Government launches historical wills database

A new database has been launched that allows access to a government archive of 41 million wills in England and Wales, dating back as far as 1858.

All that’s needed to search is the name and year of death. The will can then be downloaded for a £10 fee within 10 days, and can be accessed for 31 days, though some basic details are available at no cost. The physical copies are held at a Birmingham Warehouse and must be located, scanned and sent.

However, the will cannot be published without relatives’ permission, and the records do not include Scotland and Northern Ireland. 

The use to family historians is clear, though many will also be curious to find the records of famous names, such as Charles Dickens and Alan Turing. In addition, the database also includes the wills of those soldiers who died while serving in the British armed forces between 1850 and 1986.

Courts minister Shailesh Vara said: "This fascinating project provides us with insights into the ordinary and extraordinary people who helped shape this country, and the rest of the world."

You can find the database here.