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Wills and Probate

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The three main types of probate records are wills; inventories of the testators' goods and chattels, often listed room by room; and administration bonds relating to the administration of the estates of those people who died without leaving a will.

Before 1858 probate was largely the responsibility of ecclesiastical courts. Modern Cumbria fell within the probate jurisdictions of the dioceses of Carlisle, Chester, and Durham, and the Provinces of York and Canterbury, meaning the whereabouts of wills is scattered.

Carlisle Diocese: covered all Cumberland north of the River Derwent (except the parishes of Alston and Garrigill) and the northern half of Westmorland. There was no archdeacon's court exercising probate jurisdiction and hence wills were proved in the consistory court (bishops' court) of Carlisle [Records at Carlisle Archive Centre, some microfilms at Kendal].

Catalogue entries for Diocese of Carlisle wills covering 1751-1858 (together with wills for Carlisle Probate Registry 1858-1941) are now in our online catalogue. These relate give details of name, occupation, address, type of probate record and year of probate. Researchers should simply enter a name in CASCAT and a relevant entry will have the reference number beginning with 'PROB'.

Chester Diocese included a number of Deaneries, with wills for these areas proved in the consistory court of the commissary of the Archdeaconry of Richmond, Western Deaneries:

- Deanery of Copeland: Cumberland south of the River Derwent [Records at Lancashire Archives, microfilms of all at Whitehaven Archive Centre].

- Deaneries of Kendal and Lonsdale: southern half of Westmorland [Records at Lancashire Archives, microfilms at Kendal Archive Centre].

- Deanery of Furness: Lancashire North of the Sands [Records at Lancashire Archives, microfilms at Kendal Archive Centre].

- Deanery of Lonsdale: included parishes of Sedbergh, Garsdale and Dent in the West Riding of Yorkshire.

Durham Diocese: included parishes of Alston and Garrigill and (until 1703) Upper or Over Denton. Wills were proved in the consistory court of Durham [records available at Durham Universitythis external link will open in a new window].

Provinces of York and Canterbury: had probate jurisdiction over the will of anyone who died leaving possessions or property in more than one diocese. Wills were proved in the Prerogative courts of York [records at the Borthwick Institute in Yorkthis external link will open in a new window] or Canterbury [records searchable online at TNAthis external link will open in a new window] ; the Prerogative court of Canterbury having over-riding jurisdiction.

Peculiar jurisdictions: manorial courts of Temple Sowerby, Ravenstonedale and Docker exercised probate jurisdiction within their own manorial boundaries [records available at Carlisle Archive Centre], and the Peculiar Court of the Dean and Chapter of York exercised probate jurisdiction within the ancient parish of Kirkby Ireleth [records at the Borthwick Institute in Yorkthis external link will open in a new window].

Probate jurisdiction after 1858

From 1858 the testamentary jurisdiction of ecclesiastical and other courts was abolished and replaced by the present centralised civil system of civil probate districts and civil probate registries under the control of the Principle Probate Registry in London.

Wills for Cumberland and Westmorland were proved at the Carlisle probate registry, and copies can be seen at and ordered from Carlisle Archive Centre.  Catalogue entries for Carlisle Probate wills covering 1858-1900 are now in our online catalogue. These relate give details of name, occupation, address and year of probate.

Wills for Lancashire North of the Sands were proved at the Lancaster Probate registry, and are available at Lancashire Archives.

Note: Where records aren't held locally, some partial indexes may be available in individual Cumbria Archive Centres to help you.