The following announcement was written by Origins.net:
Index to over 132,540 and testamentary documents online.
This index has been created as a combined project by Origins.net and the Devon Wills Project (a collaborative project involving the Devon Family History Society, the Devon Record Office, GENUKI/Devon, and the Plymouth and West Devon Record Office) to compile a consolidated index of pre-1858 Devon wills, administrations, inventories, etc.
Many Devon probate records were destroyed by enemy action, when the Probate Registry was destroyed in the bombing during the Exeter Blitz in 1942. Thus the aim of this index is to create a finding-aid to enable the researcher to determine what probate materials were originally recorded and most importantly what documents have survived and where they can be located.
The current index includes over 132,540 records of probate documents compiled from the following sources. Updates to this collection will follow soon.
The value of wills to the family history researcher
- Archdeaconry Court of Barnstaple Devon Wills and Administrations Index 1563-1858
- Calendar of Devon and Cornwall Wills and Administrations, proved in the court of the Principal Registry of the Bishop of Exeter, 1559-1799, and of Devon only, proved in the Court of the Archdeaconry of Exeter, 1540-1799 (BRS Vol. 35)
- Calendar of Devon and Cornwall Wills and Administrations, proved in the Consistory Court of the Bishop of Exeter, 1532-1800 (BRS Vol. 46)
- Search Devon Wills Project 1312-1891 for FREE
Quite apart from the intrinsic interest of seeing what land or personal possessions belonged to an ancestor, wills are valuable documents because of the genealogical information they provide. And they are exceptional in the first-hand nature of their evidence.
At the most basic level, a will provides evidence of the death of an ancestor; the date on which the will is proved gives an approximate date of death. Where you have been unable to trace a death or burial record, the will may be the only evidence of death; or, in the case of a common name, it may confirm which of several burial entries in a parish register refers to a particular ancestor.
Unlike census records, which describe only an ancestor’s household, a will often provides evidence of the wider family, including nephews, nieces and grandchildren, and can be used to confirm family relationships deduced from records of birth or baptism. One of the great virtues of wills is they spell out the relationship to the testator of everyone mentioned. For example, bequests to a married daughter or her children should make it possible to identify the record of daughter's marriage and the baptisms of the ancestor’s grandchildren.
Outside the gentry, who have sometimes left complete pedigrees, wills are almost the only independent source of confirmation for family relationships suggested by baptismal and marriage records. And if you are researching the period before parish registers, a will may be the only evidence for a lineage.
But the value of wills goes beyond the pedigree — they also provide information on the occupation and social status of an ancestor, indicate the closeness or otherwise of the relationship to a spouse and children, and may allow you to identify in the present day a house or land owned by the family.
With over 3.6 million probate records, the National Wills Index is the largest online resource for pre-1858 English probate material, containing indexes, abstracts and source documents, most not available anywhere else online.
You can learn more at http://www.origins.net/help/aboutNWI-DevonWills.aspx.