The modernisation of probate records

Taking over a year to digitise,   official summaries, or indexes, of more than six million wills from 1861 to 1941 have, for the first time been made available on the web at www.ancestry.co.uk.

Until now the probate calendar books for England and Wales have only been available via paper searches.

These probate documents give names, dates and places of death, executors, and in some cases details of the beneficiaries under the will.

All the online documents originate from the Probate Office, have been put online by family history website Ancestry, a US company which charges subscribers for accessing the information.

The National Archives, a government agency, has in the past struck up similar licensing partnerships with Ancestry and other private firms to put its public records online.

In 2004 the details of one million earlier wills from 1384 to 1858.

The digitisation of probate record is yet another illustration of the continual digitising of public records. In the last twenty years the digitisation of records has included documents on crime, immigration, war, education, taxation and religion.