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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 US: Newspaper Records by Rhonda McClure. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).
The courts have long used the newspapers to disperse information. Even today the newspaper is used to publish information from the courts about pending cases, or unpaid taxes, or attempts to notify heirs in a probate case.
It is these legal notices that often give genealogists some of the best information possible in their research. It could be that the announcement of the probating of an estate identifies the heirs by name and where they are currently living, including the married names of daughters. Divorce proceedings may give additional background information, or at the very least supply you with much needed dates of filings and final settlements. And while we hate to admit it, some of our ancestors may have been involved in more criminal proceedings and the papers often share information about those trials, both in the traditional legal notices as well as general articles.
Land Sales to Pay Taxes or Creditors
Very often you will see sheriff’s sales when land is being sold to pay of creditors against the estate of a deceased individual. This doesn’t always indicate that the deceased died without any money. In some instances the will of the deceased may stipulate that all of his land be sold first to pay his just debts and then the remainder to be distributed among his heirs.
Sheriff’s Sales of Estate Lands
Gettysburg Compiler, March 21, 1821, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
Estates and Heirs
Usually we find much more in the newspaper about the administration or execution of an estate, or we see that the courts have used the newspapers to alert the public about such appointments or the appointments of guardians. Every so often we see an announcement alerting the heirs or the creditors that they must come forward so that the estate can be finalized or the appraisement begun.
These notices serve to alert the public to whom they should be directing inquiries to if they have questions or debts to resolve.
| Administrator’s Notice
Parties indebted to the estate of D.H. Mapother, or Hart and Mapother, are requested to come forward and settle at once; and parties to whom the estate is indebted are requested to have their claims properly proven and presented to
No two counties handle their notices the same when it comes to alerting creditors or heirs of a probating estate. Republican Register, January 20, 1829, Hamilton, New York.
Another announcement that is often found in the paper is that alerting the community to the appointment of a guardian. The guardian is appointed to protect the interests of a minor child, even when the mother is still alive in many instances. The guardian must report to the court at intervals as to money held in trust for the minor child, which is usually a child under the age of twenty-one, until that child reaches the age of majority. Such notifications may lead you to additional court records that indicate the names of parents or additional siblings and may help you in determining when the child was born.
Announcement of Guardian
Anti Masonic Star, August 18, 1830, New Oxford, Pennsylvania.
Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course US: Newspaper Records offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at email@example.com
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