canstockphoto16180022 downloaded 3 January 2015

We’re still working with previous research records. This week’s challenge concerns the probate records you have on file for your ancestor.

Perhaps you found a copy of your ancestor’s will in a county wills book. Congratulations, but it’s not enough. That will is most likely a copy written by the clerk into the wills book. The original might be found in the estate file.

I found a will in a county wills book. It left the entire estate to one person. On further checking, I discovered the inheritor had died BEFORE the testator (the person who wrote the will), so the estate went to the testator’s entire family.

Had I quit searching once I found the copy in the wills book, I would have missed linking up all of the testator’s brothers, sisters, nieces, and nephews!

Probate records may be found at the county, state, historical society, or in some states like Connecticut, a probate district. They may be in record books. The pieces of the file may be scattered in a number of places. Some items may be grouped in an estate file.

Have you found ALL the probate records for your ancestor. Some of these include:

  • Letters Testamentary giving the executor authority to settle the estate
  • Appointment of Administrator – the court appoints someone to administer an intestate estate
  • Petition for Probate
  • The Will
  • Notices of Publication (published in newspaper)
  • Guardianship records
  • Inventory of the estate
  • Receipts signed by heirs acknowledging receipt of their portion of the estate
  • Sheriff’s sale of deceased’s land to pay outstanding debts
  • Final accounting

Some probate records are online. See, “Where There’s A Will, There’s A Way: Courthouse Records Online.”

Things to consider:

Be aware that all family members may not be named in a will. When a person with property died without a will, the heirs may be named.

If the deceased’s children are minors, check for guardianship appointments, even if their mother was still alive. Judy Russell, the Legal Genealogist, recently posted some great information about guardianship in her blogs, “The avuncular guardian,” and “The exceptions.”

Check for a probate even if your ancestor didn’t own any land.

Don’t ignore the inventory list. What can you determine about the man or his family by examining the inventory list? Notice those who purchase the inventory items. Often they are family members.

If the deceased owned land out of state, check for probate records in that state as well.

Check deeds books for a sheriff’s sale. The grantor index may list the sheriff’s name, rather than the deceased’s.

If you’d like to learn more about researching in probate records, see the guide published by the Nebraska State Historical Society titled, “Probate Records Research at the Nebraska State Historical Society (NSHS).” 

What information have you found by re-examining the probate records of your ancestor?