What are wills and probate records?
- A will is a written instruction by an individual as to the disposal of their property after their death.
- 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. 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:
- 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
- Dean's Peculiar of the City of Chichester, comprising 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
- 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 the Bishopric.
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 will.
Wills proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (1384-1858) can be viewed on the subscription website Ancestry, which can be accessed on the public access computers at the Record Office. Alternatively, they can be obtained online for a fee from The National Archives website.
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 originals
- original wills from 1900-1928 for Chichester District Probate Registry.
What indexes can I use?
Numerous printed and card indexes are available for use. The Record 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 1858-1995.