Friday, March 18, 2016

The 21 Day Genealogy Challenge -- Day 19: Wills and Probate Records

"In this world nothing can be said to be certain, 
except death and taxes. -- Benjamin Franklin

Welcome to day 19 of the 21 Day Genealogy Challenge.  Today I want to turn your attention to Wills and Probate Records.  I will admit I am not an expert in either of these areas, but I do know their importance to genealogical research, and will provide you with a brief explanation of why you will want to seek these sources out.  


Whether or not you have written a will, been mentioned in a will, or ever actually seen a will, chances are you know what one is.  By definition, a will is a legal document giving instruction on how to disperse the money and property of an individual after he/she is deceased. 
The naming of family members is a huge reason for wanting to view our ancestor's will.   Keep in mind, not all immediate family members will be named in a will, and it is quite possible we may come across a few names we don’t recognize.  How can this be?  Well, sometimes parents outlive their children.  There may have been a family quarrel and both parent and child parted ways.  A spouse may have died, and it is quite possible that a new spouse is listed.  There is also the chance that we may stumble upon the names of nieces, nephews, brothers and sisters identified in the will. For these reasons, it is important that we pay close attention and keep detailed notes as we peruse the document.

Property and assets are also listed in wills; however, there may not be a lot listed for the simple fact that there was not a lot to give.  Nonetheless, it is important to keep track of this kind of information, if only for the fact that we should be interested in knowing what sort of life our ancestor’s lead.  A will can give us a clue to their financial status and relationship with their family members.

Probate Records

Probate involves the distribution of an ancestor’s assets.  If there was a will, it will be reviewed and made valid by the court.   If there is no will, then the court will appoint someone to do an inventory of the deceased’s belongings and sort out distribution of property.  

Let’s say your ancestor did not leave a will.  In cases such as this, a probate record is created to give an account of what your ancestor owned.  The record will also list the debts he/she had at the time of death.  Before distribution of assets to heirs could be given, the debts would be satisfied. These details are revealed in the probate records.  

I have found probate records to be wonderful in identifying not only the items my ancestor’s owned, but the properties, as well.  Seeing how the land was divided among the heirs, is also very interesting, and can lead to further investigation into land records.

I am currently in the process of learning more about probate records and where to go to access them. has recently released a large number of these records, so the first place you may want to search is their database.  They also have a wonderfully detailed explanation regarding probate records in their Support Center.

If you are interested in learning more about wills and probate records, I suggest reading Probing into Probate Records, by Kimberly Powell.  Her explanation is spot on and will be of great help to you in understanding these two types of sources. 

Here is your 5 Point Review:
  • Do further reading and research regarding wills and probate records.
  • Investigate and identify an ancestor who has left a will or has a probate record.
  • Review any documents pertaining to your ancestor and make notes regarding the information you have discovered.
  • Obtain copies of your ancestor's will or probate record.
  • Share your newly obtained information in your family tree.  

 Congratulations! You have completed day 19 of the 21 Day Genealogy Challenge!  

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to post them in the Blog Comment section below.  Invite your friends and family to join this challenge by sharing this blog with them on Google+, Twitter and Facebook.  The share icons are just below this blog entry.

Thank you for joining this challenge and remember…..

History not shared is History forgotten!