Estate Duty Registers
The 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. 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:
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 and address of the deceased
- Date of death
- Place and date of probate
- Names, addresses and occupations of the executors
- Details of estates and related matters
- Amount of the duty paid
How to Find the record
Before 1812, entry numbers were used instead of folio numbers. The folios are usually given in the top right corner of the page. Entry numbers are written on the page next tothe beginning of each new abstract. Some are difficult to read because of the condition of the original documents.
The 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 will.
Please do not attempt to locate an abstract without first searching the indexes. The country court indexes before 1812 are not combined into one. A search must be made in the indexes for each court. After 1811, one index covers all courts.
For More Information
To learn more about these records, read The National Archives (England) online leaflets.
Information is also in the following books.
- Affection Defying the Power of Death: Wills, Probate & Death Duty Records by Jane Cox.
- New to Kew?: a first time guide for family historians at the Public Record Office Kew by Jane Cox.
- Tracing Your Ancestors in the Public Record Office by Amada Bevan and Andrea Duncan.
You may be interested in learning more about probates and courts before 1858. There are many articles in the Wiki about probate records and court jurisdictions. To find them, search for the phrase [Name of County] Probate Records.