Help with wills

The wills database is a searchable record of probate documents proved at Chester mainly for Cheshire residents between 1492 and 1940.  The following information will help you get the best out of it.

Search tips


You can search just by surname (eg 'Smith') or by both surname and first name (eg 'John').

If you're sure the will you're looking for should be there, but you can't find it, try searching the first name field using wildcards.

These are:

'%' = Any string of characters

'_' = Any single character

For example: 'J%' will find 'John', 'James', 'Joseph'.

Remember that surnames have been spelt very differently in the past. Variations can include y instead of i in the middle of a name and an e on the end or doubling of letters

(eg Darbyshire/Derbyshire, Daniel/Daniell, Leycester/Leicester, Duncalf/Duncalfe, Cornes/Corns)

You can use the "wildcard" symbols to help find these variations:

(eg 'D_rb_shire', 'Danie%', 'L%cester', 'Duncalf'_, 'Corn%')


Enter eg 'Chester' or 'Northwich'

This field only includes town or village names (or occasionally major houses). It does not include road names and numbers. Remember that it is the place given where the will was made, and that especially from around 1860, people were sometimes living somewhere else when they died.


This is date of probate which can be up to a year after death. Unless you are certain, try using a five year span (eg 1845-1850)


This is the occupation as given on the will. Therefore there are variations such as Shoemaker / Cordwainer, Innkeeper / Licenced Victualler / Publican.

Some are more standard (eg Gentleman, ESQ, Yeoman, Farmer).

Women are usually as either Widow or Spinster.

Many wills have no occupation listed.

Type of Document

Use the boxes to select the kind of probate documents you are looking for.

When someone died without leaving a will an administration bond was issued to the next of kin. This is usually shortened to "admon"

Inventories are common into the mid-eighteenth century. They can be very detailed accounts of moveable goods or a simple total of their value.

Codicils cover changes to a will during the testator's lifetime, and any disputes while probate is being granted. These are sometimes linked to a will of a similar date in the main series of wills.