Somerset Probate Records
The following article is about probate records in the county of Somerset. 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 Somerset was under the probate jurisdiction of a primary ecclesiastical court and one or more secondary ecclesiastical courts. For a list of Somerset places and the ecclesiastical courts that had pre-1858 juridiction over them, click on a letter link:
Somerset Probate Courts
The following ecclesiastical courts had some probate jurisdiction over Somerset prior to 1858. Click on a court name to learn about records and indexes.
- Court of the Bishop (Consistory) of the Archdeaconry of Wells
- Court of the Bishop (Consistory) of the Archdeaconry of Taunton
- Court of the Bishop (Consistory) of the Dean of Wells
- Court of the Bishop (Consistory) of the Dean & Chapter of Wells
- Court of the Bishop of Bath & Wells (Episcopal Consistory)
- Court of the Bishop of Bristol in the Deanery of Bristol (Episcopal Consistory)
- Court of the Archdeaconry of Salisbury
- Court of the Peculiar of Banwell
- Court of the Peculiar of Churchill
- Court of the Peculiar of Kingsbury with East Lambrook
- Court of the Peculiar of North Wooton
- Court of the Peculiar of Pilton
- Court of the Peculiar of Witham Friary
- Court of the Peculiar of the Prebend of Ashill
- Court of the Peculiar of the Prebend of Buckland Dinham
- Court of the Peculiar of the Prebend of Compton Bishop
- Court of the Peculiar of the Prebend of Compton Dundon
- Court of the Peculiar of the Prebend of Cudworth & Knowle
- Court of the Peculiar of the Prebend of Easton-in-Gordano
- Court of the Peculiar of the Prebend of East Harptree
- Court of the Peculiar of the Prebend of Haselbury Plucknett
- Court of the Peculiar of the Prebend of Henstridge
- Court of the Peculiar of the Prebend of Ilton
- Court of the Peculiar of the Prebend of Litton
- Court of the Peculiar of the Prebend of St. Decumans
- Court of the Peculiar of the Prebend of Timberscombe
- Court of the Peculiar of the Prebend of West Lydford
- Court of the Peculiar of the Prebend of Whitelackington
- Court of the Peculiar of the Prebend of Wiveliscombe with Fitzhead
- Court of the Peculiar of the Prebend of Wookey
- Court of the Peculiar of the Prebend of Fordington and Writhlington
- Court of the Peculiar of the Prebend of Yatton & Kenn
- Court of the Royal Peculiar of Ilminster
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 served as an appeals court.
Before looking for a will, you should search an index. Here is a list of published indexes with broad coverage. (Other indexes will be found on the court pages. Click on the court links above.)
- Somerset wills II pre-1858 extracted by Olive M. Moger (edited by A. J. Webb)
- Somerset medieval wills. Contents: v. 16 (1st ser.). 1383-1500 -- v. 19 (2nd ser.). 1501-1530, with some Somerset wills preserved at Lambeth -- v. 21 (3rd ser.) 1531-1558. "The Lambeth wills, from the archiepiscopal registers, are for 1363-1491."
- Medieval wills from Wells deposited in the diocesan registry, Wells, 1543 to 1546 and 1554 to 1556
- Somerset wills from Exeter
- Abstracts of Somersetshire wills, etc.
- Wells wills : arranged in parishes, and annotated
- The Genealogists' magazine - v. 5 (1929-1931) has and alphabetical list of Somerset Archdeaconry Court Wills proved at Taunton. Missing from other published lists, almost all these wills are from the 1600's see pages 328-336.
Here is a list of online indexes.
- http://www.gomezsmart.myzen.co.uk/ (For wills or probate on this website, look under 'Property.')
This site is concerned with family and social history in the Hundred of Frome. This consisted of the parishes of Beckington, Berkley, Cloford, Elm, Frome Selwood, Laverton, Lullington, Marston Bigot, Nunney, Orchardleigh, Rode (Road), Rodden, Standerwick, Wanstrow, Whatley and Woolverton. It also included the adjacent Liberties of East Cranmore, Leigh upon Mendip, Mells and Witham Friary and the Peculiar of Buckland Dinham (see map).
Information about Somerset Probate Records:
Some Explanatory Notes about the Somerset Probate Courts
"All probate records of the Diocese of Bath and Wells which had been deposited in the Probate Registry at Exeter were destroyed there in 1942. The records destroyed were those of the Consistory Court of Bath and Wells, the Archdeaconry Courts of Wells and Taunton, the Consistory Courts of the Dean and Chapter and of the Dean [of Wells], the Peculiar Courts of the Precentor, the Chancellor and Sub-Dean of Wells, the Royal Peculiar Court of Ilminister, and the various Prebendary Courts."
- Camp, Anthony J., Wills and Their Whereabouts, London: by the author, 1974. FHL book 942 S2wa, page 116.
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.