Skip to Main Content

English & Welsh Resources for Family Historians: Deaths/Wills

The State Library of South Australia has a large number of resources that may assist you in tracing your English or Welsh ancestry. This guide also contains websites of interest, contact details for relevant organisations and tips & tricks.


About British birth, death and marriage records

For centuries the church was the major agency for recording births, deaths and marriages.

In July of 1837 British Parliament introduced civil registration of births, marriages and deaths. Registrations were made by local civil registrars who in turn forwarded information to the General Register Office (GRO) in London.

These reports where compiled every three months - which is the reason for indexes to British births deaths and marriages covering quarterly periods: January to March being reported as the March quarter, April to June as the June quarter etc. 

In early years some births, deaths and marriages were not registered due to a resistance against civil registration.  However by the mid 1850s most of the population had come to comply with the new laws.

The indexes are divided into volumes by year, then quarter, and then listed alphabetically. The State Library holds copies of these indexes for 1837 to 1980 on microfiche.

Alternatively you may register with the General Registry Office to search their indexes online. PDF copies of certificates may be ordered from the website for a fee. *Note: At present only births and deaths are searchable online.* (August 2018)

You may also search the indexes transcribed by volunteers at Free UK Genealogy on the Free BMD website.

(Note: Formerly birth, marriage and death records were located at Somerset House (until 1970) and then St Catherine's House (until 1997) in London.)

Resources for locating Wills

Grave of Francis Harley [B 69727/ 278]


Harleian Collection

Check out the Harleian Collection, which holds 84 volumes of baptismal, marriage and burial registers for various churches and parishes.

Useful Websites

Databases Available at the Library

While you are in the Library don't forget to check out our databases where you will find data from government records, parish registers, indexes to wills and cemeteries:

  • (library edition) - for onsite use only
  • Find My Past - for onsite use only

Search for Wills & Probate records online

The word probate means to prove or validate. Probate is the procedure by which a will is approved by the Court as the valid and last will of a deceased testator (the person who made the will). It also confirms the appointment of the person named as executor in the will.

Traditionally married women did not make Wills as their property automatically became their husbands at the time of their marriage.  The only women to leave Wills where either widows or spinsters.  This didn't alter until 1870 when the Married Women's Property Act was introduced.  The making of a will was traditionally only by men of wealth to ensure that estates and possessions where distributed according to their wishes.

Before 1858 the recording of Wills and the proving of them was the responsibility of the Church.  Many of these Wills can still be located via church archives, bishops courts records or in local records offices.