Tracing Suffolk wills for Suffolk folk

I’ve recorded a Facebook Live about finding wills for people who lived in Suffolk.

Finding will for Suffolk folk

In my previous live, I talked a lot about finding wills in Essex, but what about Suffolk? In this live, I'll share my tips for finding wills for people who lived – and died – in Suffolk.

Posted by Essex & Suffolk Surnames on Wednesday, 13 May 2020

There’s several handy links I mention, so here goes…

Prerogative Court of Canterbury wills (PCC)

Search on The National Archive’s catalogue, Discovery. It’s £3.50 to download wills unless at a UK university, or public library.

PCC wills are available to view on Ancestry via certain subscriptions. My tip is to search on Discovery first, then look for it on Ancestry if you have the sub that includes PCC. This is because (and I hate to say it, but it’s true…) that some of the personal names and placenames have not been transcribed terribly well on Ancestry (eg. I found someone’s residence of “Gray’s Inn” transcribed as “Crap’s Inn”. Hilarious, but wrong).

The style of handwriting used for PCC wills is very difficult – to start with. When I first encountered one I took one look at it and nearly gave up. But I persevered and learnt how to read the script, and now I find it really easy. You will too if you give it a try, I promise!

Suffolk Record Office – The Hold

All original wills held by SRO’s different sites (Bury St Edmund’s and Ipswich) can be searched for on The Hold. I’m not sure if registered copies appear on there or not. Many have been digitised so you can download those on demand online for £6 each. If the will hasn’t been digitised, you can request a copy and pay online, and the archivists will send you a copy. Note that registered copies of wills are often held on microfilm and are written in the same difficult handwriting as PCC wills!

Some of SRO wills are indexed in Findmypast’s set of printed wills indexes: England & Wales Published Wills & Probate Indexes, 1300-1858. This covers Ipswich wills 1370-1550 and Archdeaconry of Sudbury 1354-1700 and 1800-1858. Contact SRO to ask if they have a will for someone if the time period you’re looking for isn’t included in those books. There might be a charge for a search.

At some point, someone began putting together lists including extracts of wills by parish. So for instance if you search The Hold for “Washbrook wills” you get a record listing the names of people in Washbrook c1384-1600 who left wills, the date and the place the will is held. It also includes wills by people not in Washbrook but who left significant bequests to the parish, so they apparently had a link to the parish. The record is a list of names only, without links to the wills as some will be PCC wills or other and not necessarily held by SRO. These records also pop up if you do a search by name, and that name happens to be one of the ones listed.

Norfolk Record Office

Because Suffolk came under the ecclesiastical auspices of Norwich, some wills for Suffolk folk are in fact held in Norwich. NROCAT (NRO archive’s catalogue) does, I think, include registered copies of wills as well as originals.

Findmypast’s Published Wills & Probate Indexes includes Norwich Consistory Court Wills from 1370-1550.

London Metropolitan Archives

One last place to check: just as Suffolk came under the auspices of Norwich, Essex came under the ecclesiastical auspices of London, hence some wills for people from Essex are held at the London Metropolitan Archives. You may find that someone from Suffolk might have died in Essex (if for instance they were living with friends or family in Essex at the time of their death) and their will might not be at ERO but at the LMA. The wills are available to view as part of one of Ancestry’s subscriptions which includes many London parish registers, school registers, Poor Law records etc.

You can search the LMA’s catalogue at their website as well as order copies of documents. Some documents have been digitised and can viewed on their site, but I’m not sure if this includes wills. Have a plunge and find out!