By Shannon Combs-Bennett, Student
The first three modules of the course US: Probate Records covered a lot of historical information and background on probate records in the U.S. It was fascinating to learn about why and how the laws concerning probate records evolved over time from Colonial to the modern era. It was obviously just a scratch of the surface since each state and jurisdiction is different but now students in this course have a great foundation to build on.
Being originally an English colony, many of the U.S. laws are based on the English ones brought over with the colonists, particularly the idea of common law. Now, I grew up hearing this word bandied about frequently. Mainly it was in reference to common law marriages, but still it is a term that many people are familiar with. Familiar, yes, but I would guess that not everyone knows exactly what it means.
According to the course “common law governed the land.” It appears to have evolved here in the U.S. as a way that the land is divided (there are actually multiple ways covered in the course) after a person’s death. However, each colony, and now each state, had their own laws and ways they liked to conduct probate matters. Which is why we all know nothing is ever as simple as it seems. If we are going to do extensive research into probate records we, as good genealogists, will need to brush up on the laws and regulations of the state we are researching in!
Thankfully the first module included a glossary of terms for the students to use. While I think it could be a bit more comprehensive it was a good general list and I referred back to it frequently. I am considering making a copy of it and adding to it as I research. This is something I have done with other research areas and I find it handy and very helpful.
Also, check out this great resource from the FamilySearch website, Glossary of United States Probate Terms. A great addition to the terms and ideas covered in this course. Of course, these past few modules remind me that I really do need to get a copy of Black’s Law Dictionary for my bookshelf. You can find it online, but I still like physical books for many things.
See you online!