Dorset Probate Records
The following article is about probate records in the county of Dorset. 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. The Probates After 1857 section below has a link to an article about probates after 1857.
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 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
Before 1858, every town and parish in Dorset fell under the jurisdiction of a primary probate court and several secondary courts. When looking for the probate of the estate of an ancestor, you should search the primary court first then move on to the secondary courts in the order given. Search indexes first. Indexes are found by clicking on the court name above.
To see a list of parishes and the pre-1858 courts that had jurisdiction over them, click on the letter that begins the parish name.
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
- People who owned property in more than one county
- Military and naval personnel
- People who lived or owned property outside 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.