Wills and other probate records
What are they?
- A will is a written instruction by an
individual as to the disposal of their property after their
- Letters of Administration, also known as
Admons, are grants of probate to the next of kin to administer the
property of a person where there was no will.
- Inventories are lists of personal and
household goods left by the deceased.
What can a will tell me?
Wills are an invaluable source of
information for the family historian, giving details about the
testator and his or her relatives. Obviously not everyone made a
will and an administration was not taken for everyone who died
intestate. However, where there is a will, it supplies information
which cannot be found in other documents, such as detailed
information of a person's possessions and how they were to be
distrbuted on their death. Apart from the very early ones, wills
are nearly always written in English. Letters of administration
were in Latin before 1733.
The church courts: pre-1858
Up to 1858 probate business for West Sussex was transacted in
church courts which dealt with the following areas:
- The archdeaconry of Chichester, which
contained most parishes of the pre 1974 county of West Sussex, with
the exception of the peculiar jurisdictions described below and a
small group of parishes on the eastern border.
- The Dean's Peculiar of the City of Chichester,
comprising of the parishes of St Andrew, St Bartholomew, St Martin,
St Olave, St Pancras, St Peter the Great, St Peter the Less, the
Close, New Fishbourne and Rumboldswhyke.
- The Archbishop's Peculiar Jurisdiction of Pagham and
Tarring, comprising the parishes of South Bersted,
Chichester All Saints, Durrington, Heene, East Lavant, Pagham,
Patching, Slindon, Tangmere and West Tarring, together with
Plaistow chapelry in Kirdford and a small area of Horsham called
Those persons whose wills were proved in the local courts were
mainly tradesmen, farmers, the middle classes and lower gentry. The
rich proved their wills in London, in the Prerogative Court of
Canterbury; the poor rarely had possessions that needed a
Wills proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (1384-1858) can
be viewed on the subscription website Ancestry, which you can use
on our public access computers. Alternatively, they can be obtained
online for a fee from The National Archives
Civil courts: post-1858
In 1858 the civil authorities became involved, and since that
date all wills and administrations for England and Wales have been
proved in the Principal Probate Registry, London or locally at a
District Probate Registry.
Wills in West Sussex Record Office
The following are available within the Record Office:
- Original wills for the archdeaconry of Chichester, and the
peculiar jurisdictions within it up to 1858, together with those
for the Chichester District Probate Registry, which covered most of
West Sussex, up to 1928.
- Microfilm copies of wills for the archdeaconry of Lewes,
1518-1858, the Archbishops Peculiar of South Malling 1588-1858 and
Royal Peculiar of Battle 1531-1616, 1657-1730.
- Microfiche for all the main series of pre-1858
probate records, and microfilm for probate records 1858-1900.
Readers are asked to use them to save wear and tear on the
- Original wills from 1900-1928 for Chichester District Probate
What indexes can I use?
Numerous printed and card indexes are available for use.
Office also holds microfiche of the National Probate Calendars
1858-1943 which provide an alphabetical list, with abstracted
details of wills proved and administrations granted.
On our public access computers, you can use the Ancestry
website free of charge to search the National
Probate Calendars 1858-1966.
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