Bedfordshire Probate Records
The following article is about probate records in the county of Bedfordshire. For general information about English probate records, click here.
Probate is the legal court process by which the estate of a deceased person is distributed to his or her heirs. The term probate refers to a collection of documents, including wills, administrations (also called admons), inventories, and act books. The Church of England ecclesiastical courts had authority for this process until to 1858. This article explains about probates and how to get started to search for a will.
Beginning in 1858, authority over probate matters was taken from ecclesiastical courts and put under the civil authority of the Principal Probate Registry.
Follow these steps 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 the "Court Jurisdictions by Parish" section below.
- Click a letter or span of letters for your place. This opens an article showing a table of places and the courts that had jurisdiction over them.
- Follow the steps at the top of the table to search for a will.
Court Jurisdictions by Parish
Majority of the County
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 Archdeaconry of Bedford.
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.
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, which 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 that order. The Prerogative Court of the Archbishop of Canterbury (and the appeals courts if necessary) should be searched last.
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 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 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 lower courts could be sent to these higher appeals courts:
The Prerogative Court of the Archbishop of Canterbury also served as an appeals court.
Probate Indexes Online
Prerogative Court of Canterbury wills (1384 - 1858) 
- Index of Bedfordshire probate records, 1484-1858 This includes indexes for the Court of the Archdeacon of Bedford, the Peculiar Court of Biggleswade and the Peculiar Court of Leighton Buzzard
- Archdeaconry of Bedfordshire. Court FHL films 88007-88009
- English wills, 1498-1526 which are transcribed and many from the Archdeacon of Bedford 
- Bedfordshire wills, 1480-1519 
- The Peculiar Court of Leighton Buzzard : persons named in wills proved 1701-1846 
- Index of Bedfordshire probate records, 1484-1858 The Peculiar Court of Leighton Buzzard 
- Wills and administrations, 1624-1858 See FHL fims 95109 and 95100 
- Prebendal Court (Leighton-Buzzard) Probate records, 1537-1842 Index 1736-1846 
- Index of Bedfordshire probate records, 1484-1858 The Peculiar Court of Biggleswade
- Index to records of Lincoln Peculiar Courts with Peculiar of Biggleswade 
- Probate records for the Commissary Court of Lincoln for the Archdeaconry of Huntingdon, 1559-1857, 1559-1857 The Act books contain some Admon Grants from the Peculiar Court of Biggleswade 
- Some transcripts of Bedfordshire Wills at Lambeth and Lincoln 1387-1570 v. 14 
- Bedfordshire wills 1601-1652 at probate registry Lincoln, England, all name index 
- Everton and Swineshead parishes have some references in the following court record Probate records for the Commissary Court of Lincoln for the Archdeaconry of Huntingdon, 1559-1857, 1559-1857 
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.