Massachusetts, Plymouth County, Probate Estate Files (FamilySearch Historical Records)Edit This Page
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|This article describes a collection of historical records available at FamilySearch.org.|
Access the records: Massachusetts, Plymouth County, Probate Estate Files, 1686-1915 .
The collection consists of probate estate files of Plymouth County located at Suffolk County Courthouse in Boston. The files are arranged by number then alphabetical by surname. This collection is being published as images become available. The collection includes records from 1686 to 1915.
For an alphabetical list of names currently published in this collection, select the Browse link from the collection landing page.
Citation for This Collection
The following citation refers to the original source of the information published in FamilySearch.org Historical Records collections. Sources include the author, custodian, publisher, and archive for the original records.
- "Massachusetts, Plymouth County, Probate Estate Files, 1686-1915." Images. FamilySearch. http://FamilySearch.org : accessed 2013. Citing Probate Court. Supreme Judical Court, Boston.
Probate records include:
- Oaths of executors
- Forms about guardians
- Other court documents
Information in entries includes:
- Name of testator or deceased
- Names of heirs such as spouse, children, and other relatives or friends
- Names of witnesses
- Residence of testator
- Lists of belongings, property, and so forth
- Document and recording dates (Sometimes the date of death will be given. Recording dates are also used to approximate event dates, i.e. a letter of administration was usually written shortly after the time of death.)
How to Use the Record
To begin your search you will need to know:
- The place of residence
- The approximate death or probate date
- The name of the deceased
Search the Collection
To search the collection
⇒Select the "Browse" link in the initial search page
⇒Select the "County"
⇒Select the "Case File Number and Name Range" which takes you to the images.
Look at the images one by one comparing the information with what you already know about your ancestors to determine which one is your ancestor. You may need to compare the information about more than one person to make this determination.
Using the Information
When you have located your ancestor’s record, carefully evaluate each piece of information given. These pieces of information may give you new biographical details that can lead you to other records about your ancestors. Add this new information to your records of each family. For example:
- Use probate records to identify heirs and relatives.
- Use the document (such as the will) or the recording dates to approximate a death date.
- Use the information in the probate record to substitute for civil birth and death records since the probates exist for an earlier time period.
- Use the birth date or age along with the residence or place of birth of the deceased to locate census, church, and land records.
- Use the occupations listed to find other types of records such as employment or military records.
Tips to Keep in Mind
- You may be able to use the probate record to learn about adoptions or guardianship of any minor children and dependents.
- You may be able to use the probate record to learn about land transactions.
- Wills are more likely to be found in rural communities than in larger cities and industrial areas.
- The information in the records is usually reliable, but depends upon the reliability of the deceased or the testator.
- Earlier records may not contain as much information as the records created after 1900.
- There is also some variation in the information given from one record to another record.
- Compile the entries for every person who has the same surname as the deceased; this is especially helpful in rural areas or if the surname is unusual.
- Continue to search the records to identify children, siblings, parents, and other relatives who may have died in the same county or nearby. This can help you identify other generations of your family or even the second marriage of a parent. Repeat this process for each new generation you identify.
- When looking for a person who had a common name, look at all the entries for the name before deciding which is correct.
Unable to Find Your Ancestor?
- Check for variant spellings of the surnames.
- Check for a different index. There are often indexes at the beginning of each volume.
- Search the indexes and records of nearby counties.
For a summary of this information see the wiki article: United States, How to Use the Records Summary (FamilySearch Historical Records).
General Information About These Records
Essex County was created on May 10, 1643, and was formed as an Original County with its county seat in Salem. Probate records, including the administration of estates, probate of wills, and the appointment of guardians, have been under the jurisdiction of the courts since the 1630s. County courts, and later county judges of probate, were responsible for these functions until 1783, when the probate courts were established. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the probate and family courts were given jurisdiction over adoptions, divorces, name changes, and domestic relations.
The county was divided into two districts in 1869 with the "parent" county seat, at Salem remaining as the probate office for the county.
Probate records were court documents and may have involved loose papers and/or bound volumes. These records were generally known as an estate file or probate packet. Files included all documents related to estate settlement, including settlement papers, inventories, receipts, and wills. Other estate records listed in these files may include accounts, administrations, appraisals, minutes, bonds, petitions, and guardianships.
Probate records are used to legally dispose of a person’s estate after his or her death. The probate process transfers the legal responsibility for payment of taxes, care and custody of dependent family members, liquidation of debts, and transfer of property title to heirs from the deceased to:
- An executor or executrix (if the deceased had made a will)
- An administrator or administratrix (if the deceased had not made a will)
- A guardian or conservator (if the deceased had heirs under the age of twenty-one or if the heirs were incompetent due to disease or disability)
The death date, residence, and other facts that were current at the time of the probate proceeding are quite reliable, though there is still a chance of misinformation. The records may omit the names of deceased family members and those who have previously received an inheritance, or the spouse mentioned may not be the parent of the children mentioned.
- Massachusetts Probate Records
- Plymouth Colony Pages - An online guide to probate records and indicies for Plymouth Colony
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Citing FamilySearch Historical Collections
Citations for individual image records are available for this collection. Browse through images in this collection and click on the "Show Citation" box: Massachusetts, Plymouth County, Probate Estate Files, 1686-1915
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