Research Steps for probate recordsEdit This Page
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These seven steps may help you find information in probate records.
Step 1. Determine the county where your ancestor lived.
Check the following to find the county where your ancestor lived:
- Family records (histories, pedigree charts, family group sheets, etc.)
- Published family histories.
Make sure the county existed when the ancestor died.
Step 2. Search for a county index for probate records
At the county courthouse: Indexes might exist for wills, guardianships, and other probate-related records.
- FamilySearch.org includes a number of indexes and images for probate records.
- USGenWeb is a cooperative volunteer effort with links to resources in the state and counties.
- Sampubco A gateway to Indexes of Wills, Guardianships, Probate Records, and Letters Testamentary.
Family History Library: Probate records and indexes can often be found in the Family History Library Catalog by using a Place Search for the county of interest.
Step 3. Search the index for your ancestor's name.
Find your ancestor's name in the index.
Copy everything about your ancestor from the index. This information is necessary for you to find him or her in the court record.
If you cannot find your ancestor's name, check for variations of the spelling. Some probate records will be electronically indexed so that you can skip this step.
Step 4. Find the probate records.
Probate records are usually found in the county courthouse. Some might be available in an archive or library. The Family History Library has probate records on microfilm for many counties from the time of the county formation until the early 1900s.
Obtain the book or film with the records.
Step 5. Search the record for information about your ancestor.
Using what you found in the index, find your ancestor in the record. Online database records may take you directly to your ancestors record.
Step 6. Copy the information from the record.
Make a photocopy of the page(s) with the information about your ancestor. By copying the entire page(s), you can study the record in depth and save it for future reference. You can analyze the handwriting and note other details you may have missed when you first looked at the record. You may find other relatives of your ancestor.
At many libraries, you can make a digital (electronic) copy of the record in place or or in additional to a paper photocopy. Online databases make digital copies especially convenient.
Be sure to document the source of the information by writing the title, author, book or film number, and page number on the copy, or photocopy the title page at the front of the book or film. Also write the name of the library, archive, etc., where you found the probate records. For digital copies of records, you need to record the same information and attach it to the digital record (or at least in a file in the same directory).
Step 7. Analyze the information you found.
Study the document. Compare the information to what you already knew about your ancestor.
- What does it tell you about your ancestor and about the people who were with him or her?
- Does the record give clues about your ancestor which could guide you to other records?
- Watch for dates, locations, relationships, etc.