Ancestry.co.uk has added a collection of pre-1858 wills. The collection contains about 1 million records. The wills in this collection were managed by the ecclesiastical courts of the Church of England (wills prior to 12 January 1858 were managed by the church). Wills provide a good means of understanding family members and family relationships. A typical will lists spouses, children, and sometimes even parents.
Most early English and Welsh wills from this period were written by people
who had to transfer land and significant property. This collection will likely
appeal to people who had wealthy ancestors. There are a couple of other things
to note before looking at this collection. First, married women were not allowed
to own property, so there are few women in the collection. Second, wills were
sometimes recorded in the courts years after the person died, so search a wide
range of dates after the expected year of death.
I have included as an example the will of my ancestor John Green of Fordham Hall in Essex. Now all I have to do is decipher the handwriting!