The National Institute for Genealogical Studies

LEADERS IN ONLINE GENEALOGY EDUCATION

The National Institute for Genealogical Studies - LEADERS IN ONLINE GENEALOGY EDUCATION

Getting Started with US Probate Records

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series US Probate Records
Arlington National Cemetery by Shannon Combs-Bennett. Used with permission.

Arlington National Cemetery by Shannon Combs-Bennett. Used with permission.

By Shannon Combs-Bennett, Student

I collect dead people. I know, I know, that sounds all sorts of weird, but as genealogists we spend a lot of time with those who have passed. We collect their statistics, their stories and well, really we collect their lives. One of the records that is on the list of must-have’s for genealogists are probate records.

Unfortunately, not everyone left a will or a record at their time of death. This can be horribly frustrating for us as researchers when we are trying to connect one generation to another. When we do find that amazing record, that lists ALL of the children, we rejoice in the only way we know how. By doing more research.

My luck with probate records is few and far between. Of the ones I have found they either are so ambiguous it leaves you wondering if this was the right family or so detailed it makes me scream and shout. Sometimes it makes you wish there was a set way to do things, or consistent laws in place on what is required!

I am looking forward to taking the US: Probate Records course. Perhaps I will find new places to research or fill in some gaps in my knowledge so I will be better at finding these elusive records.  I particularly want to learn where and how to search for records that were recorded before death certificates became the norm. My only roadblock will be that not everyone had a will, but I will hold out hope that my family loved to leave these types of records.

So here I go. Stay tuned to learn about what I find out!

Learning More About the Law

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series US Probate Records
Law Library of the Library of Congress in the U.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C. Library of Congress. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3b17241

Law Library of the Library of Congress in the U.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C. Library of Congress. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3b17241

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!

 

Learning More About Probate in the States

This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series US Probate Records
Probate notice for Mary Pitman, single woman. Library of Congress.  http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.02917

Probate notice for Mary Pitman, single woman. Library of Congress. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.02917

By Shannon Combs-Bennett, Student

Up to this point in the US: Probate Records course we have learned a lot about the history and laws of the U.S. concerning probate situations. There were a lot of terms, examples, and information in the first three modules but I managed to make it through. The next two modules contained a directory of states which broke out information even more and concluded with a bibliographic resource list in Module 6.

The directory will be a useful tool for me in the future as I research my family across the country. Each entry gave a brief description of what information you can usually find, where it is typically located and any interesting facts about the state. Particularly useful is the information on lost record locations. We all know of counties or towns that have lost records due to natural disasters or war. There are records still being lost today due to fire, flood, or neglect.  It makes us look outside of our comfort zones for more potential records, but it is nice to know some of the possible problems up front before you start looking for something that no longer exists.

Finally, in Module 6 the course concludes with a directory of websites and books that are useful for research in each of the states. It is not a complete listing because let’s face it, that would be hundreds of pages long!  This listing contains larger inclusive books for the states and in particular indexes.  A few states do not have listings though since they only had county books or websites and nothing for statewide research.

I think I will take the weekend and see what I can find for some of my ancestors in the resources listed here. It will be a great way to put what I learned into practical application.  Look for my next post to see what I found!

See you online!

 

Finishing Up US: Probate Records

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series US Probate Records
Probate court room, Wayne County Building, Detroit. Library of Congress. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/det.4a09788

Probate court room, Wayne County Building, Detroit. Library of Congress. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/det.4a09788

By Shannon Combs-Bennett, Student

I have to say I had a lot of fun digging through the online probate resources for my family members after completing the US: Probate Records course.  I limited my afternoon search to online repositories since research into probate records for my family would take a plane ride or many long hours in a vehicle. With that being said, I think I hit the jackpot in a couple places.

If you are in the same predicament that I am where your ancestors lived in different states, don’t forget that you can find books online. First place I always try is Google Books. They have quite a few older research books on there that you can read and download. Next I try WorldCat  because I might get lucky and see that a nearby library has the books I am looking for, or maybe they will inter-library loan it to me. Of course, don’t forget the Internet Archive for those out-of-print genealogy books.  I have found so many great resources on these pages and I know you will too!

Since the majority of my family have lived in Indiana I decided to start there. Lucky for me, the books that are quoted as references to this section are now online at Ancestry.com. In fact, as I wrote this blog, Ancestry.com released their new probate collection. So, yeah, I went there and hit the jackpot.  Right now I am at a 25% success rate on searches for my Indiana ancestors but I am finding things!

With so many probate records now online with Ancestry.com I think I will be searching here for a while.  When those sources dry up I will need to look at physical locations. I guess that means a road trip is in my future!  Poor me.

If you are working to your American Records Certificate you will take this course. I enjoyed it and thought the information was presented well and in an easy to understand manner. If you are still learning what probate means, how inheritance works, and have a ton of questions you will get a lot out of this course.  As a history lover I enjoyed the background information and may need to beef up my research bookshelf on that subject. I have room next to my small collection of obituary books.

See you online!

 

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