Probates can be a wonderful resource in genealogical research. They are an invaluable tool in connecting parents and children, proving relationships, and, in instances where the departed has no children, providing information on siblings and their families. They can also be a tremendous help if the parish registers are unavailable. Probates can give you a “peek” into your ancestors’ homes though the itemization of their estates, and even give you names of their farm animals!
During the 1700 and 1800’s, only about 25% of the Norwegian population had probates, so imagine my joy when one of my brothers found our great-great-grandfather Dankert Marius Dankertsen’s probate. Dankert’s probate was registered in Oslo on 31 March 1913. Our great-grandfather, Johan Dankertsen, was an illegitimate child, and we did not know too much about his father. Johan had been raised in foster care. I couldn’t wait to “dig” into Dankert’s probate to learn more about my ancestor.
Imagine my surprise, however, when upon reading the probate I found that he did not claim any life heirs! He was saying he had no children! Well, I knew of two sons, Johan and Alexander Marius, both illegitimate. In their birth records, Dankert was listed as the father. I have to admit I was very disappointed in Dankert. He was a wealthy farm owner, and had been raised in a wealthy merchant family in Bergen city. He would have been financially able to take care of his two sons. But, even though I was disappointed not to find any signs of my great-grandfather in his father’s probate, I was able to get a small glimpse of Dankert as a person.
It was clear from the probate that Dankert was close to his widowed sister, Katharina Steen, and his older brother Hans, who had immigrated to America many years earlier. Katharina was the chief heir, and Hans’ two children in America were also remembered. (I did not know that Hans had two children!) He left a watch to his nephew with the stipulation that it never left the family. In addition to Katharina and Hans, Dankert left money for Katharina’s housekeeper Nora! That could show appreciation and kindness for somebody taking care of his sister. Did he ever wonder about who was taking care of his children?
Dankert did not want any funeral services, or flowers on the casket. No announcement of his death; that was to be reported after his death! In addition, he did not want a sermon or gathering of family and friends at his funeral! Was he a lonely man, did he dislike people or gatherings?
So, although in my case I was not able to use the probate to prove family connections, I do feel I was able to learn something about Dankert, which I was very thankful for. I was also left with a few questions. Those hopefully will be answered in the future.
As in the case with my ancestor, a probate record can provide great insights into your ancestor and his or her family connections, lifestyle, and feelings. See what you can find out about your ancestors through their probate records.
For more information on Norwegian probate records, see the Norway Probate Records article in the FamilySearch Research Wiki.