LONDON: Some 41 million British wills dating back to 1858, including those of Winston Churchill and Princess Diana, were made available in an online database Saturday.
The government’s full archive of wills from England and Wales, stretching back more than 150 years, has been put on the probatesearch.service.gov.uk website.
It includes the wills of World War II prime minister Churchill; novelist Charles Dickens; Diana, princess of Wales; children’s writer A. A. Milne; code-breaker Alan Turing; writer George Orwell and author Beatrix Potter.
The digital copies of the wills cost £10 ($15.50, 12.75 euros) but basic details for some of them are available online.
“This fascinating project provides us with insights into the ordinary and extraordinary people who helped shape this country, and the rest of the world,” said Courts Minister Shailesh Vara.
“It is a fantastic resource not only for family historians but also for anyone with an interest in social history or famous figures.”
Previously the archives had only been publicly available to search in person.
In Churchill’s will he gave £304,044 — worth more than £5.1 million nowadays — to his family.
When Dickens died in 1870 he left a will written in cursive script that laid out highly specific directions for his funeral.
“I emphatically direct that I be buried in an inexpensive, unostentatious, and strictly private manner,” he wrote, adding that mourners must not wear scarves, cloaks, long hatbands, “or other such revolting absurdity”.
Orwell, who died in 1950, insisted that his archive of papers be preserved, while economist John Maynard Keynes, who died four years earlier, wanted most of his papers destroyed.
Milne, who wrote “Winnie The Pooh”, gave shares of his future royalties and copyright to his favourite London club and Westminster School when he died in 1956.
“Peter Rabbit” creator Potter left a lengthy and generous will reflecting her love for conservation and nature.
Though the archive has been converted into digital format, the original paper records will still be kept in a temperature-controlled environment.