North Carolina Probate Records
Most probate records in North Carolina were created on a county level though many were later sent to the North Carolina State Archives. The contents of probate records vary greatly depending on the prevailing law and the personality of the record keeper.
Probate records in the state fall into two general categories: wills and estate papers. Most records mention the names of heirs and frequently specify how those heirs are related. Names of children may be given, as well as married names of daughters. Probate records may not give an exact death date, but a death most often occurred within a few months of the date of probate.
Index to Wills
The first source you should check to determine if your ancestor left a will in North Carolina between the years 1665 and 1900 is:
- Mitchell, Thornton W. North Carolina Wills: A Testator Index, 1665–1900. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing, 1992. FHL 975.6 P22t 1992 This book lists the name of the testator (the person who had the will prepared), the county where the will was probated, the year it was probated, the volume and page number of the recorded will, and the location of the original will. Wills that were not recorded in the county records are also listed. The book has a county-by-county summary of available wills.
Prior to 1760 most wills were probated by the County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions in the county. The original wills and accompanying estate papers were supposed to be sent to the secretary of state for filing, regardless of where the will was probated. Some counties did not send their records in.
Most of the original wills and papers for the period 1663 to 1790; however, are at the North Carolina State Archives. Digital images of the original wills, arranged alphabetically by name of testator, are available on their website. Some users may find it difficult to find these records on their website. The following instructions should help:
- Visit Manuscript and Archives Reference System (Mars) (North Carolina State Archives catalog)
- Search, with the setting set as "A Mars Id matching," for the series 12.96
- Click Records of Probate: Wills
- In the pop-up window, follow the link Show List of Child Records
- This will bring up links to 28 boxes of the original wills. Box 1 begins with "A" surnames. Box 28 concludes with "Z" surnames.
- To view online images of the original wills, click on a box, in the resulting pop-up window, click Show List of Child Records
- Browse the list of wills. When you find a will of interest, click on the person's name and a pop-up window will allow you to at last View Document (it may be necessary to install free software to view the images)
These records are alternatively available on microfilm through FamilySearch:
- North Carolina. Division of Archives and History (Raleigh, North Carolina). Wills and Estate Papers (North Carolina), 1663–1789. Salt Lake City, Utah: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1988–1989. (On 7 Family History Library films beginning FHL 1605076 item 22.)
Published abstracts and transcripts of some of these early wills can be found in the following two books:
- Grimes, John Bryan. Abstract of North Carolina Wills [1690–1760] Compiled from Original and Recorded Wills in the Office of the Secretary of State. Raleigh, N.C.: E.M. Uzzell & Co., State Printers and Binders, 1910. 1967 reprint: FHL 975.6 P2gr 1967; FHL 6046876; also FHL 975.6 P2gr 2000; digital versions at Ancestry ($); Eastern North Carolina Digital Library, Google Books and Internet Archive. This book contains approximately 2,600 wills taken from both original and recorded wills. The index includes all the names that appear in the wills. There are some abstracting errors, so you should examine the original will. The index also lists names of plantations.
- Grimes, John Bryan. North Carolina Wills and Inventories Copied from the Original Recorded Wills and Inventories in the Office of the Secretary of State. Raleigh, N.C.: Edwards & Broughton Printing Company, Printers and Binders, 1912. 1967 reprint: FHL 975.6 P2g 1967; FHL 459632 item 1; FHL 6051125; digital versions at Ancestry ($); Eastern North Carolina Digital Library; and Internet Archive. This book is an incomplete listing of wills. It contains transcripts of 203 wills and 47 inventories recorded from 1665 through 1790. The purpose of this publication was to show examples of what personal items were in possession of early North Carolina families. There is an index to testators, inventories, plantations, slaves’ names, land, and other subjects. The index lists those who made the wills but does not list those persons mentioned in the wills.
For the years 1760–1868, most wills are in the offices of the clerk of the superior court in the county where the testator legally resided. Abstracts of more than 8,000 original wills covering 1760 to 1800 can be found in:
- Olds, Fred A. An Abstract of North Carolina Wills from about 1760 to about 1800: Supplementing Grimes’ Abstract of North Carolina Wills, 1663 to 1760. 1925. Reprint, Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing, 1983. FHL 975.6 P28o The wills are listed by county, and there is no index. There is an index to the 1936 typescript on film:
- Index to Abstract of North Carolina Wills from about 1760 to About 1800 prepared by Fred A. Olds. Salt Lake City, Utah: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1981. FHL 1033627 items 1-2.
Between 1868 and 1966 wills were proved in the superior court of the county. The original will was sent to the clerk in each county court house and a copy may have been sent to the state archives.
Since 1966 all documents relating to probate cases are kept in case files. After the estate is settled, the files are microfilmed and indexed by the name of the deceased and the names of the heirs.
When an individual died leaving a will, the legal process carrying out the provisions of the will created many loose estate papers. Most early residents of North Carolina who possessed real property did not leave a will and died intestate. The process of settling a person’s intestate estate also created loose papers. These loose papers have a variety of titles and were generally created in the following sequence:
- Petition to Probate the Estate
- Administrator’s Bond
- Petition for a Year’s Allotment for the Widow
- Petition for Widow’s Dower
- Petition of Division of Lands and Slaves
- Account of Sale
- Guardian’s Bond and Accounts
- Yearly Accounts
- Final Settlement or Final Distribution
Copies of most early estate papers are in the state archives and on microfilm. See:
- North Carolina. Division of Archives and History (Raleigh, North Carolina). Colonial Estate Papers, 1669–1759. Salt Lake City, Utah: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1996. (On 4 Family History Library films beginning with FHL 2047891.) The records are alphabetical.
Many later loose estate papers or copies of them have been sent to the North Carolina State Archives. Counties often send their papers to the archives after 60 years. Estate papers in the state archives are presently being microfilmed in alphabetical order, county by county.
Probate records can be found in the Family History Library Catalog by using a Place Search under:
NORTH CAROLINA- PROBATE RECORDS
NORTH CAROLINA, [COUNTY]- PROBATE RECORDS