This database contains a collection of wills, letters of administration, and inventories from Dorset, England, for the years 1565 through 1858. Until the 1857 Court of Probate Act came into force in January 1858, wills were proved in ecclesiastical courts. This is the case for the wills in this collection; they fell under ecclesiastical jurisdiction.
If the property dealt with in a will fell within one archdeaconry, that is where the will was likely proved. This is the case for most of the records in this collection, the majority of which fall under the Dorset Archdeaconry. Wills disposing of land and property in more than one archdeaconry but within the same diocese would be proved in a Bishop's Court called the Consistory Court. This would be the Bristol Consistory for records in this collection. Wills may also have been proved within a 'peculiar'. An example from this collection would be the Court of the Peculiar of Canford Magna and Poole, which had jurisdiction over the parishes of Great Canford and Poole.
Finally, wills involving widespread holdings or for those who died abroad were proved by the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC). Because the PCC was held in high regard as a court, it was sometimes used instead of local church courts even by those who weren’t wealthy landowners .
Keep in mind that during this time period, only a small portion of the population made wills. Also, remember that the date a will was recorded is the date it was proved and not when it was written or the date of death.
A letter of administration was needed when no will was left and someone was appointed to be the executor of the estate. The letter usually provides the name, date, and possibly the address of the person appointed executor. The 1670 Statute of Distributions regulated the dispersal of estates without wills, with a third going to the widow and the rest divided among the children or next of kin.
An inventory is a list and valuation of personal property and may provide insight into the lifestyle and wealth of an individual. Inventories were required for a letter of administration to be awarded.
Some of this information was taken from