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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Methodology - Part 1: Getting Started, Methodology - Part 2: Organizing and Skillbuilding, Methodology - Part 3: More Strategies, Methodology - Part 4: Effective Searching and Recording, Methodology - Part 5: How To Prove It, and Methodology - Part 6: Professional Preparation and Practice  by Louise St Denis, Brenda Dougall Merriman and Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Recording Probate

The smart family historian doesn’t only look for wills, but for all probate documents, and this includes guardianships, administrations and inventories as well as legal papers recording any contention to a will. The main problems reading probate documents are:

  • Length—you may need to make an abstract.
  • Legal gobbledygook which you can paraphrase as, for example, ‘usual trustee clauses.’
  • Handwriting which may be a standard legal style but nonetheless hard to get used to, or if an original will be in older styles of handwriting.
  • Latin. Before 1733 in England, wills can occur totally in Latin. Later ones may contain Latin phrases. Help can be obtained from guidebooks such as Eve McLaughlin’sSimple Latin for Family Historians (1988).

A will should include a preamble giving the name of the testator and his place of residence, the date he made the will, and bequeathal of the soul and body. Then come any charitable bequests, and the rest of the text specifying legacies to family and friends. There may be addenda called codicils. At the bottom or on the back will be the Probate Act, added when the will was proved at court. It is important that you look for and accurately record the key ingredients and the simplest way to do this is to use a good Will Abstract Form. This will remind you to look for every item; if one is not found then mark the space on the transcript with a dash (-) so that you know that it wasn’t there, not that you didn’t look!

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 Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online courses Methodology - Part 1: Getting Started, Methodology - Part 2: Organizing and Skillbuilding, Methodology - Part 3: More Strategies, Methodology - Part 4: Effective Searching and Recording, Methodology - Part 5: How To Prove It, and Methodology - Part 6: Professional Preparation and Practice offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about these courses or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com 

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.

  • This page was last modified on 19 June 2013, at 20:32.
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