the article and data that initiated the Ravenstonedale project
our project page on the Family Tree DNA website
One of the responsibilities of the Grand Jury of Ravenstonedale was to prove wills of those resident in the parish. Many of these wills are held at the Cumbria Archives (in the Carlisle office) – and I have listed the details of all those I could locate in the CASCAT catalogue on the Wills and Probate spreadsheet, together with reference number, up to the 1890s.
I also hold a printed list of Wills proved in the Peculiar Manor of Ravenstonedale, which was sent to me by the Carlisle Record Office – strangely, some of the wills on this second list are included in the CASCAT catalogue, but many others are not (these cover a much shorter period – mainly for the 18th and very early 19th centuries).
Merging the collection together reveals that the bulk of the wills held at Carlisle cover the period from about the 1670s onwards. I have only included wills up to the 1890s on the index, but the Catalogue collection continues to the 1940s. I do already hold a few of the wills on the list (marked at left of relevant entries), and can send a transcription or abstract of those on request - if anyone can add further Abstracts to the collection, please let me know!
You can browse through the spreadsheet of the Wills and Administrations I was able to find from a variety of sources for individuals from Ravenstonedale by clicking on the image (left). The list is currently 24 pages long and is sorted by DATE of Probate, which may be some years after the date of death. There are a total of 827 wills to date and the index was updated on 28 feb 2018.
Abbreviations used in descriptions:
Yeo – Yeoman
Husb – Husbandman
Wid/Widr – Widow or Widower
Sp – spinster
Bach – batchelor
Abbreviations used on the descriptions in the ‘List of R’dale Wills’ to indicate the type of documents held:
W – Will (some of the Ravenstonedale Wills are VERY informative, listing all sorts of relatives and neighbours and also usually setting out detailed accounts of bequests made to family members and friends)
A – Administration (where the deceased did not leave a will, this will record only the details of who was appointed to administrate the estate – it may tell you the name and relationship of the Administrator to the deceased, but not a lot more)
I – Inventory (very interesting lists of property held by the deceased and value)
B – Bond (this is the Probate Bond - a formal agreement made by those responsible for carrying out certain responsibilities set out in the will and is often in Latin)
T – Tuition bond (this sets out the responsibilities of the person given responsibility for ensuring the continued care/education of a minor)
The image on the left shows a snippet from one of the Wills from the 'List of Ravenstonedale Wills' collection - as you can see, it is an image of the ORIGINAL will, with the signature (and seal) of the Testator, and signatures of Witnesses.
Some Will Collections (e.g. the PCC wills) are actually images of the REGISTERED COPY of the will, so these will not include your ancestor's handwriting.
Can't find a Will for YOUR Ancestor in this collection?
There are some Ravenstonedale people included whose wills were proved elsewhere – in Lancashire or Yorkshire, or even at the Prerogative Court of Canterbury – depending on whether they held property elsewhere. I am continuing to research other collections to identify wills for former Ravenstonedale residents. Here is a list of potential sources for further research:
Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC) wills are searchable at Ancestry and you can view images of the registered copies (NOT the originals). I found just seven wills amongst this collection for people who lived in Ravenstonedale – they are included on the spreadsheet. Note that the transcriptions used to create Ancestry's database are pretty poor, so try several spellings of your known information on the search form!
Other useful sources for Northern Wills are:
This excellent database is provided by Durham University Library and has links to images of the wills held on the Family Search website … all FREE! As a number of Westmorland families migrated to Durham during the 1800s, this is a very useful resource. But you have to have a name to search, not just a place.
Lancashire Wills proved at Richmond (1457-1812) are searchable on Find My Past (though you cannot search on place only on names, so I have not managed to locate many on this source!) This is only an index or searching aid … you would need to go to the Lancashire Archives Catalogue to locate the actual wills.
Prerogative & Exchequer Courts of York Probate Index 1688-1858 are searchable on Find My Past – you CAN search this collection on place and I found five to add to the spreadsheet. Again this is only an index – you would need to go to the Borthwick Institute catalogue to access the actual wills/administration
From 1858 onwards, the probate of wills was centralised and all wills are recorded on Calendars which include a brief summary of the testator, occupation, abode, date of death, name of Executor or Administrator, details of when and where the Will/Admin was proved and an indication of the value of the estate.
Probate Calendars of England and Wales (1858-onwards) as well as being searchable on Ancestry and Find My Past, there is now a free access to these useful records on the Government Find a Will website (though you need a name to search and you have to enter a year of death - though it will give you the opportunity to try earlier and later dates).
The results will be presented in the format of Calendar entries with quite a bit of useful information (though you may have to scroll through several sheets to locate the one you are looking for!) and will include wills proved in England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland and also Soldier's Wills. This is also the place to order copies of wills or administrations (at a cost of £10 per document).
To find more recent Ravenstonedale wills than I have included on the spreadsheet, use CASCAT, the catalogue search engine for the Cumbria Archives: Using the Advanced Search, enter your ancestor’s name (plus the word ‘Probate’) in the top box and use the filter to restrict your search to those documents held at the Carlisle Archive centre (make a note of the date and reference number and you can order a copy).