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 probating estates (click on the link to learn more).
For a general description of 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 broader or unique coverage that is not court specific. Here are indexes for Sussex:
- http://www.familyhistoryonline.net/database/SussexFHGprobate.shtml -- compiled by the Sussex Family History Group which has transcribed the names of 12,300 individuals found in Sussex wills, including testators, executors, beneficiaries or witnesses. The information recorded includes name and place.
- The Sussex Record Society has published four volumes of indexes to Sussex wills, and these can be viewed directly on their website. They are arranged by parish then by surname.
In addition, an index to the Prerogative Court of Canterbury wills (1384 - 1858) is available on the National Archives website.
Step 3. Identify court jurisdictions by parish
Before 1858, every town and parish in Sussex fell under the probate jurisdiction of a primary court and several secondary or superior courts. If you do not find reference to a probate record for your ancestor in the above indexes, you should search a court-specific index, but to do that you must identify the courts that had jurisdiction over the place where your ancestor lived. Click on the letter the name of your place begins with, then follow the steps found there.
Sussex Probate Courts
Here is a comprehensive list of the courts that had pre-1858 jurisdiction in Sussex with links to information about their records and indexes.
- West Sussex: Court of the Bishop (Episcopal Consistory) of Chichester for the Archdeaconry of Chichester
- East Sussex: Court of the Bishop (Episcopal Consistory) of Chichester for the Archdeaconry of Lewes.
The majority of probate searches will be in the records of the above courts and their superior courts. However, the following courts also had some pre-1858 jurisdiction within the county.
- 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.
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.