Find out if your British ancestor left a will and discover details about their business and domestic life and family and friends. Search more than 92,000 records of wills proved at the Oxfordshire ecclesiastical courts between 1516 and 1857 to find rich details of your ancestor’s life.
Each record contains a transcript of the original information. There are also images of the original document in most cases. The amount of information varies a great deal but you can find out the following about your ancestor:
Place of residence
Place of birth
Names of heirs and beneficiaries
Details of properties owned or leased
Debts owed and due
Names of executors
Names of witnesses
Inventories of personal property
Personal comments about heirs and beneficiaries
Archive references for the original document
The image shows the documents themselves. They can often be challenging to read – some of the earliest are in Latin – but hold the greatest amount of detail.
Prior to available census returns, meaning before 1841, wills can be the best source of family relationship information. The potential value of this information in furthering your research is high, particularly if more commonly consulted records such as parish registers have drawn a blank. The information in wills goes beyond immediate family; many wills name nieces and nephews, godchildren, husbands of sisters and wives of brothers and distant kin. Usually the relationships are defined and the place of residence may be stated.
All sorts of information, both the expected and unexpected, turn up in wills. Usually they initiate further research. For example, the will of a direct line ancestor alluded to the only son receiving a legacy from his “Aunt Harding”. Another index search revealed a Harding will, which named the aunt’s first husband, current husband, brother (he of the initial will), sisters, nieces, nephews and business associates. The will of the direct ancestor was less than half of the resulting picture.
The Oxfordshire Wills Index is an online finding aid to wills. It is easy to search and you should check the index for anyone who lived either in or adjacent to the county of Oxfordshire.
This record set was previously published in printed format in British Record Society (BRS) Volumes 109, 93, & 94, which excluded the Wantage peculiar court; the latter records have now been added.
The bishop of Oxford’s probate jurisdiction was extended to Berkshire in 1836, when that archdeaconry was transferred from Salisbury to Oxford diocese, and similarly to Buckinghamshire in 1845, when that archdeaconry was transferred from Lincoln diocese. Most residents in those areas continued to prove their wills in their respective archdeaconry courts, but this index includes among the Oxford consistory records listed here just a few Berkshire wills and grants of administration from 1836 onwards and a very few for Buckinghamshire from 1845.
The Oxfordshire Wills Index includes all the surviving Oxfordshire wills proved and administrations granted in local courts up to 1857, except those for most resident members of Oxford University and other 'privileged persons' employed by or otherwise connected with the University. These persons were, like the residents of the peculiars, exempt from the bishop's jurisdiction and proved their wills in the court of the Chancellor of the University. An index of most of these University probate records was published by John Griffiths in 1862. Now, therefore, online or printed means of reference are available for all the surviving probate records of all the Oxfordshire local ecclesiastical courts.
The original records were transferred to Oxfordshire Record Office from the Bodleian Library in March 1984, with all the other non-probate records of Oxford diocese and archdeaconry and of Oxfordshire peculiars, which had been accumulated in the Bodleian since 1878. Almost all of these probate records had originally been housed in the diocesan and archidiaconal registries in Oxford, until they were moved to the Principal Probate Registry at Somerset House in 1858 in accordance with the Courts of Probate Act of 1857. They were transferred to the Bodleian from the Principal Probate Registry to be re-united with the other local ecclesiastical records, the Oxford consistory and archdeaconry series in 1955 and those of the peculiars in 1957. The latest filed wills and administration bonds of all these courts, that is those of the period 1801 to 1857, were held in the Oxford District Probate Registry, not at Somerset House, and they had similarly been transferred to the Bodleian in 1955 and 1957 from that District Registry.