Yorkshire Wills at Somerset House 1649-1660, Introduction to Original Volume

Fourteen months ago, when, in order to fill up the gap in the Calendars of the York Registry, I commenced an Index to the Yorkshire Wills, proved in London during the time of the Commonwealth, I little thought it would take me as many months - to complete my task as I had expected to have been weeks. In the first place, it would seem that I had considerably under-estimated the labour; in the second, the very limited accommodation provided for searchers in the Literary Department of the Probate Office proved a serious obstacle; and in the third place, there are so many errors and omissions in the Calendars (notably in that for 1659) that, having, as I supposed, almost completed my work, I found it necessary to recommence, and to search the Registers page by page, an undertaking of some magnitude, as there are, for the period over which the Index extends, no less than ninety-five volumes of transcribed Wills, each volume containing on an average eight hundred pages, and, afterwards, I was compelled, in correcting, to go regularly through each page of the Probate Act Books. The Administration Act Books of intestate estates, for the twelve years, had to be dealt with in the same manner.

With regard to the Index, it has been my endeavour to give as much information as possible in the smallest possible space; and I have striven, with the aid of the Probate Act Books, to avoid omissions and errors, and to make my work complete. That there may be both errors and omissions, is more than probable, for the transcribers, through want of local knowledge, have failed, lamentably, in their rendering both of the names of persons and places. In some Wills, no residence is given, in others the county is wanting, and in such it is often impossible to decide whether the testator was a Yorkshireman or not. Many administrations of intestate estates had to be rejected, though probably belonging to the county, because the only information afforded is that the intestate died either in the State's service, on board ship, or in parts beyond the seas. With regard to the spelling of the names of persons, places, and occupations, this of course was a difficulty, but as far as possible, I have adhered to that given in the transcripts, which, if correctly copied, would probably give the local spelling of the period, and, as a rule, I have chosen the signature at the foot of the Will, where there is one, the mode in which the testator spelt his own name; but very frequently, even amongst the better classes, the testator only made his mark, being probably too ill to do more, as shown by the short time elapsing between the date of the Will and of the Probate.

With its probable errors and omissions, I feel that my work, as far as it goes, will be acceptable to those who have neither the leisure nor the opportunity of visiting Somerset House, and who have long been anxious for information likely to enable them to obtain some clue to a missing link in a pedigree, which cannot be furnished from the York Registry; and I have the satisfaction of knowing that my labours have brought to light many Wills and Administrations that had been overlooked in the preparation of the Calendars, and which were supposed not to exist.

I have now only to thank Mr. Challenor Smith, of the Literary Branch of the Probate Registry, for his kind and courteous assistance whenever I was in difficulties. It was at his suggestion that I added the column containing the dates of the Wills. He pointed out to me that as, in most instances, the date of the Will preceded the date of the Probate by only a few months, where other information was wanting, it would give some clue to the time of the testator's death.

Charterhouse, E.C., November 15th, 1883.