Most Cornish wills prior to 1858 were proved at the Archdeaconry
of Cornwall. All English wills beginning in 1858 were proved at a
central Probate Registry in London. I will only be dealing with
pre-1858 wills here.

What's in a will?

A Cornish will generally lists the name of the testator, his
occupation, his state of health ("weake of bodie" etc.), and the
date. Next there will usually be a mention of entrusting his soul 
to God, and his body to decent burial. Small gifts of money to a 
particular parish may be noted at the beginning of the legacies. If 
more than one parish is given a bequest, one may be the parish of 

Persons named in will may include children, spouse, grandchildren,
siblings, parents, aunts, uncles, inlaws and cousins--Cornish
testators were often quite generous in bequeathing to as many
relatives as possible. Be careful of stated relationships--prior
to the mid 1700s, the word "cousin" usually meant niece or nephew,
or grandniece or grandnephew. Cousins as we know them today were
frequently referred to as "kinsmen." However, the word "kinsman"
or "kinswoman" was also sometimes used to mean a nephew or niece
or even an in-law. "Sister-in-law" or "brother-in-law" frequently
had the same meaning it does today, but was also often used to
describe half-siblings or step-siblings.

What about Admons?

Admons, short for administrations, were taken on the estates of
persons who did not leave a will. Admons generally do not contain
as much information as a will, but can still be useful. Most admons
give the name and relationship of the administrator, the date of
the administration, and names of two bondsmen. The bondsmen are
usually relatives, neighbors or close friends of the deceased.
Rarely, an admon may have a list of the heirs at the bottom,
generally in Latin. 

Both wills and admons are frequently accompanied by inventories of the
deceased's goods, and occasionally by other papers such as 
renunciations (where the person named as executor in a will declined 
the executorship, or the next of kin declined an administration) or 
depositions (testimonies of friends, relatives and neighbors where a will
may have been in dispute). The latter can be quite useful, as it 
generally gives the names, ages, residency and occupation of the 

Indexes available on film:

The LDS Family History Centers have three basic indexes available for 
Cornish Probate:

Films #0090140 & #0090141:

These two films contain the original indexes to wills and admons
proved at the Archdeaconry of Cornwall. The first film covers the
years 1660-1773, and the second film covers 1773-1858. The wills
are recorded in chronological order by parish. The parishes are
listed roughly in alphabetical order. Note however, that Gwinear
and Gwithian are listed near the end of the index, under "Winear"
and "Withian."

It is sometimes difficult for a beginner to determine from these
indexes whether the probate listed is for a will or an admon. The
letter "T" in front of the entry indicates a will (died "testate"),
and the letter "I" (died "intestate") indicates an admon. However,
in some cases, it is difficult to tell from the handwriting whether
one is reading a "T" or an "I"! If the word "proved" appears, it
refers to a will, if the word "executed" or "dated" is used, it is 
an admon. Many of the earliest entries are in Latin, so look for 
"p," "prob," or "probat" for wills and "d," "dat," "ex," or "ob" for 
admons. Be careful also of the Latin versions of some names; "Jacobus" 
for James; "Johis" for John, "Gulielmi" for William; "Agneate" for 
Agnes, etc.

Film #0090142:

This film lists all of the wills and admons proved at the
Archdeaconry of Cornwall for the years 1570-1700. This is not an
original index, but rather a transcript. Wills are in alphabetical
order by surname, regardless of parish. If you are uncertain in which
parish your person may have died, this is the best index to search. 
Note that most wills prior to 1600 are no longer extant.

Probate films:

Now that you have found your ancestor in the index, where do you go 
from here...

All wills prior to 1715 are grouped first by the first letter of the
surname, and then in chronological order. All wills proved from
1715 onward are in chronological order regardless of surname. Prior
to 1715, both wills and admons are found on the same film;
beginning in 1715, wills and admons are filmed separately. Admons
beginning in 1715 are still filmed in alphabetical order of surname
through the year 1799; after that they are in chronological order.

If you look in the LDS Family History Catalog under England,
Cornwall, Probate, you will find two sets of Probate films. One is
entitled "Original Wills, Administrations and Inventories 1599-
1859" (This set of films actually includes admons only thru 1829,
but wills continue thru 1859). The other sets of films is entitled
"Wills and Probate Records 1578-1700." I usually refer to this set
as the "AP volumes" as the film titles all begin with "AP" (for 
example: "AP/B/1-426, 1601-1616"--this would indicate the first 426
wills and admons for persons whose surnames begin with "B"). I 
generally call the earlier wills in the other filming "non-AP" volume
and will use that terminology here for easier clarification.

