Kent Probate Records
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For an explanation of probate records in England, click here.
Probate is the legal court process by which the estate of a deceased person is distributed to his/her heirs.
- If the person left a will, they died 'testate' and a named executor presented the will in court and was granted the authority to carry out the wishes of the deceased as stated in the will.
- If the person did not leave a will, they died 'intestate' and the court appointed an administrator (through 'letters of administration') to pay the deceased's debts and distribute his/her remaining estate to heirs.
In order to find a probate record for your ancestor in Kent, you must answer two questions:
- When did your ancestor die?
- Where did your ancestor live or own property?
A key date is 1858, when probate authority was taken from the ecclesiatical courts of the Church of England and given to the civil government.
- If your ancestor died before 1858, his/her probate would have been proven by an ecclesiatical court and it is important to know where he/she lived or owned property, as that will determine which courts had jurisdiction. If you know where your ancestor lived or owned property, you should go to the Probate Court Jurisdictions section below to determine what courts had jurisdiction over your ancestor's place of residence and/or property.
- Beginning in 1858, probate authority was vested in the Principal Probate Registry system. For more information, scroll to the Post-1857 Probate Records section at the bottom of the page.
Once you have answered the two questions and determine the courts, look for indexes. Indexes will be found on the individual court pages or in the Probate Indexes section below.
Kent Probate Courts
The following ecclesiastical courts had some probate jurisdiction over the county of Kent prior to 1858. Click on a court name to learn more about its records and indexes and how to find the probate of your ancestor in the court's records.
- Court of the Bishop (Episcopal Consistory) of Canterbury
- Court of the Archdeaconry of Canterbury
- Courts of the Bishop (Episcopal Consistory) and Archdeaconry of Rochester
- Court of the Bishop (Episcopal Consistory) of Chichester for the Archdeaconry of Lewes
- Court of the Bishop (Episcopal Consistory) for Chichester for the Archdeaconry of Chichester
- Court of the Peculiar of the Archbishop of Canterbury in the Deaneries of Arches, Croydon and Shoreham
- Court of the Peculiar of the Rector of Cliffe
- Court of the Exempt Jurisdiction of Wingham
- Court of the Prior and Chapter of Christ Church, Canterbury
- Court of the Bishop (Episcopal Consistory) of London
In addition, the Prerogative Court of the Archbishop of Canterbury had jurisdiction over the whole of England. Wealthier individuals, people who owned property in more than one county or lower court's jurisdiction, people who emigrated but still owned property in England, and Naval personnel often had their estates proven through the Archbishop's court.
Any probate that was disputed and could not be settled by the lower courts could be sent to these higher appeals courts:
The Prerogative Court of the Archbishop of Canterbury was also an appeals court.
Some Explanatory Notes on the Courts in Kent
The Court of the Archdeacon of Canterbury, the Court of the Episcopal consistory of Canterbury, and the Court of the Bishop and the Archdeacon of Rochester technically did not have jurisdiction over the Peculiar of Wingham, the Peculiar of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Episcopal Consistory and Archdeaconry of Rochester, but as the larger courts of original jurisdiction in the county, they will often contain probate records of persons who resided in the other jurisdictions.
The Commissary-General of the Archbishop of Canterbury was the judge of the Court of the Bishop (Episcopal Consistory) of Canterbury. He exercised probate jurisdiction within the diocese of Canterbury, and he also exercised the Archbishop’s prerogative throughout the diocese. Therefore, records of probate that would have normally gone through the Archbishop's court, will be found in the records of the Court of the Bishop of Canterbury, particularly before 1759.
Probate Court Jurisdictions
Before 1858, every town and parish in Kent was under the probate jurisdiction of a primary court and several secondary courts. To find the will of your ancestor who lived or owned property in Kent, see a list of Kent parishes with the pre-1858 courts that had probate jurisdiction over each. Click on the letter for a parish of interest.
Search the courts in the order given. Search indexes first. For indexes covering more than one court, see below. For court-specific indexes, click on the name of a court above.
If you do not know where in Kent your ancestor lived or owned property, search the indexes to each court if necessary. Lastly, search the index to the Prerogative Court of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Before searching probate records, search indexes.
Indexes on the Internet
Here is a list of indexes on the Internet for the county of Kent. None of the indexes are comprehensive, but they will be added to over time.
Printed indexes to probate records may be available in many locations including English county archives and other record repositories, libraries, and the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.
- To access an English county archive, go to Access to Archives or go to GENUKI and search for the archives for Kent or another county of interest.
- For printed indexes that are available through the Family History Library, click on the name of a court above.
Post-1857 Probate Records
Beginning in 1858, the government took over the settlement of estates and all wills are now probated through the Principal Probate Registry system. The system consists of 11 district registry offices and 18 sub-district registries, located throughout England and Wales, and the principal registry office located in London. The records are available through the office of Her Majesty's Courts Service. To learn more, go to the HMCS website.
A country-wide surname index to the records is available, so it is much easier to look for post-1857 wills. The indexes for 1858-1957 and the records for 1858-1925 are available on microfilm at the Family History Library.