15 August 2010

More on England and Wales Probate

Judging by web chatter, in the few days since Ancestry put online the England and Wales probate collection, 1861 to 1941, it has been very popular. Having indexing by date of death is especially appreciated by those of us who have searched through years of records looking for a late probate. I found members of the Bachhoffner family with Administrations granted in 1898 for deaths as early 1860.

The collection isn't yet complete, even for the date range specified. In notes Ancestry comment that there are some gaps for the years 1863, 1868, 1873, 1876, 1877, 1883, 1888, 1899-1903 and 1910-1911. How big are the gaps, and what percentage of the deaths are caught by the probate system?

Significant gaps are evident in the graph showing probates (from Ancestry) as a percent of deaths (from FreeBMD) by year. I don't know what happened to the bottom axis labels (years)! The 1899 - 1903 and 1910 - 1911 gaps, but not the others mentioned, are clear. It looks as if there's another gap in 1941. There are also some interesting looking peaks, notably in 1913, 1930 and 1937.

All else equal you're more likely to find an ancestor in the probate index for later years. In 1861 probates amount to only about 6.5% of deaths registered in the year. This ratio first attains 10% in 1892, 15% in 1912, 20% in the anomoly year 1913, 25% in 1929, and 30% in 1930 which is another anomoly year.

You only die once, but wills can be probated again. Executors may find late information about assets and liabilities that may require a second filing.

There are also the inevitable indexing problems. I found an instance of a probate entry that carried on to a second page and which Ancestry had indexed twice.

The anomolous peak for 1913 results from many probate entries at the start of the record being indexed four times, for surname initial letters A, B and C.

Follow-up, Tuesday 17 August.
Kudos to Ancestry for having corrected the 1913 quadruplicate entries problem so quickly.

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