Posted by: Christine | January 13, 2014

PCC Wills on Ancestry

Last week a new set of data appeared on the Ancestry website, the PCC  wills. These wills have been available at the TNA for some time and available for download (for £3.36 each. To search is free) from their website. I think they have also been available at The Genealogist

Announcement of PCC wills on Ancestry website

Announcement of PCC wills on Ancestry website

The Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC), which actually sat in London, was the senior church court, and dealt:
•with the wills of relatively wealthy people living in the south of England and Wales
•with the estates of people who died at sea or abroad leaving personal property in England or Wales.
(info from TNA website)

Of course, I had searched the wills at TNA for Madders and downloaded anything interesting – usually on visits to Kew, where the download is free. With the inclusion of sailors wills it has been useful for trying to find relatives of John Madder and I have found instances of copies of two different wills for the same person, including John himself. With the use of alternative surnames, I also looked for sailors of the name of Mather.

When the Ancestry announcement appeared, I didn’t expect to find anything new, but did the usual searches. I produced a list of names in Excel and started cross checking. One difference between the different searches is that in the TNA catalogue you must search for an exact name, but at Ancestry you can do an exact search or a search which includes Soundex or phonetic variations – search for Madder and you get Madders, Madar, Mider, Meader, even  Maidary. The problem then is deciding which of them is one of mine!

PCC image downloaded from Ancestry.

PCC image downloaded from Ancestry.

It was when searching for Mather that I found something interesting. It was the will of Abraham Mather, mariner from 1700 – just the right period for my search for relatives of John. Why hadn’t I found it before? It was indexed in Ancestry as Abraham Mather, so why hadn’t it come up in the TNA catalogue search for Mather? I went to the TNA and made several searches, without finding him. Eventually I searched the PCC wills without any surname, just forename (Abraham) and date (1700). There were only eight results and one immediately jumped out – Abraham Malher! The piece number agreed, the name had been wrongly indexed by TNA – and Ancestry had got it right!

Start of Abraham's will. Mather or Malher?

Start of Abraham’s will. Mather or Malher?

Now I know I sometimes complain about the standard of Ancestry’s indexing, but this time they got it right. I would never have thought of searching the TNA for Malher, instead of Mather. It just shows that if the same information appears in different places, don’t think “I’ve already got that” and ignore it. It might have been indexed differently, or have a different way of searching. Always check everything! 

I wish I could say that this will was the vital one I needed to track down John Madder’s family. It wasn’t. It seems that Abraham was giving a form of power of attorney to his loving brother (brother-in-law?) Charles Brumfeild, leaving everything to him and making him his executor. No help at all.

Perhaps, somewhere, what I’m looking for is lying, mis-indexed or not even indexed at all.


  1. Fascinating! I’ll take your advice and re-check all the previous searches I’ve done for wills at TNA, especially for various ‘missing links’.

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