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Probate records are court records created after an individual’s death that relate to a court’s decisions regarding the distribution of the estate to the heirs or creditors and the care of any dependents. You may find the names of married daughters or other relatives and their residences; or information about the adoption or guardianship of minor children and dependents. Probate records do not always give an exact date of death, but the death usually occurred within four months of probate. These documents are important to family history researchers, because they usually exist for time periods before civil birth and death records were kept.
Probate records may include: petitions, wills, bonds, inventories, publications, accounts, divisions,claims, letters of administration, probate journals, probate packets,
Other documents may include: adoption, deed, guardianship, legitimation of children, manumissions, apprenticeships, dower rights and releases, deeds, tax leins, land sold for back taxes, widow allowances, order of distribution, decree of heirship
Variations existed within counties as probate jurisdictions and county boundaries changed over the years.
Probate records in Delaware have been kept by the register of wills in each county from 1682 to the present. The Family History Library has probate indexes and records for all three counties, including wills, administrations, and guardian accounts to about 1850. Most of the original records are at the Delaware Public Archives.
Published county court records for the 1600s refer to many probate matters. These can be found in the Library Catalog Place Search under DELAWARE, [COUNTY] - COURT RECORDS
Wills, administrations, and guardian accounts to about 1850 are frequently listed in Orphans' Court records. A statewide index has been prepared to the year 1800:
Virdin, Donald O. Colonial Delaware Wills and Estates to 1800: An Index. Bowie, Maryland, Heritage Books, 1994. (Family History Library book 975.1 P22v.) This contains an alphabetical index of recorded wills of the entire state, listing name, date, county, book and page.
Abstracts of wills up to 1800 have been published in the following volumes. Each volume includes an index that contains every name mentioned in the wills.
Understanding the Delaware probate laws and how they changed over time can help us learn how the estate was administered, taxed, and distributed and might help to solve difficult genealogical problems.
Additional information about Delaware state statutes relating to probate matters can be found at law libraries. For example:
Online digital versions of state statutes can often be found by conducting a search engine search for the term, "Delaware statutes." The following are examples of free, digital books related to Delaware probate laws:
- Probates Records Database These indexes are the primary finding aid to themanuscript probate records for all three Delaware counties from c. 1680 to c. 1925. They index the names of the deceased for whom the files were created. Contained in each index are the individual's name, and a date or dates. The dates correspond to the date of the documents within that individual's file and may refer to a date of the will or to a date for probate to begin. New Castle and Kent County Probates are on self service microfilm available in the Research Room of the Delaware State Archives, and Sussex is in the process of being filmed. Copies of this microfilm are also available for sale.
- Extracts of Delaware wills are at www.ancestry.com which is a subscription website.
- Anne Roach, Courthouse Records Overview (35 minute online video) FamilySearch Research Classes Online, 2010.
- Rose, Christine.Courthouse Research for Family Historians: Your Guide to Genealogical Treasures. San Jose, California: CR Publications, 2004. Of particular interest are the chapters, "Estates Galore," "Estate Documents," "Milking Every Clue from Estates," and "Strategies that Work." FHL Collection
- Szucs, Loretto Dennis and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking, editors. The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy. Third edition. Salt Lake City, Utah: Ancestry, Inc., 2006. Of particular interest is the section, "Probate," pages 268 - 277. FHL Collection
- Eichholz, Alice, Editor. Redbook: American State, County, and Town Sources. Third Edition. Provo, Utah: Ancestry, 2004, 185. FHL Collection
- Greenwood, Val D. Third edition. The Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc. 2000, 346. FHL Collection