Sussex Probate Records
Probate is the legal court process by which the estate of a deceased person is distributed to his or her heirs. Before 1858, Church of England ecclesiastical courts had authority for this process. Beginning in 1858, the Principal Probate Registry had the authority for the process (click on the link to learn more about it). For general information about England probate records, click here.
Follow these steps to search for a pre-1858 probate record in Sussex.
Step 1. Identify when and where your ancestor died
If you know when and where your ancestor died, use that date and place to find a probate record. If you do not know, use an approximate date and the place where they lived.
Step 2. Search Indexes
Indexes to probate records, created at the time the probates were filed, exist for every Church of England court. These indexes will be listed in the Wiki articles for each court (see list of courts below). However, in more recent years, indexes have been created which have a broad coverage for either the whole county or for several courts together. Here is one such index for Sussex:
http://www.familyhistoryonline.net/database/SussexFHGprobate.shtml -- compiled by the Sussex Family History Group which has transcribed 12,300 individuals found in Sussex wills, including testators, executors, beneficiaries or witnesses. The following information is recorded.
- Name – Forenames and surname of individual mentioned in the will
- Town location
The Sussex Records Society has done a great job in putting up many of their index listings including probate. The following is the link to their publications on probate indexes. [n]
Prerogative Court of Canterbury wills (1384 - 1858) [n]
The following indexes are available at the Family History Library:
- Archbishop of Canterbury. Peculiar Court (Exempt Deaneries of Pagham and Tarring) Wills and administrations, 1520-1907 Jurisdiction includes South Bersted, Chichester (All Saints), part of Horsham, East Lavant, Pagham, Patching, Slindon, Tangmere, and West Tarring. Many of these films have an index at the beginning or end.
- Diocese of Chichester. Peculiar Court (Exempt Deanery of Battle) Probate records, 1531-1857 The jurisdiction for this court includes only the parish of Battle.
- Transcripts of Sussex wills as far as they relate to ecclesiological and parochial subjects, up to the year 1560.
Court Jurisdictions by Parish
Before 1858, every town and parish in Sussex fell under the probate jurisdiction of a primary court and several secondary courts. When looking for the will of an ancestor, you should search the courts in the order given. Search indexes first. For indexes, click on the court name links above [soon to be constructed].
Here are links to an alphabetical list of Sussex parishes containing a prioritized list of courts with pre-1858 jurisdiction over each. To see which courts to search for probates of persons living in or owning property in particular parish, click on the letter the parish name begins with.
For an authoritative treatise on each Sussex probate courts pre-1858, see Anthony J. Camp's publication, Wills and Their Whereabouts; also available at the Family History Library, book #942 S2wa.
Sussex Probate Courts
Most of West Sussex was under the pre-1858 probate jurisdiction of the Court of the Bishop (Episcopal Consistory) of Chichester for the Archdeaconry of Chichester and East Sussex under the jurisdiction of the Court of the Bishop (Episcopal Consistory) of Chichester for the Archdeaconry of Lewes. The majority of probate searches will be in the records of these courts and their superior courts. However, the following courts also had some pre-1858 jurisdiction within the county. Click on a court name to learn about records and indexes.
- Court of the Peculiar of the Exempt Jurisdiction of the Deanery of Battle
- Court of the Peculiar of the Archbishop of Canterbury for the Exempt Deaneries of Pagham and Tarring
- Courts of the Bishop (Episcopal Consistory) and Archdeaconry of Winchester
- Court of the Peculiar of the Archbishop of Canterbury for the Exempt Deanery of South Malling
- Court of the Peculiar of the Dean of Chichester
In addition, the Prerogative Court of the Archbishop of Canterbury had jurisdiction over the whole of England and specifically in the following cases.
- Wealthy individuals
- Interregnum, 1649-1660, because the Prerogative Court was the only court.
- Property in more than one diocese in the Province of Canterbury.
- Property in both the Province of Canterbury and Province of York.
- People who died outside England, including British citizens and others who held property in England.
Any probate that was disputed and could not be settled by the county courts could be sent to these higher appeals courts:
The Prerogative Court of the Archbishop of Canterbury also served as an appeals court.
Estate Duty Records
Starting in 1796, a tax or death duty was payable on estates over a certain value. Estate duty abstracts may add considerable information not found elsewhere.Estate duty indexes may help locate a will. For more information, go to Estate Duty Records.
Probates After 1857
Beginning in 1858, the government took over the settlement of estates and all wills are now probated through the Principal Probate Registry system. For more information, go to Principal Probate Registry.