Before 1858 wills were proved in a variety of church and other courts. The location of a person's personal property, and its overall value, determined which court was appropriate. The two chief courts were the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC, mainly concerned with personal estates of people roughly south of the Midlands, and those dying abroad leaving property in this country), and the Prerogative Court of York (PCY), with jurisdiction over the northern counties. The records of this court, 1388-1858, are held at Borthwick Institute of Historical Research, St Anthony's Hall, Peasholme Green, York YO1 2PW (Telephone 01904 642315, www.york.ac.uk/inst/bihr ). Published indexes, 1389-1688, are available at the Family Records Centre and The National Archives. From 1653-60 this court was the only functioning probate body.
Microfilm copies of wills and administrations in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, 1384-1858,
PROB11and PROB6, can be searched on microfilm at the Family Records Centre and The National Archives, and in Family History Centres. There are printed indexes of wills up to 1800, and 1853-58, of administration grants, 1559-1660, 1701-49, and 1853-58, whilst the remainder can be located via annual initial indexes.
See also The National Archives research guides Wills before 1858:
Look in The Phillimore Atlas and Index of Parish Registers to see which probate courts served the area where your ancestors lived. The whereabouts and dates covered by surviving records of these courts can be discovered from Probate Jurisdictions: Where to Look for Wills, by J Gibson and E Churchill (Federation of Family History Societies, 5th edn 2002). Copies of many of the printed indexes to these are available at the Family Records Centre, The National Archives, local libraries and Family History Centres. Some indexes and images of locally proved wills are also available online; use a search engine to find out such coverage for your county of interest.