The Origins Network has announced that, following exclusive agreements with the British Record Society – which has the largest set of indexes to English wills – and other organisations with major collections of source material, its database of probate records is about to grow very rapidly.
The Origins Network says: “With the partication of these bodies, we have now launched the National Wills Index (NWI), which will become the primary online resource for pre-1858 English probate material. A hard copy service is offered initially for all the original documents, but work has started to make these available in digital image form. Subscription access to the NWI is included in British Origins and Origins Total Access subscription packages.
“The National Wills Index is a collaborative project to create a single, dedicated, online resource for pre-1857 probate material for England & Wales. The NWI is a project initiated by the Origins Network, which is developing and hosting the online service. Access will be via pay-per-view (from mid-2010) or via subscription to British Origins. Some indexes will be available free, and most will be linked either to digitised images of source documents or to a hard copy service.
“While there are numerous indexes to probate material available in printed form and online, for most researchers the lack of any central source of such indexes is a major hindrance. In many cases, the researcher may simply not know where to look. The NWI is intended to remove this difficulty, and provide a major new resource for the family historian, and for the owners of the original material.
“The National Wills Index has sprung from a partnership between the Origins Network and the British Record Society (BRS), to place all of the BRS probate indexes online. Other key participants at present are the Genealogical Society of Utah (GSU), part of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the LDS), and the Borthwick Institute for Archives, which has one of England’s largest collections of probate records. Oxfordshire Record Office has recently joined the project, and we expect several other record offices to follow shortly.
“The BRS has, over the last 130 years, been creating the largest set of probate indexes available for England: now comprising well over 100 volumes, covering the majority of English probate jurisdictions, most of these indexes until now have been accessible only in printed form. The BRS work continues, and has indexes to tens of thousands of probate documents yet to publish. The BRS and Origins are working together to computerise the unpublished material.
“FamilySearch, operator of the world’s largest genealogical website and owner of the world’s greatest collection of genealogical material, is a key participant in the National Wills Index project. They have already microfilmed the vast majority of English probate documents, and have now started to digitise original probate documents, firstly at Oxfordshire Record Office. (FamilySearch was previously responsible for the digitisation of original Scottish wills for the National Archives of Scotland with over 2 million exposures). Further probate digitisation projects at other archives, working from the source documents, are currently being planned. We expect other probate collections to be digitised from microfilm. It is intended that all these digitised images will become available exclusively on the NWI. Where required, Origins will create new indexes to these images.
“The Borthwick Institute, part of the University of York, is one of England’s great archives. It holds the second largest collection of probate documents in England. The indexes to most of these documents have been placed on British Origins, whence researchers can order hard copies online. The remaining indexes will be available on British Origins by summer 2010. The Borthwick Institute will shortly be starting to digitise their source documents, and these will become available online on the NWI.
“Oxfordshire Record Office holds the original probate documents for Oxfordshire. These are currently being digitised by FamilySearch, and the images will be available later this year on the NWI. The documents have all been indexed by the British Record Society, and these indexes will go online on the NWI in the next two months. Until the digitised images become available, a hard copy service will be provided via the NWI. A full name index will be created from the digitised images.”