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Probate Records Research
Abrams Collection Genealogy Highlights
A PDF version of Probate Records Research is also available.
To family history researchers, the phrase "probate records" often means simply wills, but probate research offers much greater insight into families, their property and the ancestral relationships that genealogy research is built upon. Today, the definition of "probate" has been expanded to include additional documents generated during the probate process, including account sheets, assignments of dower, depositions, estate inventories, executor releases, guardianship petitions, sale bills and, of course, wills.
Probate is a state function, thus the laws across the United States vary from state to state. Here in Michigan, most probate records are available at the local county courthouse. That said, there are a number of counties—including Ingham, Monroe and Wayne—available at the Archives of Michigan; check the Archives' Circular No. 6 for more detailed holdings information. In addition, a number of Michigan county probate records have been indexed and published by local genealogical societies, and are available at the Library of Michigan.
Most states require probate to begin the first term of court following the property owner's death, typically 30 to 90 days after the death. Given this information, researchers can estimate an ancestor's approximate date of death. Additional genealogy clues often found in probate records are an ancestor's previous residence, household items and their value, former spouse(s), religious affiliation, occupation or trade, land ownership, military experience, and the estate's witnesses and executors, who are typically family members. Most importantly, probate records frequently reveal direct evidence on family relationships.
The terminology used in probate research is often a stumbling block for researchers. With the assistance of a legal dictionary, however, researchers can quickly grasp the difference between testate (the deceased left a will) and intestate (no will), how a holographic will (written, dated and signed by testator in own handwriting) compares with a nuncupative one (dictated orally), and the difference between an estate's executor, administrator and guardian. When researching probate records, also remember that not everyone composed a will or owned any property of real value; this is especially true in heavily populated urban areas. As very few statewide probate indexes exist, it is almost necessary to identify the ancestor's county of residence at the date of death.
This publication is a sampling of probate court resources available at the Library of Michigan. Clicking on the links in this publication will take you directly to the ANSWER catalog search results or the catalog record for a specific item. Additional titles may be located by searching ANSWER. The easiest way to locate probate resources in ANSWER is with a keyword search using the word probate or wills, followed by the state or county you are interested in. Here are some additional examples to help maximize your search results:
Black, Henry C. Black's Law Dictionary. 8th ed. St. Paul, MN: West Publishing, 2004.
Pratt, David H. Researching British Probates, 1354-1858: A Guide to the Microfilm Collection of the Family History Library. Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, 1992.
Rapaport, Diane. New England Court Records: A Research Guide for Genealogists and Historians. Burlington, MA: Quill Pen Press, 2006.
Remington, Gordon L. New York State Probate Records: A Genealogist's Guide to Testate and Intestate Records. Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2002.
Rose, Christine. Courthouse Research for Family Historians: Your Guide to Genealogical Treasures. San Jose, CA: CR Publications, 2004.
Druse, Joseph L., and Eleanor B. LeDuc. Abstracts of the Early Probate Records of Ingham County, Michigan, 1838-1869. Lansing: Mid-Michigan Genealogical Society, 1980.
Ford, Virginia S., and Margaret F. Robinson. Abstracts of Kalamazoo, Michigan, Probate Records, 1831-1857. Lansing: Lansing Chapter, DAR, 1979.
Genesee County, Michigan, Surname Index: Probate Court, 1852-1883. Lansing: State Archives of Michigan, 1990.
Hillsdale County (Mich.). Probate Court. Probate Packets, 1900-1914; Probate Index, Hillsdale County. 87 reels. Salt Lake City: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1985.
Muskegon County (Mich.). Probate Court. Probate of Wills, Probate Court, Muskegon County [Mich.]; Unprobated Wills, Muskegon Co., Michigan. 6 reels. Salt Lake City: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1983.
Muszynski, Shirley, and Dan Muszynski. Wills Recorded in Deed Books in Monroe County, Michigan: With Index. 5 vols. Erie: S. & D. Muszynski, 1995.
Probate Records from Archives of Wayne County, Michigan. 3 vols. Detroit: Louisa St. Clair Chapter, DAR, 1936.
Saint Clair County, Michigan, Surname Index: Probate, 1828-1872. Lansing: State Archives of Michigan, 1990.
Serrell, Alice D. Abstracts of Probate Files in the Probate Court, Oakland County, Michigan. 2 vols. Pontiac: General Richardson Chapter, DAR, 1956.
Sherman, Alonzo J., comp. Index to Probate Records, Iosco County, Michigan, 1859-1906. Oscoda: Huron Shores Genealogical Society, 2003.
Van Buren County (Mich.). Probate Court. Van Buren County Record of Guardianship. 1 reel. Salt Lake City: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1983.
Abstracts of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Wills. 2 vols. Westminster, MD: Family Line Publications, 1995.
Annable, Edward L. Pope County, Illinois, Probate Records, 1816-1835. Cypress, IL: E.L. Annable, 1994.
Austin, Jeannette H. Georgia Intestate Records. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1986.
Bell, Carol W. Ohio Wills and Estates to 1850: An Index. Columbus, OH: C.W. Bell, 1981.
Field, Edward. Index to the Probate Records of the Municipal Court of the City of Providence, Rhode Island: From 1646 to and Including the Year 1899. 1902. Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1998.
Hughes, Lois E., comp. Wills Filed in Probate Court, Hamilton County, Ohio, 1791-1901. 2 vols. Bowie, MD: Heritage Books, 1991.
Mitchell, Thornton W. North Carolina Wills: A Testator Index, 1665-1900. Rev. ed. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1992.
Moore, Caroline T., and Agatha A. Simmons. comps. Abstracts of the Wills of the State of South Carolina. 3 vols. Charleston, SC: C.T. Moore, 1960-1969.
Ohio. Probate Court (Hamilton County). Index to Administration Dockets. 1 reel. Cincinnati: Hamilton County Probate Court, 1937-1963.
Rodgers, Robert H. Middlesex County in the Colony of the Massachusetts Bay in New England: Records of Probate and Administration, March 1660/61 - December 1670. Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2001.
Torrence, Clayton. Virginia Wills and Administrations, 1632-1800: An Index of Wills Recorded in Local Courts …. 1930. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1965.
Coldham, Peter W., comp. American Wills Proved in London, 1611-1775. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1992.
---. American Wills & Administrations in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, 1610-1857. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1989.
Phillimore, W.P.W., and Gertrude Thrift, eds. Indexes to Irish Wills. 1909-1920. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1970.
Zuefelt, Bill, ed. Court of Probate: Registers and Estate Files at the Archives of Ontario, 1793-1859—An Index for Genealogical Research. Toronto: Ontario Genealogical Society, 1986.
Archives of Michigan
Bouvier Law Dictionary
Cyndi's List: Wills & Probate
St. Louis Probate Court Digitization Project
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