Nature of Probate Records

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Probate records are found in various places and formats, including books, periodicals, and collected works. The content itself can vary in nature within these publications, focusing on either a period, a location, or a particular kind of probate record. Some only contain information on wills, while others detail the estate administrations. Some printed works are very detailed, including guardianships, dower rights, inventories, and related records. Some focus on church regions or parishes instead of counties or other jurisdictions. You will find works for specific time periods as well as some that cover longer time spans.

Probate records vary greatly is size and in the kinds and amount of detail provided. Some records are extensive in the information given. Others only list a name and a short reference. An index can just list dates and surnames, or it can have abstracts or extracts from the records. Some records on court actions only reference a date, some include the volume and pages, and some list multiple pages of reference with or without details. Record listings can be organized by location, alphabetically, or chronologically, or by a combination of these. Some have every-name indexes.

A probate records will be published in one of three forms: abstracts, extracts, and transcriptions. Printed probate indexes and research methodology sources can also be found.

It is rare to find a complete transcription of estate documents. Records are usually published as indexes or abstract summaries. These published records serve as a guide to finding the records you are looking for.

Abstracts – An abstract is a short summary of a longer document that includes the most important information. The information in an abstract can include names, dates, places, and relationships of those who are names. A printed record could include witnesses or others who are not heirs but who took part in the proceedings. All records will list what county filed the record, and most will include dates of the court proceedings.

Extracts – Extracts are pieces of the original document quoted verbatim. Some extracts are actual renderings of the whole document from the complete source.

Transcriptions – Transcriptions are printing of the entire proceeding. Printed versions are usually transcribed from handwritten documents. Most, but not all of contemporary transcriptions may be transcribed word-for word.

Indexes – Probate record indexes are designed to help researchers quickly find the information they are seeking. The index can list the names of those individuals who left wills, the volume which carries the will, its first page number, and the date that it was probated.

Research Methodology – Probate publications usually contain an introduction that lists details about the jurisdiction, relevant laws for the time period, and historical background. The printed resources available today have computer-generated indexes, giving a more complete index than older manual indexes. However, you should examine these newer indexes closely for typographical or transcription errors.