North Carolina Probate Records

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This entry was originally written by Johni Cerny and Gareth L. Mark for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.

This article is part of
the North Carolina Family History Research series.
History of North Carolina
North Carolina Vital Records
Census Records for North Carolina
Background Sources for North Carolina
North Carolina Maps
North Carolina Land Records
North Carolina Probate Records
North Carolina Court Records
North Carolina Tax Records
North Carolina Cemetery Records
North Carolina Church Records
North Carolina Military Records
North Carolina Periodicals, Newspapers, and Manuscript Collections
North Carolina Archives, Libraries, and Societies
Ethnic Groups of North Carolina
North Carolina County Resources
Map of North Carolina


Probate records are generally of two types: wills and estate records. Estate records include both recorded and “loose” documents relating to a decedent’s estate, such as inventories, divisions of estates, sales of real or personal property, and other documents. Some of this material is recorded in bound books under various titles. Although bound books generally remain in the county, many have been microfilmed and are available at the North Carolina State Archives and the FHL. However, for each county there may be surviving original wills and loose estate papers that have been transferred to the North Carolina State Archives. They are filed by county alphabetically by the surname of the decedent, and may be examined in the Search Room of the archives.

North Carolina early wills were filed with the secretary of state prior to 1760. For summarized abstracts, see J. B. Grimes, Abstracts of North Carolina Wills, 1690 to 1760 (reprint; Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1967), and William Perry Johnson, “Grimes Wills: Major Additions and Corrections,” Journal of North Carolina Genealogy 11 (1965) and 12 (1966) and North Carolina Genealogy 13 (1967) and 14 (1968).

After 1760, wills were recorded in North Carolina counties, with the county court assuming the jurisdiction over probate matters from 1760 to 1868. After 1868, probate jurisdiction was transferred to the clerk of the superior court in each county. Some early probate records can be obtained from the clerk of the superior court in individual counties; however, pre-1868 original records have been sent to the North Carolina State Archives for preservation and copies of all records are available there. The FHL also has an extensive collection of wills and other probate records on microfilm. Thornton W. Mitchell, North Carolina Wills: A Testator Index, 1665–1900, 2 vols. (1987; rev. ed. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1992) is a statewide index to all known wills probated during that period.

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