Connecticut Probate Records
This entry was originally written by Alice Eichholz, Ph.D., CG, in Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.
Connecticut can boast centralization of many research sources and clear jurisdiction on land and vital records. Probate records and finding the correct jurisdiction for a particular time period is more complicated. For the 169 towns, there are currently about 130 probate districts. Jurisdictional lines have changed considerably over the three centuries, but their function has been consistent in probating wills, distributing estates, and appointing guardians.
Before 1698, probates were handled by the General Court (General Assembly) or the secretary of the colony, the particular courts, and then the county courts. When the probate courts were created in 1698, the probate jurisdiction paralleled that of the county, but by 1719 the four original districts started to divide. Each present probate district has a genealogy of its own. Space restrictions in the Town Resources section below necessitate an abbreviated lineage indicating only one parent probate district. A Checklist of Probate Records in the Connecticut State Library delineates the lines of descent for each present district. A new revised edition to this publication, originally done in the mid-twentieth century, has been posted on the Connecticut State Library’s website at www.cslib.org/probate/index.htm. Kemp’s research guide (see Background Sources for Connecticut) also indicates which probate district a town belonged to at different times.
As with all probate records, not only the court record books themselves (clerk’s transcripts of probate proceedings), but the estate papers or files (original wills, receipts, affidavits, etc.) contain essential genealogical information. Most record books remain in the probate clerk’s office with microfilm copies to about 1915 in the Connecticut State Library and the FHL. The exception is New Haven, whose original record books to about 1922 are at the Connecticut State Library instead of the probate clerk’s office. Many of the district estate papers or files to 1900 (some later) have been deposited in the Connecticut State Library. Packets of these original documents have been microfilmed to 1880 (and some to about 1915) and are available on microfilm at both the Connecticut State Library and The Family History Library (FHL). Photocopies of original files are no longer permitted because of their fragile condition. There is a statewide index of these probate packets at the Connecticut State Library.
A printed source for one district is Charles W. Manwaring, A Digest of the Early Connecticut Probate Records, 3 vols. (Hartford: R. S. Peck & Co., 1904–06), which covers the early Hartford probate district records (1635–1750).