The United Kingdom recently announced that it had digitized its archives of over 41 million wills registered in England and Wales, dating back to 1858, that will allow people to explore the wills of some of the most influential figures of the last century and a half in addition to researching their own family history. At the click of a mouse, people will be able to find out more about their own relatives as well as the last wishes of some of the most famous figures in English history.
Will Database Project
The HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) teamed up with the storage and information management company Iron Mountain to digitize the 41 million wills and last testaments stored in the nation’s archives. The purpose of the project was to open up more public services to the common people. It also allows requests to be dealt with quickly and without people needing to visit the probate registry in person to search the archives.
The Court Minister stated that “This fascinating project provides us with insights into the ordinary and extraordinary people who helped shape this country, and the rest of the world. It is a fantastic resource not only for family historians but also for anyone with an interest in social history or famous figures. I am delighted that HMCTS are leading the way in innovation and are helping deliver a more modern and efficient public service.”
The availability of this database followed the first stage of opening the archives in a digital format when soldiers’ wills dated from 1850 to 1986 were made available online for the first time in 2013. Since then, there have been over two million searches of the website, which shows people’s interest in researching their family history. This latest phase allows people to request a specific will online and receive an electronic copy within ten business days.
The Commercial Director of Iron Mountain has gone on record as stating that this project “marks a significant milestone in a project to help deliver services online. The size of the archive is both humbling and impressive. The online availability of the wills is a welcome opportunity for anyone wishing to add detail to their family history.”
Influential People of Note
Besides being allowed to request wills from ancestors and other extended family members, people can now also request the last will and testaments of famous figures in UK history. Influential members of note who’s wills can be accessed online include:
· Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill · Economist John Maynard Keynes (who wanted his unpublished manuscripts and personal papers destroyed)
· Code breaker Alan Turing (sharing his possessions equally among friends, colleagues, and his mother)
· Author Charles Dickens (requesting no personal monuments put up in his name)
· Author AA Milne (leaving shares of his royalties and copyrights to a popular London club and his alma mater)
· Author Beatrix Potter (left most of her estate to natural science and conservation efforts)
· Author George Orwell (insisted that all notes, manuscripts, pamphlets, press cuttings, and other documents be preserved)