Explore the Oxfordshire Wills Collection

About the collection

This dataset indexes all the surviving probate records of the bishop and archdeacon of Oxford, covering the period 1516 to 1857, and of the Oxfordshire Peculiars, covering the period 1547-1856. Plus images of the original documents.

Purchasing and viewing original documents online

All the records indexed here are now housed in Oxfordshire Record Office.

Digitisation of these documents is now completed, and these images can be purchased with Pay per View credits and viewed directly from the index records.

What can the original wills tell me?

Prior to census returns, meaning before 1841, wills can be the best source of family relationship information. The list of what you may find is impressive.

  • Names of heirs and beneficiaries
  • Relationships
  • Places of residence and origin of testators
  • Places of residence of the heirs and beneficiaries
  • Properties and whether freehold, copyhold or lease
  • Occupations
  • Debts owed and due
  • Business arrangements
  • Executors
  • Witnesses
  • Inventories of personal property
  • Personal comments about heirs and beneficiaries

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.

Bits 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.

Wills offer such wonderful possibilities and modern sources are so handy that doubts about whether your ancestors made wills are no longer sufficient reason to postpone or omit a search. Chances are very good that you will find an online finding aid. Oxfordshire Wills Index here at Origins is one example. It is easy to search and you should not hesitate to check the index for anyone who lived in or adjacent to the county.

A brief history of the Oxfordshire Wills

The dataset 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.

This dataset 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, and will be added to the present online index later. Now, therefore, online or printed means of reference are now available for all the surviving probate records of all the Oxfordshire local ecclesiastical courts.


Where are the original documents located?

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 accumulating in the Bodleian ever 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.

Where do I go from here?

Once you have access to the original document, the next step is to write a summary, often called an abstract, of the pertinent facts. The list above of what you may find in wills is one sort of list of what to write down, but you need to make sure you also include these points:

  • The date the will was made
  • The date probate was granted
  • The probate court and its location
  • Directions for burial, which may be in another parish other than where the testator died
  • Details of legacies that give clues about age (such as children under age 21 or a parent still living at the time the will was made)
  • Details about distribution of legacies if a named beneficiary dies
  • Names of executors, witnesses and others (such as trustees and overseers)

Now examine your summary and consider how to use the information to access other sources. The date the will was made and the date of probate help define the time period of some searches, and the mention of a widow and children would expand that to encompass date ranges for a marriage and baptisms. The places named in the will and the court where probate was granted indicate one or more locations. The information in the will may help you understand or add to your knowledge of the core family and collateral relations.

Questions such as these can help you make practical use of what a will reveals.

  • What new information comes from this will?
  • What sort of information is it?
  • What records from this place and time period can be accessed using these facts?