Wealth of Yorkshire: Historic probate records go online

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More than three centuries worth of historic probate records have been published online, revealing the final wishes of 30,000 Yorkshire residents, dividing up everything from property to dogs and cattle and even wigs.

Thousands of detailed wills, probate inventories as well as warrants and letters of administration written between 1521 and 1858 are now available offering an insight for those looking for details of how their ancestors passed on their wealth and a snapshot of social history.

Ancestry has digitalised original records covering parts of North and West Yorkshire held by the West Yorkshire Archive Service, revealing the final wishes and the estate values of a wide range of people from self-made merchants to industrialists and the aristocracy - and in some cases their debts.

Miriam Silverman, senior UK content manager from Ancestry, said: “The collection is also of huge significance for anybody looking to find out about ancestors who lived in the area, from their final resting place to the executor of their estate - opening up exciting new channels of discovery - and perhaps even unlocking an unknown family fortune.”

Among those featured in the records is John Pratt, an 18th century Askrigg and Aysgarth resident who made his fortune as a jockey before becoming a racehorse trainer and tavern keeper. Pratt built the Kings Arms pub, which is still standing, as a coaching inn, and had kennels and stables attached so he could run hunts.

He died in 1803 leaving the inn to his wife Margaret and the relatively small sum of £100 - or £3,000 in today’s money - shared between his eight children and various relatives.

The records also detail the estate of Sir William Amcotts-Ingilby, Baronet, an eccentric resident of Ripley Castle, MP for East Retford between 1807 and 1812 and High Sheriff who demolished and rebuilt the village of Ripley during his lifetime.

Amcotts-Ingilby left no heir so the castle and his wealth was passed to his cousin Henry Ingilby. The rental yield from his property was valued at £1,500 annually – equivalent to £110,000 a year today.

Ms Silverman says the records often chronicle great detail of how estates and property are to be divided up. She said wills were not just the preserve of the wealthy, an artisan craftsman for example, may wish to create a will detailing how the tools of his trade were divided.

As people tended not to have as many possessions they tended to leave full details of who should get their property upon their death, for everything from land to linen and chairs. Some even include instructions on who should get personal items such as wigs.

Ms Silverman said wills could also be a way of settling scores and ensuring your property did not go to those you had fallen out with and leaving no will could lead to a long legal battle in the Court of Chancery.

The records of the former archdeaconry areas of Richmond and Knaresborough, covering parts of North and West Yorkshire, can be found at www.ancestry.co.uk. The site is also home to a further 60 million records relating to Yorkshire including electoral registers and prison records.