SCOTTISH CONFIRMATION CALENDARS
Family historian Chris Paton explains the purpose and value of the newly released Scottish Confirmation Calendars on Ancestry
For some time, Ancestry has hosted a database entitled England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966, ( bit.ly/1xrw15I). This useful collection has summaries of cases that have gone through the probate process within the two countries. The equivalent to these probate calendars in Scotland, the Calendar of Confirmations and Inventories, has now been digitised and also made available on the website at bit.ly/1KSHNgb. It is the first national Scottish collection to be released on the platform for some time.
Although the purpose of the calendars is to summarise the judgments of the Scottish courts with regard to the conveyance of estate after the death of an individual, the process involved has historically been very different to that in operation south of the border. For one thing, the name of the court process involved in Scotland has never in fact been called probate: it has always been known as ‘confirmation’.
If a deceased Scot left a will prior to his or her death, then this document will subsequently have been taken to the Sheriff Court to be ‘confirmed’ in order for the estate to be conveyed to the next of kin and/or any potential creditors. An inventory would then have to be drawn up to work out the value of the estate, and an executor or executors appointed to dispose of it, as per the terms of the deceased’s wishes. In such cases, the resultant document produced by the court is called a ‘testament testamentar’, the Scottish equivalent of what is known as a ‘grant of probate’ in the rest of the British Isles.
For instances where the deceased did not leave a will, the family or creditors could still
apply to have the estate go through the confirmation process.
An inventory would again be drawn up, and executors appointed by the court to oversee the administration of the deceased’s estate. The resultant document is called a ‘testament dative’, which is the Scottish equivalent of a ‘letter of administration’. It should be noted that not all cases did go through the confirmation process, however, as many families simply sorted out their estates privately to save on the court costs.
To summarise such court judgments, from 1876 the Calendar of Confirmations and Inventories was established in Scotland, initially on an annual basis. From 1921, this was changed to two annual volumes, the first indexed by the surnames of the deceased from A to L, and the second with surnames from M to Z. As with the probate calendars in England and Wales, these volumes record short summaries of the information presented in the testaments and inventories taken through the courts. Each entry provides the name of the deceased, his or her occupation and address, date of death, and whether the deceased was testate (ie had left a will) or intestate (died without making a will). The Sheriff Court at which confirmation occurred is then listed, the date of confirmation, the name and address of the executor or executors (executrix if a woman), and finally, the value of the estate recorded.
The annual volumes continued to be published until 1959, after which time index lists from 1960-1985 were prepared for consultation on microfilm at the National Records of Scotland (NRS). The records from 1985-1999 have been indexed at the NRS via a computerised database.
Ancestry’s newly digitised collection contains fully searchable calendar images from 1876-1936, as sourced from a collection of volumes held at the AK Bell Library in Perth. In total, the database contains the names of some 700,000 people from across Scotland. If you can find an entry within the database, the next port of call should be the ScotlandsPeople website at scotlandspeople.gov.uk, where all surviving testaments from 1513-1925 have been digitised and made accessible for a fee of 10 credits per testament (irrespective of how many pages long it is). The same digitised documents can be accessed for free in the NRS, or as part of the daily fee of £15 for unlimited access to the records of the adjacent ScotlandsPeople Centre ( scotlandspeoplehub. gov.uk) and at archives and registrar’s services across the country offering the same ScotlandsPeople facility.
A particular advantage with Ancestry’s collection lies in that it provides access to the information presented for testaments from 1926-1939, which is unavailable online anywhere else. If an entry is found among these, contact the NRS to order a copy of the original record – the archive’s copying service details are available at nrscotland.gov.uk/ statistics-and-data/future- publications/ordering-records. The NRS has digitised the same calendars from 1900-1959 for consultation within its own Historic Search Room, and prefixes its volumes with CAL/ Year/A (eg CAL/1920/A) for surnames from 1926 beginning A-L, and CAL/Year/B for surnames starting M-Z. Further information on Scottish confirmation records is available at nrscotland.gov.uk/research/ guides/wills-and-testaments.
Finally, it should also be noted that although most of the estates featured concern people who died in Scotland, examples can also be found for estates that went through the probate courts elsewhere in the UK or overseas, which have been ‘resealed’ by the Scottish courts, usually where houses were owned by people who had property and possessions in both territories.
Above: The Necropolis cemetery in Glasgow, 1888 – the administration of the deceased’s estate is different in Scotland than other parts of the UK
Castle Street and the Municipal Buildings, Aberdeen, in 1800