Essex Probate Records
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Probate is the legal court process by which the estate of a deceased person is distributed to his or her heirs. Probate records include wills and administrations. This article is about probate records in Essex. For a general description of England probate records, click here.
1858 to the Present
Beginning in 1858, the Principal Probate Registry had the authority for probating estates. Click on the link to learn more.
Before 1858, Church of England ecclesiastical courts had authority for this process. To search for a pre-1858 probate record in Essex, follow these steps:
Step 1. Search Indexes
Here are some online indexes to probate records that include individuals who lived in Essex. Search these indexes first:
- 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, date and place.
- The Sussex Record Society has published four volumes of indexes to Sussex wills, and these can be viewed on their website. They are arranged by parish then by surname.
- Prerogative Court of Canterbury wills (1384-1858).
Did you find a reference to a probate record?
- If yes, go to Step 4 below.
- If no, go to Step 2 below.
Step 2. Identify when and where your ancestor died
Determine when your ancestor died. If you aren't sure, use an approximate date.
Determine where your ancestor died. It is easier to find a probate record if you know whether the place where your ancestor lived or died is a parish. To learn whether it is a parish, look it up in a gazetteer. Here is a link to the 1872 Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales online:
The gazetteer will either tell you:
- A place is a parish, or
- What parish it is a part of, or
- What place it is near.
If the latter, look that place up in the gazetteer and see if it is a parish.
Once you have identified the parish, go to Step 3.
Step 3. Identify court jurisdictions by parish
Once you have identified the parish where your ancestor lived or died, learn which courts had jurisdiction over it then search indexes for those courts. Every town and parish in Sussex fell under the probate jurisdiction of a primary court and several secondary courts. Click on a link below for the letter the parish begins with. Here are links to an alphabetical list of Essex parishes containing a prioritized list of courts with 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.
Below is a list of Essex parishes beginning with the letter 'B' and the ecclesiastical courts with pre-1858 probate jurisdiction over them. Once you have identified a court of interest, search indexes. Search the courts in the order given. Click on a court name for more information about the court.
To see a list of Essex parishes, click on a letter link:
Essex Probate Courts
The following ecclesiastical courts had some probate jurisdiction over the county of Essex prior to 1858. Click on a court name to learn about records and indexes.
- Court of the Archdeaconry of Essex
- Court of the Archdeaconry of Colchester
- Court of the Archdeaconry of Middlesex (Essex & Hertfordshire Division)
- Court of the Bishop of London (Episcopal Consistory)
- Court of the Commissary of the Bishop of London (Essex & Hertfordshire Division)
- Court of the Peculiar of Good Easter
- Court of the Peculiar of Writtle with Roxwell
- Court of the Peculiar of the Deanery of Bocking
- Court of the Peculiar of the Liberty of the Sokens
- Court of the Peculiar of Havering-atte-Bower (or Hornchurch)
- Court of the Peculiar of the Dean and Chapter of Westminster (Abbey)
- Court of the Peculiar of the Dean and Chapter of St Paul's Cathedral
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.
Before looking for a will, you should search an index.
County-wide general will indexes for Essex County are now available online, making Essex County one of the foremost in facilitating probate research in England.
The following site indexes significant portions of Essex wills:
- Essex County Record Office's outstanding wills index from early to 1857 consolidates into one single index, the county's wills.
The following site has transcriptions of a few Essex will from various probate court jurisdictions at
Always re-visit these websites as new, updated data may periodically be posted online.
If the indexes on the Internet do not produce possible wills for your ancestors, look in the published indexes listed here.
The Essex County Record Office compiled and published a complete surname index covering wills and administrations from the first eight Essex County probate court jurisdictions listed above (through the Liberty of Sokens). The index is available in three volumns at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City:
- Emmison, F. G., ed. [Index to] Wills at Chelmsford. London: s.n., 1961, by the British Record Society. (FHL book 942 B4b vols. 78, 79 & 84; also on microfilms 0962739 and 0962740, and on microfiche 6073796, 6073797, and 6073802.)
Other printed indexes are found listed on the court pages. Click on the court name links above.
Some Explanatory Notes on the Courts in Essex
Probate records for the first eight courts listed above are located at the Essex Record Office. The additional four courts' records are located in Greater London-based record offices (click links to view).
Records and indexes for each court are also available in the collection of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. Search the Family History Library Catalog for the title of the court or the court as an author.
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