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Probate Records Research

Abrams Collection Genealogy Highlights
Summer 2007
Volume 9, Number 3

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:

General Research Guides

Black, Henry C. Black's Law Dictionary. 8th ed. St. Paul, MN: West Publishing, 2004.
Law KF 156 .B53 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.
Genealogy CS 434 .P7 1992
Vol. 1: Northern England/Province of York.

Rapaport, Diane. New England Court Records: A Research Guide for Genealogists and Historians. Burlington, MA: Quill Pen Press, 2006.
Genealogy F 3 .R37 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.
Genealogy F 118 .R44 2002

Rose, Christine. Courthouse Research for Family Historians: Your Guide to Genealogical Treasures. San Jose, CA: CR Publications, 2004.
Genealogy CS 49 .R66 2004

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Michigan

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.
Michigan F 572 .I5 D7 1838z

Ford, Virginia S., and Margaret F. Robinson. Abstracts of Kalamazoo, Michigan, Probate Records, 1831-1857. Lansing: Lansing Chapter, DAR, 1979.
Michigan F 572 .K2 F66 1979

Genesee County, Michigan, Surname Index: Probate Court, 1852-1883. Lansing: State Archives of Michigan, 1990.
Michigan Documents F 572 .G3 G5 1990

Hillsdale County (Mich.). Probate Court. Probate Packets, 1900-1914; Probate Index, Hillsdale County. 87 reels. Salt Lake City: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1985.
Genealogy Microfilm F 572 .H6 H5 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.
Genealogy Microfilm F 572 .M9 P7 1983

Muszynski, Shirley, and Dan Muszynski. Wills Recorded in Deed Books in Monroe County, Michigan: With Index. 5 vols. Erie: S. & D. Muszynski, 1995.
Michigan F 572 .M7 M85 1995
Covers 1847 to 1920.

Probate Records from Archives of Wayne County, Michigan. 3 vols. Detroit: Louisa St. Clair Chapter, DAR, 1936.
Michigan F 572 .W4 P76 1936

Saint Clair County, Michigan, Surname Index: Probate, 1828-1872. Lansing: State Archives of Michigan, 1990.
Michigan Documents F 572 .S3 S33 1990

Serrell, Alice D. Abstracts of Probate Files in the Probate Court, Oakland County, Michigan. 2 vols. Pontiac: General Richardson Chapter, DAR, 1956.
Michigan F 572 .O2 S477 1956

Sherman, Alonzo J., comp. Index to Probate Records, Iosco County, Michigan, 1859-1906. Oscoda: Huron Shores Genealogical Society, 2003.
Michigan F 572 .I63 S44 2003

Van Buren County (Mich.). Probate Court. Van Buren County Record of Guardianship. 1 reel. Salt Lake City: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1983.
Genealogy Microfilm F 572 .V3 M5 1983
Covers ca. 1845 to 1866.

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Other States

Abstracts of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Wills. 2 vols. Westminster, MD: Family Line Publications, 1995.
Genealogy F 157 .L2 W84 1995
Covers 1732 to 1820.

Annable, Edward L. Pope County, Illinois, Probate Records, 1816-1835. Cypress, IL: E.L. Annable, 1994.
Genealogy F 547 .P7 A67 1994

Austin, Jeannette H. Georgia Intestate Records. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1986.
Genealogy F 285 .A8895 1986

Bell, Carol W. Ohio Wills and Estates to 1850: An Index. Columbus, OH: C.W. Bell, 1981.
Genealogy F 478 .B44

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.
Genealogy F 89 .P9 P88 1998

Hughes, Lois E., comp. Wills Filed in Probate Court, Hamilton County, Ohio, 1791-1901. 2 vols. Bowie, MD: Heritage Books, 1991.
Genealogy F 497 .H2 H85 1991

Mitchell, Thornton W. North Carolina Wills: A Testator Index, 1665-1900. Rev. ed. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1992.
Genealogy F 253 .M57 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.
Genealogy F 268 .M66 1960
Covers 1670 to 1784.

Ohio. Probate Court (Hamilton County). Index to Administration Dockets. 1 reel. Cincinnati: Hamilton County Probate Court, 1937-1963.
Genealogy Microfilm F 490 .O35 Reel 210-168

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.
Genealogy F 72 .M7 R643 2001

Torrence, Clayton. Virginia Wills and Administrations, 1632-1800: An Index of Wills Recorded in Local Courts …. 1930. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1965.
Genealogy F 225 .T85 1965

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International

Coldham, Peter W., comp. American Wills Proved in London, 1611-1775. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1992.
Genealogy CS 436 .L7 A14 1992

---. American Wills & Administrations in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, 1610-1857. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1989.
Genealogy CS 434 .C6 1989

Phillimore, W.P.W., and Gertrude Thrift, eds. Indexes to Irish Wills. 1909-1920. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1970.
Genealogy CS 497 .A1 P475 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.
Genealogy CD 3627 .O5 C68 1986

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Online Resources

Archives of Michigan
www.michigan.gov/archivesofmi
Circular No. 6—Probate Court Records lists the Michigan materials available at the Archives. Counties include: Berrien, Eaton, Hillsdale, Ingham, Ionia, Kalamazoo, Monroe and Wayne.

Bouvier Law Dictionary
www.constitution.org/bouv/bouvier.htm
Free, searchable version of an 1856 legal dictionary.

Cyndi's List: Wills & Probate
www.cyndislist.com/wills.htm
An excellent starting point for probate research online.

St. Louis Probate Court Digitization Project
http://www.sos.mo.gov/archives/mojudicial/stl_history.asp
Digital project for St. Louis (MO) City/County covers 1802 to 1900.

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Updated 08/02/2011