What’s available online and in the archives
Many of the court cases at The National Archives (TNA) in Kew have been indexed and can be searched via discovery.nationalarchives.gov.
uk. There is sometimes quite a lot of information in the abstract alone. Even so, it’s always worth ordering the document. Occasionally, history societies in the 19th century will have transcribed and published some of these cases. Examples include Lancashire and Cheshire Cases in the Court of Star Chamber (1916). These books can usually be found on archive.org or
familysearch.org. You may also find summaries in the letters and papers of Henry VIII, abstracts of which are on the website British History Online: british-history.ac.uk.
The Harleian manuscripts containing details of the visitations have been published by the Harleian Society in assorted 19th and early 20th-century books such as The Visitation of the County of Gloucester Taken in the Year 1623 (1885). They can usually be accessed through archive.org (in this case, archive.org/details/ visitation of coun00inc hit) or family search. org. The original manuscripts are at the British Library. The official visitations are at the College of Arms, and you must pay a herald to search them on your behalf: college-of-arms.gov.uk.
Inquisitions post mortem
Calendars of IPMs, including abstracts of their contents, can be found on archive.org, such as Notes of Post Mortem Inquisitions Taken in Sussex: 1 Henry VII to 1649 and After (1912) at bit.ly/notes-pmi. The originals, which are in Latin, are at TNA.
Parish records and Bishops’ Transcripts
In many cases these have been transcribed and reduced to their essential information by the Mormons, and can be consulted for free on
familysearch.org. However, this index suffers from transcription errors and the omission of useful information, such as occupation. The records themselves can, depending on the county in question, be accessed through
findmypast.co.uk or ancestry.co.uk. In all cases, microfilms of the records are at the relevant county archive and at the London Family History Centre located at TNA. Be aware that gentry in the 16th century sometimes had land in different counties, and many spent at least some of their lives in London, for example training as lawyers.
If your ancestor was particularly wealthy or he (sometimes she) owned land in both the provinces of Canterbury and of York then their will will have been proved at the Prerogative Court of Canterbury. These wills can be downloaded, for £3.50 each, from TNA’s website:
bit.ly/tna-wills-1384-1858. Other wills are at the relevant county archive. In some cases they are part of record collections on Findmypast (for example the one for the dioceses of Lichfield and Coventry; bit.ly/fmp-lich-cov). Many county ‘calendars’ (lists and abstracts) of wills are on the Internet Archive at archive.org, such as A Calendar of Wills Relating to the Counties of Northampton and Rutland Proved in the Court of the Archdeacon of Northampton, 1510 to 1652 (1888) at bit.ly/arch-cal-wills. Sometimes the (often Latin) record of the will, which includes some genealogical information, survives but the will itself doesn’t.
The College of Arms, founded in 1484, maintains official registers of coats of arms and pedigrees