South Carolina Probate Records
- 1 Record Synopsis
- 2 History
- 3 State Statutes
- 4 Repositories
- 5 Statewide Record Collections
- 6 Learn More
- 7 References
Probate is the “court procedure by which a will is proved to be valid or invalid” and encompasses “all matters and proceedings pertaining to the administration of estates, guardianships, etc.” Various types of records are created throughout the probate process. These may include, wills, bonds, petitions, accounts, inventories, administrations, orders, decrees, and distributions. These documents are extremely valuable to genealogists and should not be neglected. In many instances, they are the only known source of relevant information such as the decedent’s date of death, names of his or her spouse, children, parents, siblings, in-laws, neighbors, associates, relatives, and their places of residence. They may also include information about adoption or guardianship of minor children and dependents. For further information about the probate process, types of probate records, analyzing probate records, and to access a glossary of probate terms, see United States Probate Records.
Probate records of South Carolina were kept by the secretary of the province prior to 1732, and were later kept by the courts of ordinary and probate courts of each county. Most of the original wills for the colonial period have not survived. Pre-Civil War probate files for Beaufort, Chesterfield, Colleton, Georgetown, Lancaster, and Orangeburg districts were destroyed. However, for the colonial period, dozens of South Carolina wills proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury in London, England have survived.
The following important events affected political / jurisdictional boundaries and record keeping.
- 1670 The first permanent English settlement was made at Albemarle Point (Charles Town).
- 1713-1719 The South Carolina region separated from North Carolina and became a royal colony. Records were kept in Charleston.
- 1769 Nine original judicial districts were established, but records were still kept in Charleston
- 1788 South Carolina became a state. The state government was moved from Charleston to
Columbia in 1790, although some functions remained at Charleston until after the Civil War.
- 1860 South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union. The Civil War began there in 1861.
- 1868 South Carolina was readmitted to the Union. Districts were now called counties.
- A brief history of the settlement of South Carolina and the resultant effects on record keeping can be found on Ancestry. ($)
- A discussion of South Carolina Probate Records written by Johni Cerny and Gareth L. Mark for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources can be found at Ancestry. ($)
Understanding the South Carolina probate laws and how they changed over time can help us learn how the estate was administered, taxed, and distributed and might help to solve difficult genealogical problems.
Additional information about South Carolina state statutes relating to probate matters can be found at law libraries. Online digital versions of state statutes can often be found by conducting a search engine search for the term, "South Carolina statutes."
The county's judge of probate office has probate records of the counties and circuit court districts from 1785 to 1800 and probate records from 1800 to the present.
The South Carolina Department of Archives and History has microfilms or typescripts of probate records for many counties. These include wills, inventories, bills of sale, power of attorneys, bonds, notes, administrations, judgments, and sales records. They have placed Will Transcriptions for 1782 to 1855 online. Not all counties are included. Index searchable by name and the image is available.
Statewide Record Collections
Wills Proved in South Carolina
The following are examples of publications that can help you locate colonial records:
- Holcomb, Brent H. Probate Records of South Carolina. Three Volumes. Easley, South Carolina: Southern Historical Press, 1977-. FHL Book 975.7 P2p. Covers 1746 to 1821; thoroughly indexed.
- Houston, Martha Lou, comp. Indexes to the County Wills of South Carolina. Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina, 1939. Digital version at World Vital Records ($); 1964 reprint: FHL Book 975.7 P22h 1964; Film 908509 item 3; Fiche 6046877. This is an index to most pre-1860 county wills, but omits Charleston County wills.
- Moore, Carolina T., and Agatha Aimar Simmons. Abstracts of the Wills of the State of South Carolina. Three Volumes. Columbia, South Carolina: R. L. Bryan Co., 1960-69. FHL Book 975.7 P2m; Film 1035622 items 1-3; Fiche 6051514. These volumes cover the years 1670 to 1784.
Proved in London
South Carolina wills and administrations proved in London have been abstracted and published multiple times. Each edition is listed here, as some are available online, while others are not. In addition, publishers included more detailed abstracts in some editions than others. The 2007 edition includes a place-name index that enables users to pluck out South Carolina references:
- Coldham, Peter Wilson. English Estates of American Colonists: American Wills and Administrations in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, 1610-1699. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1980. Digital version at Ancestry ($).
- Coldham, Peter Wilson. English Estates of American Colonists: American Wills and Administrations in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, 1700-1799. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1980. Digital version of 1991 reprint available at Ancestry ($).
- Coldham, Peter Wilson. English Estates of American Colonists: American Wills and Administrations in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, 1800-1858. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1981. Digital version at Ancestry ($).
