Essex Probate Records
For a general explanation of probate records in England, click here.
Probate is the legal process by which the estate of a deceased person is distributed to his or her heirs. The Church of England ecclesiastical courts had authority for this process until to 1858. Beginning in 1858, authority over probate matters was taken from ecclesiastical courts and put under the civil authority of the Principal Probate Registry. The Post-1857 Probate Records section below contains links to additional information about the records of this court.
To look for a probate record before 1858:
- Discover when and where your ancestor died. If you don’t know, use the approximate date and place where they lived.
- Go to Court Jurisdictions section below.
- Click a letter or span of letters for your place name. This opens a jurisdictions table.
- Follow the instructions on the jurisdictions table page.
Essex Probate Courts
The following probate courts had some jurisdiction over the county of Essex prior to 1858:
- Court of the Archdeaconry of Essex
- Court of the Archdeaconry of Colchester
- Court of the Archdeaconry of Middlesex (Essex & Hertfordshire Division)
- Court of the Commissary of the Bishop of London (Essex & Hertfordshire Division)
- Court of the Bishop of London (Episcopal Consistory)
- Court of the Peculiar of the Liberty of the Sokens
- Court of the Peculiar of the Deanery of Bocking
- Court of the Peculiar of Good Easter
- Court of the Peculiar of Writtle with Roxwell
- 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
- Court of the Peculiar of Havering-atte-Bower (or Hornchurch)
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, 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 county courts could be sent to these higher appeals courts:
Some Explanatory Notes on the Courts in Essex
Probate records for the first nine courts listed above are located at the Essex Record Office.
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.
Essex Parishes and Their Probate Jurisdictions
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.
Before looking for a will, you should search an index.
A general will index for Essex County is available online. This single index consolidates just about all Essex county wills of the various probate court jurisdictions into one database.
This online website is a listing of a few transcribed wills.
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.
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. Between 1813-1858 estate duty indexes may help locate a will. For more information, go to Estate Duty Records.
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.