This issue takes a deep dive into the many types of probate records that can reveal details about ancestors. While some records are online, not all are indexed, and thorough probate research requires checking multiple sources.
Nancy A. Peters provides a summary of nine basic types of probate records besides wills: petitions, bonds, letters of administration or letters testamentary, inventories, appraisements, accounts, orders for sale of real estate, sale bills, and final settlements or distributions. Her four examples demonstrate the value of these records, and her list of strategies to try when no probate records are found offers useful tips.
Enslaved people were considered assets and treated as personal property in probate proceedings and equity cases. Enslavers’ probate records may identify the names, ages, relationships, origins, occupations, and other characteristics of enslaved people, whether implied or specified, that could lead to further research. LaBrenda Garrett-Nelson gives examples and describes the role of intestate law in tracing ownership, locating and surveying relevant probate files, and making reasonable inferences.
The vocabulary of probate records, like other legal records, is often unfamiliar, causing researchers to overlook valuable information. Judy Russell outlines a process for working effectively with legal terminology: transcribing the record to study each word in context, reviewing relevant laws to learn why the record was created, and using contemporary legal dictionaries to ensure correct understanding.
While probate in most US states is based on the county, New England’s jurisdictional history makes locating records more complex. Rhode Island probate is kept within each town, Connecticut’s probate districts include several towns, and some of Vermont’s counties have two probate courts. In several New England states, probate records are held in unexpected places due to prior jurisdictions. Six New England genealogists profile their state's probate system, major changes, and access to records.
Estate inventories, appraisements, and sale bills can offer details about an ancestor’s home, possessions, lifestyle, work, socio-economic status, people in the household, neighbors, and relatives. In her column, Kathy Petlewski shows how the information in these records can be used for multiple purposes.
In the Society Forum column, Rhonda Hoffman discusses creative methods used by societies to acquire content for their publications.
Paul Woodbury’s DNA Discovery column presents a thorough explanation of how autosomal DNA testing can indicate misattributed parentage and how to prove or disprove this probability.
- Beyond the Will: What Probate Records Reveal about Ancestors by Nancy A. Peters, CG, CGL
- Gleaning Information about Enslaved Ancestors from Probate Files by LaBrenda Garrett-Nelson, JD, LLM, CG, FASG
- No Longer “All Greek to Me”: Dealing with Legal Lingo in Probate Records by Judy G. Russell, JD, CG, CGL
- Probate Research in New England
- Introduction, by Bryna O’Sullivan
- Connecticut, by Bryna O’Sullivan
- Maine by Helen Shaw, CG
- Massachusetts by Sara E. Campbell
- New Hampshire by Robert Cameron Weir
- Rhode Island by Diane Boumenot
- Vermont by Ann D. Watson
- PRESIDENT'S MESSAGE by Kathryn M. Doyle
- EDITOR'S NOTE by Deb Cyprych
- NGS NEWS
- Becoming a Better Researcher: Introducing NGS Foundations in Family History by Terry Koch-Bostic
- REFERENCE DESK
- Estate Inventories: Windows into Ancestors’ Lives by Kathy Petlewski, MSLS
- SOCIETY FORUM
- Genealogical Society Publications: Creative and Successful Strategies for Acquiring Content by Rhonda Hoffman, MLS
- DNA DISCOVERY
- Broken Branches: Detecting Cases of Misattributed Parentage with DNA Evidence by Paul Woodbury