Wills at Hertford

by Beryl Crawley

Published by The British Record Society, 2007

Index Library No. 120

Hardback, xvi + 648 pages

ISBN   978 0 901505 47 7


This book starts with a very detailed description of the nature and location of surviving Hertfordshire will records - which I have briefly summarised below:


Before 1858 wills were the responsibility of the ecclesiastical courts and parishes in Hertfordshire came under several different jurisdictions. Apart from the east of the county wills were proved either in the Archdeaconry of St Albans (which included the Buckinghamshire parishes of Aston Abbots, Grandborough, Little Horwood and Winslow) and the Archdeaconry of Huntingdon. These were in the Diocese of Lincoln until 1845 when the Archdeaconry of St Albans expanded to take over the whole county, under the Diocese of Rochester, and the Buckinghamshire parishes were moved to the Diocese of Oxford. These wills are held at HALS and are indexed in this book.


The rest of the county, before 1845, came under the  jurisdiction of the Diocese of London. 26 of these parishes came under the Essex and Herts division of the Archdeaconry of Middlese and another 6 parishes came under the Bishop  of London's Deputy or Commissary. These wills are held at the Essex Records Office and are indexed as Wills at Chelmsford (three earlier volumes in this series).

Three parishes (Albury, Brent Pelham and Furneux Pelham) formed part of the peculiar of the Dean and Chapter of St Pauls Cathedral. These wills are held at the Guildhall Library but a card index of Hertfordshire Testators is held at HALS.

In addition many Hertfordshire wills will be found in the published indexes of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury. Some early wills may with Diocese of Lincoln papers at Lincoln, and wills for some parishes on the Beds/Herts border may be in either the Bedford Records Office or HALS.


The bulk of the book consists of a 613 page index listing wills, inventories, etc., in alphabetical order by surname and forename - also giving year, occupation, place, and document references. There is a short index of Subjects which includes public houses by name, hospitals, etc; an index of trades and professions, and an index of places.


While this book is in the tradition of earlier (pre-computing) books in the series, it demonstrates the limitations of the printed format over a computer data base if you want to access the data in different ways.

For instance, if you want to do a study of, for example, occupations in St Albans between 1600 and 1650. the places index shows that there was one (or more) St Albans entries on pages 1-20, 22-30, 32-37, 39-51, 53-55, 57-80, 82-5, 87-99 ..... which means that there were entries on all pages between 1-99 excepts 21,31, 38, 52, 56, 81 and 86. If you extend the search to cover the associated parishes of St Michael, St Peter and St Stephens the only "empty page" is 56. Clearly the only way to answer the question from  the book is to scan it by eye from cover to cover. However if exactly the same information was available as a computer data base such a search would take minutes to produce a printable list, by occupation, of the relevant will references.

Clearly one must wonder if the days of the large conventional printed indexes are numbered.


The index may be accessed for free online at HALS and Origins. Copies of the wills cost 6.00 from HALS and 10.00 from Origins.

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This book was published for British Record Society members and copies may be available from the Society.