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Wills and Probate

Finding wills is a rather complex business. For people who lived (and died) in Cornwall there are a number of places their wills could have been proved and deposited. Fortunately those that survive have now settled in one of two places, either the CRO at Truro or the PRO at Kew

There are now a selection of Probate Records on this site.

Deanery of St. Buryan

First, starting at the very local level, the Deanery of St. Buryan was a Royal Peculiar consisting of the parishes of St. Buryan, St. Leven and Sennen. As such it had its own Probate Court until 1857.

See also below.

These probate records are to be found at the CRO as follows:—

1605–1799 (none in 1679 & 1738) [DSB/1–208]
1800–57 [DSB/209–304]
1605–1790 & 1801–57 [DSB/305–415]
1605–1855 (none in 1750–53) [DSB/416–521]
1692–1845 [DSB/522–537]. LDS [1471659/3–15]
Wills 1605–1857 LDS [0090228]
Administrations 1641–1857 LDS [0090229].

Archdeacon of Bodmin

Next comes the Archdeacon’s Probate Registry at Bodmin. This was used if your property was all fairly local. It accounts for by far the largest collection of Cornish wills. I am told that if the estate was of sufficiently low value (nominally less than £5) then it could be handled by the parish priest, but I have not come across such cases in this area. Records would probably be found in the Parish Chest (i.e. the CRO now).

There is a magnificent accumulation of Cornish will abstracts from this source, many in West Penwith, on Kathie Weigel’s [Off Site]Cornish Database page. There are also indexes by parish. All parishes in West Penwith are included except the Deanery of St. Buryan as mentioned above. There are entries on here that are not listed in the indexes above. The dates covered (as of 11 March 1999) are

There is also a supplemental index which contains these and other parishes with a wider year range.

Other smaller accumulations of Cornish will abstracts are on Marie Rosewarne’s [Off Site]Rosewarne genealogy homepage and [Off Site]Tom and Jana Robertson's site (Temporarily Unavailable).

Bishop of Exeter

If your property extended over the border into Devon, or your family thought that it was too important to be administered by a mere Archdeacon, then the Bishop’s Probate Registry in Exeter was used.

These are frustrating because the majority of the actual wills at Exeter were lost in the 2nd. W. W. however abstracts of some of them were deposited at the CRO so you may get lucky.

Prerogative Court of Canterbury

Finally, if your property was scattered all over the country, or your family thought you were a Very Important Person, then the Archbishop’s Court was used (which despite it’s name, was in London). During the Commonwealth period (1649–60) all Wills were proved here. There are surviving wills dating back to 1383 if you are very lucky, but they are sorted in a most peculiar fashion, alphabetically by Christian name. Again Kathie Weigel’s [Off Site]Cornish Database page is a useful reference She hopes to list all those people who held lands in Cornwall from 1383–1660. The wills that survive are all at the PRO in Kew. An index, and maybe abstracts, to some of these (1750–1800 incomplete) are online at [Off Site]English Origins in associaltion with the SOG.

After 1858

Probate records (wills and administrations) after 1858 can be searched and copies obtained from

Principal Registry of the Family Division,
First Avenue House,
42–49 High Holborn, London.

These are indexed in the National Probate Calendar which is available in many county record offices or [Off Site]District Probate Registry (Exeter is the nearest) where copies can be ordered.

The CRO holds copies of a good number of the wills where relevant to Cornwall.

Ann and Mike Hicks are producing an index of these in Cornwall on CD-ROM in (roughly) 5 year chunks. 1858–70 are ready (4 volumes) and they are working on 1871–75. These are/will be available from the [Off Site]Parish Chest under the name Magpie Collections. They are hoping to go as far as 1900.


A deposition is a written, sworn statement of evidence used as a basis for criminal proceedings. The depositions go to show that there is a case to be tried, and in the case of a serious offence, the person charged is committed for trial on the basis of the depositions, unless the defence has been able to show that there is no case to answer.

Thanks to Christine Trenorden for the definition above. Kathie Weigel has a file of some of these on her [Off Site]Cornish Database.