Non-AP volume films for the pre-1715 wills & admons range from film 
#0090144 through #0090185 (you of course need to check the index for 
the exact number of the film you need). AP volume films through 1700
are all seven digit numbers beginning with either #156.... or #147....

The word "original" used in the "non-AP" film set and omitted in
the AP set is somewhat misleading. All of the wills in the latter
are originals, while those in the non-AP filmings are originals only
through 1714; after that they are clerk's copies as noted below.

If you find that one of your persons of interest left a will or
administration prior to 1700, it is best to order the from the AP volume
films. There are three reasons for this. First of all, the AP films 
list the wills in order by year, with a handwritten index at the
beginning of each year (in the non-AP volumes they are simply jumbled
together in roughly chronological order) Secondly, the non-AP volumes
usually only include inventories with admons; the AP films, however, 
always include extant inventories with wills, and occasionally other 
papers such as renunciations and depositions. Lastly, and most 
importantly, for some inexplicable reason some of the indexed wills are
missing from the non-AP volumes. (I began my own probate searches by
ordering the non-AP volumes, drawn in by the word "original" and
was frustrated on several occasions when the will I needed was not


If your ancestor died leaving a will or administration between 1700
and 1714, you will have to order the non-AP volumes, as the AP
volumes end in 1700. So far, I have not yet discovered an indexed will
for this period that is missing from these volumes.


Wills beginning in 1715, are not original wills, but are instead
the copies made by the clerk. These 43 filmings are numbered from
#0090186 through #0090227. These are found in the non-AP volume 
listings ("Original Wills, Administration...") These films are all 
called "Wills Proved and Registered," and are listed after the 
earlier volumes that were indexed by surname. Each film will contain
several years worth of wills in chronological order of probate. There
is a separate index at the the beginning of each year. No inventories
or other papers are included.


Administrations continue through 1799 to be indexed by the first
letter of the surname, then in chonological order, as the earlier
wills were. These films are all numbered #189660 through #189701.
Beginning in 1800, admons are in chronological order only (films
#189702 through #189709).

A few irregularities: 

1. Film #1565572 of the AP films contains 38 Cornish wills which
were proved between 1578 and 1600. It is my understanding that this
is all that remains of any pre-1600 wills. It is definitely all
that is available on LDS films.

2. The first volume of "Wills proved and Registered, Vol. 1-2"
(film #0090186) bears the dates 1690 through Jun 1716. The wills in
this volume prior to 1714 all ought to be found in the AP or non-
AP volume for the corresponding letter of the testator's surname,
but most are not there. These "misfiled" wills all appear to be
wills of the gentry, or the well-to-do. So if you have a relatively
affluent ancestor, who left a will between 1690 and 1714, and you
cannot locate it in the "normal" place, look here.

3. Quite a few wills from the years 1743-1745 are missing. Large
chunks of these years are not on the appropriate films. 

4. During the years 1653 through 1660, the ecclesiastical courts
(including the Archdeaconry of Cornwall) were abolished by
Parliament. All wills proved during this period are found in the
Prerogative Court of Canterbury. A few of the PCC wills are listed
in the regular Cornish Probate indices, but most are not. Searching
the PCC can get quite tricky, as the indices to the PCC are on
fiche, and as they include all of England, there are a LOT of them.
And that's only the index. I have only begun to muddle through
these waters. If you had a Cornish ancestor who died during this
time period and you believe he may have left a will, email me, and
I will see if I can help.

5. Once in a while, you will find a will that is in the index, but 
cannot be located on a film. First, make sure that you have identified 
it correctly as either a will or an admon. Secondly, if it is pre-1700, 
make sure that you ordered the AP volumes, not the non-AP ones. If the 
will is proved after 1714, some of the volumes are split in the middle 
of the month--you may have to order the next or previous film. And 
remember, affluent testators dying between 1690 and 1714 may be in "Wills
Proved & Registered, Vol. 1 (see above), rather than in their proper 
place.(I have made all of the above mistakes at one time or another!) 
If you have tried everything, and still cannot find it, the final 
possibility is that the will was proved in the Consistory Court of 
Exeter. I have yet to locate a film for these wills. If anyone runs
across them, let me know!

I hope all of the above has been somewhat helpful, and hopefully
not too confusing! Good luck with your probate searches!

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