Stories of lost love, last wishes and multimillion-pound fortunes are contained in the wills stored in a secure facility in the West Midlands.
Alongside those of ordinary men and women sits the will of Diana, Princess of Wales, and countless short declarations from soldiers who were killed in the First and Second World Wars.
More than 41 million wills – dating back to 1858 – are kept inside the building in a suburb of Birmingham, with almost 5,000 new ones coming in each week.
Iron Mountain, which runs the facility and digitises the wills for HM Courts and Tribunals Service, said it gets up to 13,000 requests a month from people wanting digital copies of wills for a range of reasons.
Will account manager Dee-Ann Craddock said: “From the notable and notorious, anyone who leaves a will in England or Wales will have their will stored in the archive. And, as a will is a public record, anyone can order a will from the online portal. So we receive between 12,000 and 13,000 requests per month from all sorts of people, including relatives of the deceased, historians, and amateur genealogists.”
The firm began making the wills available in digital form two years ago, and said there has been a steady interest since from people ordering documents simply by clicking online.
One such will belongs to Philip Woollatt, a lieutenant who died in the Battle of the Somme. Alongside his will was a notebook in which the 21-year-old told how a woman he loved had written to him to say she was getting married to someone else. The pocketbook was damaged by a bullet-hole.
His is one of an archive of 278,000 digitised First World War wills.
Craddock said: “It’s impossible not to be impressed by the bravery of the young men who gave up their lives to fight for their country.”
She said making digital copies available will ensure the archive is available for people in years to come to delve back into the history of their ancestors.
She added: “Many of the documents are fragile because of their age. Once digitised the wills no longer need to be handled, which helps preserve the documents for future generations.”