- Coldham, Peter Wilson. American Wills & Administrations in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, 1610-1857. Baltimore, Md.: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1989. FHL Book 942 P27c; digital version at Ancestry ($).
- Coldham, Peter Wilson. American Wills Proved in London, 1611-1775. Baltimore, Md.: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1992. FHL Book 973 P27ca; digital version at Ancestry ($).
- Coldham, Peter Wilson. North American Wills Registered in London, 1611-1857. Baltimore, Md.: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2007. FHL Book 942 P27c 2007.
If you find a will abstact that interests you in Coldham's books, it is now possible to view digital images of the original Prerogative Court of Canterbury wills online at two United Kingdom pay-per-view websites:
- Prerogative Court of Canterbury Wills (1384-1858), courtesy: The National Archives, UK.
- PCC Wills Index and Images (1384-1858), courtesy: The Genealogist. (in progress)
Proved in Edinburgh
The wills of some South Carolina residents were proved in Edinburgh, Scotland, see:
- Dobson, David. Scottish-American Wills, 1650-1900. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1991. FHL Collection, book 973 P22d. Over 2,000 citations including name, occupation, residence, and date.
Most of these references were taken from the Commissariat Court of Edinburgh (now the Sheriff Court of Edinburgh) and the Index to Personal Estates of Defuncts, 1846-1866. If you find a will abstact that interests you in Dobson's book, it is now possible to view digital images of the original records online at a United Kingdom pay-per-view website:
- Wills & Testaments (1513-1901), courtesy: Scotlands People
Additional Statewide Collections
- Lesser, Charles H. South Carolina Begins: The Records of a Proprietary Colony, 1663-1721. Columbia, South Carolina: S.C. Dept. of Archives and History, c1995. FHL book 975.7 H2Lc. Includes index.
- Daughters of the American Revolution (South Carolina). South Carolina Name Index to Genealogical Records Collected by South Carolina Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). Salt Lake City, Utah: Filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1988, c1988. FHL fiche 6052835 (102 fiche).
- Warren, Mary Bondurant. South Carolina Wills, 1670-1853, or Later: Compiled from C.W.A., W.P.A.
Microfilms, and Original Volumes'. Danielsville, Georgia: Heritage Papers, c1981. FHL book 975.7 P22w.
- Bates, Susan Baldwin. Proprietary Records of South Carolina. Charleston, South Carolina: The History Press, c2006. FHL book 975.7 N2b. 2 vol. Includes indexes.
- Moore, Caroline T. Records of the Secretary of the Province of South Carolina, 1692-1721. [S.l. : s.n.], c1978 (Columbia, South Carolina: R.L. Bryan Company). FHL book 975.7 P2mco. Includes full-name index.
- Brimelow, Judith M. and Wylma Anne Wates. South Carolina Will Transcripts, 1782-1868. Columbia, South Carolina: South Carolina Department of Archives and History, 1978-1979, c1980. FHL films beginning with 1433922 Item 1 (31 films). Includes index. Some records are dark, torn and hard to read.
- Esker, Katie-Prince Ward. South Carolina Wills and Other Court Records. Salt Lake City, Utah: Filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1998. FHL film 2055417 Item 5.Includes index.
- South Carolina. Probate Court (Charleston County). South Carolina Wills and Related Probate Matters. . . .1671, 1692-1868. Salt Lake City, Utah: Filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1958-1959. FHL film beginning with 23452 (18 films). Indexes are at front of each volume.
- South Carolina. Surrogate Court (Ninty Six District).Surrogate's Records, 1776-1783. Salt Lake City, Utah: Filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1974. FHL film 954250 Item 25. Index on film 954251 Item 1.
- Brimelow, Judith M. and Wylma A. Wates. South Carolina Will Transcripts, 1782-1868. Columbia, South Carolina : South Carolina Department of Archives and History, c1980. FHL Book 975.7 P27b.
- Flanagan, Shawn M. and National Business Institute. South Carolina Probate: Beyond the Basics. Eau Claire, WI : National Business Institute, 1991. World Cat entry.
- South Carolina Department of Archives and History
8301 Parklane Road
Columbia, SC 29223
Tel: (803) 896-6100
Fax: (803) 896-6198
South Carolina Department of Archives and History
- South Carolina Department of Archives and History
- FindLaw has information on South Carolina State Probate Courts.
- Henry Campbell Black, Black's Law Dictionary, 5th ed. (St. Paul, Minnesota: West Publishing Co., 1979), 1081, "probate."