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The Probate Series

Volumes in Prospect

A note by Cliff Webb (General Editor, Probate)

It may be useful for subscribers (and potential subscribers) to know what volumes we expect to print in the next few years, and what longer-term prospects we are working on.

Historically, there is a very long lead time between commencement of work on a project, and the final appearance of indexes. Traditionally, slips would be written and checked, typed and typeset, checked again and supplementary indexes of places and occupations compiled, and typed and typeset in turn. A generation could come and go while this took place; one of the volumes produced and one anticipated still in the next few years (Hertfordshire and Herefordshire) were started in the 1960s.

Lately, computers have immensely speeded the process at every point. Even more recently, we are seeing more and more Record Offices seeking to digitise their probate records (usually with the aid of substantial Heritage Lottery Fund grants). The first result of this from our point of view is Salisbury, but other areas are at various stages in this process. The speeding of the process is displayed by the fact that Salisbury went from inception to printing in just about a decade, despite being a huge series with nearly 100,000 documents.

It may be asked why we are still printing indexes, when many of the indexes we produce have or will be available on the Internet. The answer is complex. First, we know that books stand the test of time, we also know that Internet sites can come and go. We also know that many users still prefer the printed book. Books are easier to look at as part of a group of materials being used together than electronic pages. The compilation of the text and the generation of the supplementaries also shows up errors and omissions that could not be spotted except with publication in prospect. All in all, we believe that production in book form remains invaluable and complementary to any Web-based publication.

As has been pointed out by Peter Spufford in his centenary history of the BRS (Genealogists' Magazine, 1988), the Society has often been most active when relatively few volumes were coming out, while volumes continue to appear when little is going on. We have had periods recently with a plethora of indexes appearing, but lately Probate volumes have been few and far between. Thankfully, this is changing.

A list of publications which are far advanced follows. I have also singled out just some of the many remoter prospects, to show that much material is at some point in the pipeline.

Wills at Lichfield 1650-1700

The large diocese of Lichfield covered a broad swathe of England. Most of Derbyshire and Staffordshire are covered with a substantial part of Warwickshire and a few outliers in other counties. A team of volunteers has completed the work started by the late Dick Hutchinson, of checking a typescript of the original calendars against the original documents and adding in occupations. The team have gone on to deal with the peculiar courts, and the Consistory Court for the 18th century, and the BRS has agreed in principle to print this later work when it becomes available. This volume was published in 2010.

Yorkshire Wills

We have agreed with the Borthwick Institute to provide printed editions of various online probate indexes. We have received the material for the first volume in what will be a substantial series. This first volume will contain the medieval wills in the series and those in the Peculiar courts. It is indicative of the uncertain nature of progress in production of these volumes that these Yorkshire indexes have moved very rapidly and will appear before others much longer in gestation.

Wills at Hereford

This is another very long-standing work which is only now coming to fruition. Mrs Tonkin together with her late husband have been gradually correcting an old text with new reference numbers applied since the records were first listed. The main portion has been word processed to a text which can be published. We are awaiting the Peculiar court material from Mrs Tonkin.

PCC Adminstrations 1650-1700

Cards were written for these many years ago, and the Friends of the National Archives (then Friends of the Public Record Office) keyed in about 40% of these. The cards have now been scanned and the untyped ones will shortly be keyed by our pay per view partner with a view to publication. This will be a multi-volume publication and fill the last gap in indexes to the main series of PCC probate records.

Wills at Durham

A Heritage Lottery Fund grant has been made enabling Durham to do as Wiltshire has done. Durham has half as many probate documents again as Wiltshire. It has been agreed that BRS will print the resultant index, and we anticipate receiving the material for editing during 2011.

Wills at Reading

At Berkshire Record Office, they are making application to digitise their probate records. Again, we have expressed an interest in printing any resulting index.

National Wills Index

During 2010, the Society has assisted in the establishment of the National Wills Index under agreements with the Origins Network, the LDS Church and various record offices.

This exciting development is intended to provide a single online index to all pre-1858 English probate material. An excellent start has been made to this and most of the BRS volumes have been digitised and added to the site http://www.nationalwillsindex.com/

The intention is not only to provide a single index to testators. Where possible, links will be provided so that copies of the original material may be supplied digitally to researchers. This will provide much needed income to Record Offices and to BRS to plough back into more records. In addition there are long-term plans to index all names appearing in probate material, providing a key to the 9/10ths of names not disclosed by an index of testators.