Update on Probate Search Room Closures and New Post 1858 Wills Index

Society of Genealogists Vice Chairman, Diana Bouglas attended the meeting held at the London Probate Search Room on 2 December 2014 to hear more information about the pending closure of the Search Rooms and the forthcoming probate index

The meeting was led by Sarah Christou, Senior Operations Manager at HM Family Division. She was supported by Diane Rice and Mark Burden who are the probate managers for the southern and northern registries respectively. About 20  users attended, including six members of AGRA, professional probate genealogists, and amateur family historians.

There are two main items to report.

 Firstly, the earlier period, which will (we were assured) go online on the 12th, will not look like the 1996+ period which is already available. For 1858-1995, images of the calendar pages will be available. The calendars used are the full London set which includes annotations, so things like further grants, reseals and folio numbers should also show. The search boxes we complete will be the same as with the 1996+ search but we will then be able to scroll through results via the calendar images page by page within a given year or forward and back from year to year. The cost will remain at £10 for now.

 For 1996+, HMCTS managers acknowledged that the online service is currently deficient, especially regarding the lack of the deceased's address. The reason for this, we were told, was the interpretation of advice given by the Information Commissioner at the beginning of this project several years ago. The reason given was that living descendants might still be at the same address. Because there has been so much negative feedback, managers will now revisit this advice and see if it can be interpreted differently, allowing at least part of the deceased's address to be shown. If this is possible, the data might be added quite quickly. We were told that all this was quite feasible so long as the Information Commissioner is happy. In any event, the whole site is still being developed and is likely to evolve and change over the coming months.

Irrespective of what happens on the above, the London search room must close for new orders on the 12th and completely by the 19th. Search rooms at district registries throughout England and Wales will also be closing but they will keep at least some of them open until the 1996+ issues are resolved. The postal service available through the Leeds registry will continue for the present.

Delivery times are currently advertised to be within ten working days. This longer time has been introduced temporarily to make sure orders can be satisfied during the early days when there may be a spike in demand, especially from overseas applicants. When it settles down, they hope to get back to a 48 hour delivery service and, in any case, current delivery is often less than ten days.

Feedback is encouraged and we were told that it is all considered and devolved to different members of staff depending on the subject. Feedback via the online site can be given on any relevant topic, including complaints, non-delivery, copy quality issues and suggestions for developing the site. An initial response should be received within 48 hours.

Diana Bouglas
3 December 2014

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