Researchers visiting the library often ask what historic wills are available, and for what counties. The following is a detailed explanation about availability, how wills are indexed, and how a will search in the SC Room works.
Wills on Microfilm: The SC Room has a large collection of Charleston County wills spanning from 1670 to 1868, which are indexed and available on microfilm for viewing. Wills more recent than 1868 are available at Charleston County Probate Court. We also have a set of wills on microfilm for other counties spanning from 1670 to approximately 1853. The series, which is entitled “South Carolina Wills,” includes the following counties: 96 District, Abbeville, Anderson, Barnwell, Chester, Darlington, Laurens, Edgefield, Fairfield, Greenville, Horry, Kershaw, Marion, Marlboro, Newberry, Pickens, Richland, Spartanburg, Sumter, Union, Winton, Williamsburg, and York.
Book Sources: Volumes of will abstracts and probate records are available for many counties. An example is “Will abstracts for Chester County, 1787-1838.” The books usually do not include complete wills, but are helpful because they often reference wills that may not survive but are mentioned in other kinds of probate or county records. To see what is available, visit the library’s catalog at www.ccpl.org.
We’ve also put together a brief list of research resources regarding Lowcountry-area wills held by the South Carolina Room for your convenience.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Q: Why can’t I find any old wills for certain counties? A: Unfortunately, many records were destroyed or lost during the Civil War; consequently, wills don’t survive prior to 1865 for those locations. Courthouses across the state were also destroyed during the Civil War. In addition, some counties sent their records to Columbia for safe keeping during the war, and records were later destroyed when the city was burned in 1865.
Q. How can I find out how far the wills go back for my county? A: Researchers can call the probate courts or visit their websites to see what is available. There is also a helpful website that lists what kinds of records survive for each county in South Carolina. Visit FamilySearch.org’s South Carolina Wiki and click on a county on the interactive map to find out more about extant records for that county.
Q. I heard that all the wills for South Carolina were kept in Charleston until after the Revolution. Is that true and how are they indexed now? A: It is true that Charleston was the probate center of the state because it served as the capitol of South Carolina until 1782. Researchers interested in wills prior to 1785 for counties other than Charleston should check both the “South Carolina Wills” index (county list included above) and “Charleston County Wills” index, which cover the wills from when Charleston was the capitol.
Q. What is the Court of the Ordinary? A: The Court of the Ordinary is basically the old name for probate court. This court served the same function as a probate court.
Q. I’m confused–which indexes do I need to consult to find the will I’m interested in? A: There are three main index volumes for full wills available in the SC Room. “South Carolina Wills” includes counties from all over the state until about 1853. “Charleston County Wills” is from the city’s capitol period and therefore includes wills from Charleston County and others. These first two overlap greatly, but researchers should check both. The last is “Charleston County Wills, 1670-1868”, and includes all surviving wills for Charleston County from the period. It’s a good idea to check all three indexes. When in doubt, ask a staff member. They can direct you to the index volumes and clear up any confusion.