The following announcement has been made by HM Courts & Tribunals Service. A response from the Society of Genealogists is also attached at the end:
London Probate Search Facility
“As of Friday the 12th December, the Probate Service will make available our records from 1858 to the present and the records of some soldiers who died on active military service between 1860 and 1982 (predominantly those who died in the First World War) for searching online.
You can search, order and receive copies direct from your own computer without waiting for the Probate Registry to send them to you.
You can search and if there is a match you will be informed straightaway. You then decide if you wish to pay £10 and order the documents.
You can pay by credit or debit card.
You will be informed by an email when the documents are available for downloading on your own computer.
This is a change in the way the Probate Service deliver our copies and search service and therefore from Friday 12th December the London Probate Search facility will cease to provide a copy ordering function as this will now be available online. The facility will remain open for collection of orders made before the 12th December but will close permanently from Friday 19th December.
The Probate Service has over the last few weeks received feedback from users on the changes we are making and ahead of the 12th December would like to extend an invitation to a Search facility users meeting to be held on Tuesday 2nd December between1-2pm in the search facility.
If you want to attend the meeting or provide us with any feedback on the changes then please email: Probate.firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information on the site please go to: www.gov.uk/search-will-probate
Response from the Society of Genealogists:
Genealogists will be aware that an online index of wills from 1996 to the present has been available since October 2014. However this index has severe limitations. The search functionality is very limited – particularly when searching for a common name or if you do not have an indication of the year of death.
The Society of Genealogists has already told the Court Service that adding a place or address search (as is noted in earlier printed and fiche indexes) could help enormously when trying to identify someone with a common name. There will be genealogists who will be interested in obtaining all wills for people with a particular surname in common from all years. Limiting the search to a year of death makes such broad searches very impractical. This it would be better to have a wider date search range than just one year of death
Other members have pointed out that it is very disappointing to discover that the search engine provided for wills from 1996 does not include the same level of information as the existing calendars. Specifically, all versions of the calendars from 1858 to date include the address of the deceased, whether searched in the annual calendar books (for grants dated 1858-1992), on microfiche (1993-5) or on the Probateman computer database (1996-present). If a search is to be made for someone with a relatively common name and the exact date of death is not known, your new search engine will not provide any way of positively identifying the correct person.
The Courts Service have been asked whether there any plan to add the address of the deceased to the list of search results at a later date? If not it was asked whether any assurance could be given that the London search room will remain open so that a manual search can still be made? Otherwise, the online search will not be fit for purpose as it will not enable a searcher to order the correct copy.
Clearly the Court Service does not intend keep the search room open. We do not know if the Court Service will take our suggestions on board when providing an online to wills back to 1858. It is evidently not sensible to introduce a new and essentially untried online ordering system while at the same time withdrawing the personal service and search room at the Principal Probate Registry at the Royal Courts of Justice. The Society will be represented at the user meeting in December and will report back accordingly.