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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. These documents are important to family history researchers because they usually exist for time periods before civil birth and death records were kept. While probate records are one of the most accurate sources of genealogical evidence, they have limitations.
Until statehood, the following courts had jurisdiction:
- Probate Court (1790–1805),
- Orphans Court (1795– 1805),
- Court of Common Pleas (1806–1813),
- Circuit Court (1814–1816).
Wills were to be recorded in separate ledgers (1807–1816). After statehood, the Circuit Court (1817–1830), had probate jurisdiction, but separate ledgers rarely were kept, especially prior to 1825, and most courts mixed probate proceedings with other court actions. While many courts began keeping separate probate ledgers in 1825, the primary ledger was called a "Record of Last Wills and Testamentary." Many wills were recorded here and, upon rebinding, were called "Will Records." Not all wills, however, were recorded in this ledger.
In 1829 a separate Probate Court was legislated and, with it, separate Probate Order Books. This court was replaced in 1853 with the Court of Common Pleas. It was abolished in 1873 and its jurisdiction was transferred to the Circuit Court. Many Order Books continued sequential numbering. For most counties, the court with probate jurisdiction has been the Circuit Court. Certain exceptions exist. Superior Courts in Lake, Laporte and Porter counties, for example, have had probate jurisdiction since 1899, and separate Probate Courts were created in Marion (1907), Vanderburgh (1919), and St. Joseph (1945) counties.
Obtaining the Records
A statewide index to the names of persons who left wills in Indiana through 1880 is available in:
- Franklin, Charles M. Index to Indiana Wills: Phase 1, through 1850; Phase 2, 1850 through 1880. Two volumes. Indianapolis, Indiana: Heritage House, 1986-1987. This provides name, year, county, volume, and page. FHL Collection
The Family History Library has microfilmed Probate Order Books and Probate Complete Order Books for over half of the counties in Indiana. Do not overlook the Complete, or Final, Probate Order Book. When an estate was settled, the clerk copied into these ledgers all the original papers, including bonds, wills, inventories, sale bills, settlements, and distribution of assets.
Probate records are listed in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog.
Probate Record Inventories
Lists of wills and will abstracts for many counties are found in:
- Heiss, Willard, et al. editors. Indiana Source Book: Genealogical Material from the Hoosier Genealogist. 10 volumes to date. Indianapolis, Indiana: Indiana Historical Society, Family History Section, 1977-. FHL Collection These volumes include transcripts of wills and other records appearing in this periodical from 1961 - 1996.
- Moudy, Vera Mae (Ginder). Directory, Wills and Estate Information in Genealogy Dept., Indiana State Library. Indianapolis, Indiana: Ye Olde Genealogie Shoppe, 1981. This is a county-by-county list of books and films at the Indiana State Library. FHL Collection
- Deathindexes.com provides links to several Indiana probate records.
- The University of Mary Washington has indexed and transcribed probate inventories for Dearborn, Franklin, and Ripley counties.
- Anne Roach, Courthouse Records Overview (35 minute online video) FamilySearch Research Classes Online, 2010.
- Eichholz, Alice, Editor. Redbook: American State, County, and Town Sources. Third Edition. Provo, Utah: Ancestry, 2004, p. 210. FHL Collection
- Rose, Christine.Courthouse Research for Family Historians: Your Guide to Genealogical Treasures. San Jose, California: CR Publications, 2004. FHL Collection
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