Saturday, May 30, 2015

May 27th Program Review - "Probate Records"

Over 40 members and guests attended the CVGS program on 27 May 2015 at Bonita-Sunnyside Library to hear "Probate Records - My Favorite Record Type" presented by CVGS member Randy Seaver.

This talk covered three main topics:

1) Why do you want to obtain Probate Records?  Randy noted that they help define family relationships in an official court document, they may provide death dates and locations, they may provide married daughters' surnames, they may provide insight into literacy, belongings and real property, and they may provide occupations and signatures.

2)  What are Probate Records?  He said that they are court records created after a person's death for the purpose of distributing the real and personal estate to heirs and creditors, usually filed in a county court, according to state law at the time of the event.  Estates are either testate (there is a valid will) or Intestate (there is no valid will).  Randy described the proceedings required for both testate and intestate cases, the widow's dower rights, inheritance guidelines for intestate cases, guardianship proceedings, etc.  Each event in a probate case may generate one or more pieces of paper, each submitted to the court for approval, and these papers make up the estate case file.  

Randy showed and read text from three wills of his ancestors to illustrate the content and variety encountered in colonial and more modern wills.  He also described and showed several of the papers that might be in an intestate case file.  

3)  Where can you find Probate Records?  Indexes of probate records may be found online, at a library or repository in published or periodical form, and in local courthouses.  Actual probate records - the estate case files - are usually in the county probate court or in a state archive.  Court clerk transcriptions of some of the original documents are also in the county probate court.  Microfilms of probate court records for many counties are available at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, and can be borrowed at a local FamilySearch Library.  Other repositories may have microfilms also.  He worked through finding an ancestor's will in Norfolk County, Ontario on FHL microfilm.

FamilySearch has digitized probate court records for about 30 states from the microfilms, but these record collections have to be browsed - think of them as "digital microfilm."  To use them, the records are "waypointed" by county, then by the case numbers or by the court volume numbers.  The key is to use the Estate Index" to find the name of the deceased, note the proceedings index volume and page, search the proceedings index for the deceased name, note the record type, court volume numbers and page numbers, and then access the court volumes and find the records on the pages.  Randy worked through one example from Pennsylvania probate records on FamilySearch. also has probate and estate databases, but has few actual probate case papers.  Other online sites may have case file indexes and, in some cases, digitized probate case files or court volumes.

In conclusion, Randy noted that:

*   Probate records are really valuable genealogical records, 
*  Not all probate records are available on microfilm or online - you may have  to visit a courthouse or archive to access them
*  It is important to know the state probate laws at the time of the deceased's demise.h
*  It is important to know the jurisdiction - state or territory, county, town, etc. - at the time of the deceased's demise. 

Randy has a page on his Genea-Musings blog with his transcriptions of probate and other records of his ancestors - see

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