Witnesses who could travel to London to give evidence were produced by the proctor acting for the party on whose behalf they were to appear and sworn before a surrogate of the judge of the Court in the surrogate's chambers.
The examinations themselves were conducted by a deputy registrar of the Court before 1691, and from that year by officials known as examiners.
Examinations were normally taken in chief, that is on an allegation of either party to the cause, or on interrogatories, which were drawn up to question the witness, and submitted by the proctor acting for the opposing party.
The witness was given a copy of the interrogatories when sworn, so that he or she could study them before the examination. The witnesses' depositions take the form of responses to the allegations and interrogatories relevant to their testimony. When all the depositions for one party had been taken the proctor requested the judge to decree publication of the depositions. After this stage no more allegations might be entered, except for those which were exceptive against witnesses. The depositions might now be read in court and copies taken. All or part of a deposition might be rejected in response to objections from the opposing party.
If a witness was unable to come to London proctors could apply for a commission for the examination to be taken elsewhere. Such commissions could add considerably to the costs of the party.
Deponents were required to state their ages (though these are often given imprecisely and should be treated with caution), occupations, present places of residence, and sometimes former places of residence and places of birth.
This series therefore provides valuable and sometimes precisely detailed evidence of domestic and social relations, with particular evidence about marital, testamentary, and deathbed practices, and perceptions of sanity and testamentary capacity, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.