By Kimberly Brown, Family Historian
Probate records are a genealogical gold mine. If you're researching early American ancestors, probate records may be the only records that specify family relationships! That being said, some of the terminology associated with probate records can be unfamiliar and intimidating. Probate records seem to have their own language! For that reason, let's take some of the fear factor out of probate records by introducing some basic concepts and terms:
. testator - the one who leaves a will (a woman leaving a will is referred to as a testatrix)
. When someone dies intestate, they die without having left a will.
. executor - the person named by the testator to carry out the instructions in the will (a female executor is called an executrix)
. administrator - when someone dies intestate, the probate court appoints an administrator to divide up his or her estate (a female administrator is called an administratrix)
. A probate court or surrogate court handles probate cases and administrations of estates, supervising the administering of property to heirs, judging the validity of wills, etc.
. In some counties when someone dies intestate their case is handled by the orphans court or court of ordinary.
. inventory - a list of property that is made by people with no claim to the property; the list is used to divide up property among heirs (or in preparation for sale)
. real property - also called real estate, real property is all non-moveable property such as land and buildings
. personal property - moveable property such as household goods, livestock, etc. (in early slave-owning America, slaves were listed in probate records as personal property)
. A will is made while someone is still living, and it is proved after his or her death. This means that a will can be made many years before it is proved.
. codicil - an addition or amendment made to a will that overrules the previous terms of the will