Probate records can be any kind of document used in an individuals’ estate settlement in court. The amount of documents and their contents can differ depending on the time period. If here is a large amount of property to settle, then multiple jurisdictions may carry records. These records are rarely found together in one place.
Following are possible documents found in probate court records:
|• will and associated records|
• list of heirs
• letters testamentary
• widow’s one-year support
• appointment(s) of administrator(s) or executor(s)
|• letters of administration|
• dower apportionments
• commissioners’ reports
• division of property
• estate sale(s)
Because probate records usually involve close family members and sometimes verification of those relationships, they are valuable resourced for genealogical research. A robust collection of information can be found, such as documentation of lineage, and sometimes these records can help you find other documents. You can also receive fast access to the records if they are published.
The opposite can also be true; if you are expecting to find important family details, but the testator did not document many details about relatives, probate records can be a disappointment rather than a treasure. Sometimes the estate is just not very large; sometimes relatives contest a will, making the facts hard to determine; and sometimes the property is sold off to pay outstanding debt. On some occasions, the records could be missing.
Regardless of these potential set-backs, probate records are still the most popular among genealogical researchers. Because so much personal information can be found, it is the most obvious place to begin looking. Rich biographical information can be found for the deceased family member as well as all of the relatives who are heirs. This can help you identify maiden names and married names of women that can link you to maternal family lineage, previous addresses, and ethnic origin.
When you begin requesting probate records from the court, be sure that you don’t narrow your results by asking to see a “will.” Most clerks will carry out this request quite literally and will give you only the will, even if there are various other documents in the file. You could be missing out on important information if you do not request the entire file