Each record contains a transcript and an image of the transcript. The information varies but you can find out the following about your ancestor:
Name of the person who wrote the will
Where they lived
When they wrote the will
Names of family and friends
Nature of relationships
Details of what was left to whom
Details of funeral arrangements, donations to the church etc.
The image usually has further information not contained in the transcript so do be sure to check both.
There are 1,447 will abstracts. All probate records for the Diocese of Bath and Wells deposited at the probate registry in Exeter were destroyed by fire during WW2 in 1942.
Wills proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury are now held at The National Archives (TNA), Kew London and can be downloaded (pay per view) via The National Archives online records.
The probate records for Wells were deposited at Exeter Principal Registry and were thus destroyed in 1942, when the Probate Registry was destroyed in the bombing during the Exeter Blitz of WWII.
Fortunately there are full (printed) abstracts/extracts to some of these lost wills – gathered before the devastation of 1942. The volumes listed below contain full abstracts/ extracts (summaries) to the wills in an easy to read format. These contain a complete summary of the details contained within each will and include all names and places (testators, executors, witnesses and beneficiaries) plus incidental information such as relationships and occupations, where found in the original documents.
Somerset Medieval Wills 1383-1558: Somerset Record Society volume XIX: Abstracts of Wills for Somerset testators 1531-1558.
Somerset Record Society volume XVI: Abstracts of Wills for Somerset testators proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC) 1385-1550.
Extracts of Wells Wills 1539-1541: (Printed in the proceedings of the Somerset Archaeological Society Volume 61). These are Abstracts of Registered Copy Wills from the Consistory Court of Wells, 1539-1541/2, in the Thomas Serel Collection
Somerset Record Society Volume XL: Medieval Wills from Wells 1543-1546 and 1554-1556: Wills proved in the Archdeaconry Court of Wells.
These wills are full abstracts of the wills and contain all the information given in the original probate material and the original documents are unlikely to give much additional information. To obtain the original you will need the name of the testator and the date the will was written.
In older documents it is not uncommon to find people spelling their own names in different ways even within the same document. Spelling only became standardised in the British Isles during the 18th and 19th centuries as the amount of printed literature increased and a state system of elementary education was established following Forster’s 1870 Act.
It was the custom in some courts for will registers to be named after the first testator recorded in them, and this was the practice in the PCC at this time. Thus Book "Rous" takes its name from Sir Robert Rous, kt., whose will was proved in 1386, and who leaves a bequest to Tarrant Abbey, Dorset.
The frequent mention of woad implies that the cloth trade and its sister, the dyeing trade, were both flourishing in the county during the fifteenth century.