North American Wills Registered in London, 1611-1957


Author: Coldham, Peter Wilson
Publication Date: 2007
Pages: 156 pp.
ISBN: 9780806317731


In England, until 1858, the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC) had jurisdiction over all wills submitted for probate on behalf of English citizens who were temporary or permanent inhabitants of North America. Altogether there are over 2,000 such wills among the one million wills registered in the PCC, and their existence has ensured that all persons mentioned in the wills have not only found a permanent place in historical records but have a provable link to English ancestry.

Until now the establishment of such a link was usually possible, if at all, only by an arduous examination of the unindexed probate records or by a review of the records published in such books as Mr. Coldham’s own American Wills & Administrations in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, 1610-1857, published in 1989. Recently, however, The National Archives (TNA) in London published digitized copies of all PCC wills on their website, in theory making all previously hard-to-find information accessible at the touch of a button.

Miraculous as this is, a difficulty remains in that the movement of emigrants between two continents and within their chosen destination–coupled with a wide variation in spelling–can obscure their true identity and place of residence. This alone has made it imperative for Mr. Coldham to issue a completely revised and comprehensive guide not only to bring within one compass the accessible resources of the PCC (including references to all Canadian wills proved in London up to 1857) but to correct some minor (and a few more serious) errors in transcription. The revised guide also includes the location reference needed by TNA to identify and transmit a copy of any will you may wish to order.

In Mr. Coldham’s words, “This latest compilation celebrates both the completion by TNA of its massive indexing project nearly 150 years after the PCC closed for business and the culmination of a forty year long endeavour by the present author to assemble from myriad published and unpublished sources an adequate guide to American probate records to be found in the mother country. This has not only offered an opportunity to include a variety of relevant notes from previously published and newly researched sources, but has facilitated the provision of complete indexes to the names of witnesses, legatees and executors to supplement the alphabetical listing of testators to be found in the main body of this work. The places and ships mentioned in the testamentary documents have also been comprehensively indexed. Used judiciously and in conjunction these indexes can be used to provide a unique guide to the discovery of further genealogical and historical sources.”

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