury had jurisdiction over the whole of England. Wealthier individuals, people who owned property in more than one county or lower court's jurisdiction, and Naval personnel often had their estates proven through the Archbishop's court.
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 served as an appeals court.
Before 1858, every town and parish in Bedfordshire was under the probate jurisdiction of a primary court and several secondary courts. The court that had primary jurisdiction over most of Bedfordshire, with just a few exceptions, was the Court of the Archdeacon of Bedford.
The secondary courts over most of Bedfordshire were the Court of the Bishop of Lincoln (Episcopal Consistory) before 1837, and the Court of the Bishop of Ely (Episcopal Consistory) starting in 1837. The courts should be searched in order of primary court first and secondary court second. The Prerogative Court of the Archbishop of Canterbury (and the appeals courts if necessary) should be searched last.
For a list of the Bedfordshire parishes that were exceptions to this, and the pre-1858 courts that had probate jurisdiction over them, click here.
To find a will for an ancestor in Bedfordshire, click on a court link above and follow the steps given in the article about that court.
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. Between 1813-1858 estate duty indexes may help locate a will. For more information, go to Estate Duty Records.
Post-1857 Probate Records
Beginning in 1858, the government took over the settlement of estates and all wills are now probated through the Principal Probate Registry system. The system consists of 11 district registry offices and 18 sub-district registries, located throughout England and Wales, and the principal registry office located in London. The records are available through the office of Her Majesty's Courts Service. To learn more, go to the HMCS website.
A country-wide surname index to the records is available, so it is much easier to look for post-1857 wills. The indexes for 1858-1957 and the records for 1858-1925 are available on microfilm at the Family History Library.