Probate Records

By Lisa South - Certified Genealogist

One of my favorite genealogy cartoons shows a lawyer reading a will to a group of people. He reads "being of sound mindey windey". Actually, genealogically, that could be a good thing!! Probate records are all the records created in the disposition of someone's estate. If a will is contested because the person was not of sound "mindey windey" many interesting records will be created!

If a person does not leave a will, he or she is said to have died intestate. Will or no will, if the deceased had real or personal property of any value at the time of death, records will have been created when the estate was disposed of.

Many probate records have been microfilmed and are available through Family History Centers or on the internet. If you are searching in person, probates are usually at the county courthouse. Ask to see the probate docket (or index). When you find your ancestor's name, you will usually find a packet number. Locate the packet with the corresponding number. Inside the packet, the documents created by the administration of your ancestor's estate will be found and sometimes it's quite a find! Probates are what I call 'family' documents because they often deal with a whole family unit (in most other public records you will just find facts about an individual or perhaps an individual and his or her parents or spouse.)

If a will is left (be aware that the will is sometimes filed separately from the probate packet), spouse and children are often named. If a person died intestate, children and spouse may have come forward with proof of their relationship to the deceased.

Usually probates are wonderful records rich with genealogical information but they can be a little frustrating if your ancestor was a person of few words and said something like,"'to my beloved wife and children I leave". This was the case with one of my ancestors but he didn't get the last word. Knowing he left quite a bit of land in his estate and that the wife and children inherited it, I went into the land records and there were his wife and children - all listed by name!

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