Find your ancestors in Prerogative Court of Canterbury Wills Vol. XI 1686-1693

Prerogative Court of Canterbury Wills Vol. XI 1686-1693

British Record Society volume 77

Published 1957

Introduction to Original Volume

The present volume supersedes the manuscript calendars for the following years:


The usual and well understood abbreviations have been used once more but:

  • mar. has been added for mariner
  • O.W. stands for Original Will
  • entries in square brackets are taken from the Probate Act Books [P.A.B.]

After finding a will in one of the registers a searcher should look at the appropriate entry in the probate act book for the year in which the will was proved. This may be troublesome but instructions to help in the search are to be found in the Department for Literary Inquiry at Somerset House, where at the moment the wills in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury are preserved.

To make things still easier it is intended to give the folio in the probate act book in our own indexes in future. But in this volume the folio numbers, when given, refer to years other than that of the probate of the will or, sometimes, because the editor wishes to draw special attention to an entry which might otherwise be missed.

Our next volume will bring the index of wills in the P.C.C. to the year 1700 and it is unlikely that the present general editor will be in office when further indexes for this court are issued. He takes this opportunity, therefore, of saying something about the uses of our indexes and the work of compilation.

The value of this BRS Volume

Local, social and general historians as well as topographers, economists and others make use of wills found by reference to our volumes. They generally fail to make reference to this Society in their published work and indeed some of them think that all we do is to borrow MS. indexes from the Court of Probate and have them set up in type. Such is not the case. The calendars (at present at Somerset House , London) are in MS. volumes arranged with the names of testators under first letter only and even then not in alphabetical order but by dates.

Search for a will over a lengthy period may take several days or even weeks and can be done only by personal attendance at Somerset House. More­over these MS. calendars have an omission factor of almost five per cent, so that to date this Society has wrested little short of 10,000 wills from oblivion as well as providing additional indexes of trades and conditions, places and ships, so important to the social and economic historian and to the topographer and at the same time of so much general interest.

Research is also made possible far from the location of the records themselves. Records without indexes are virtually a closed book to persons without means and leisure. Since the records of this court relate to persons resident in all parts of England and Wales and, indeed, throughout the world, the importance of these indexes to all libraries and institutions affording facilities for research cannot be overestimated.

The introduction to our first volume of P.C.C. wills gives a valuable history of the court and guide to its jurisdiction and sets out carefully the nature of the material indexed, with an alphabetical list of the registers and another list of the registers arranged chronologically.

How the indexes are prepared

No index can be free from error, but the Society can fairly claim that it carries out its work with extreme care. In preparing an index of wills in the P.C.C.

A slip must first be written with the name, residence and occupation of the testator and the date and reference for every will in the register.

The slips are then checked with the Probate Act Books, when discrepancies may come to light as well as additional information, necessitating it may be the examination of the original will and collation with the official calendar. This is a long, difficult and expensive task, but it is by no means the end.

The slips must next be sorted into alphabetical order, then edited, which calls for expert topographical knowledge for the identification of place names, and finally typed for the printer.

In preparing the supplementary indexes it may be necessary to write some 25,000 slips in addition and these must then be sorted, edited and typed.

With rising costs the Society finds it difficult to sustain its pre-war rate of output and now that voluntary help is getting scarcer it has to rely upon material prepared for publication by others; it can no longer pay for the preparation of the slips and for the checking described above. In the case of this volume the Society gratefully acknow­ledges the financial help it has received from the Pilgrim Trust.

C. H.R.
London March 1957.