Fam­ily his­to­rian Chris Pa­ton ex­plains the pur­pose and value of the newly re­leased Scot­tish Con­fir­ma­tion Cal­en­dars on Ances­try

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For some time, Ances­try has hosted a data­base en­ti­tled Eng­land & Wales, Na­tional Pro­bate Cal­en­dar (In­dex of Wills and Ad­min­is­tra­tions), 1858-1966, (­w15I). 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 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.

Court in­dexes

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 scot­land­speo­, 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. 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 nrscot­ 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 nrscot­­search/ 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

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