Probate Records

Quick Summary

Possible Direct Evidence

  • Person's death date

  • Names of family members

  • Family relationships

  • Names of children’s spouses

  • Residence

  • Adoption or guardianship of minors

  • Value of land & property

  • Occupation, religion, or military service

Possible Indirect Evidence 

  • Estimated date of death – between date of the will and date of probate (usually closer to probate date)

  • Names of Executors, witnesses, etc. might be a relative

  • Are other locations mentioned? It may be a prior or family residence.

  • If a grandchild inherits something, the parent might be deceased or a single mother.

  • If probate records include a list of items sold or accounts settled, the people involved may be the wife, children, etc.

  • Negative evidence – i.e., the lack of an heir named. Caution: this can be for multiple reasons. Elder sons and married daughters might be omitted, having already received something.


Research Tips & Where to Find Probate Records

  • Prior to 1900, estates were probated for about 25% of heads of household, so almost 50% of the population is listed in a will. Wills were more common in rural areas. (From the FS Wiki)

  • The wife in a will may not be the mother of all the children named.

  • Terms of relationship weren’t always literal, ex. infant=minor, cousin=nephew or other relation, children may be step-children

  • If minors were mentioned, the estate may not be settled until after they reached adulthood.

  • A signature, if original, can help to match the individual with other records

  • If an heir isn’t mentioned or receives little, check earlier tax & land records for a property transfer.

  • In an intestate case, the distribution records can be very beneficial – it lists property each person received and possibly their residence. Those people were often heirs or other relatives.


Where to Find Them:

In Depth
More coming soon...