California Probate Estate Files (FamilySearch Historical Records)

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California, Probate Estate Files, 1833-1991 .
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This article describes a collection of records at FamilySearch.org.
California, United States
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Location of California
Record Description
Record Type Probate Estate Files
Collection years 1833-1991
FamilySearch Resources
Related Websites


What is in the Collection?

Probate records are used to legally dispose of a person’s estate after his or her death. The probate process transfers the legal responsibility for payment of taxes, care and custody of dependent family members, liquidation of debts, and transfer of property title. The transfer is to an executor or executrix if the deceased had made a will, to an administrator or administratrix if the deceased had not made a will, or to a guardian or conservator if the deceased had heirs under the age of twenty-one or if heirs were incompetent due to disease or disability.

Probate records fall into two general categories: wills and estate papers. Most records mention the names of heirs and frequently specify how those heirs are related. Names of children may be given, as well as married names of daughters. Probate records may not give an exact death date, but a death most often occurred within a few months of the date of probate. The exact contents of probate records vary greatly depending on the prevailing law and the personality of the record keeper.

The collection consists of estate files of the Probate and Superior Courts in the following counties:

  • Alpine
  • Amador
  • Butte
  • Calaveras
  • Colusa
  • Glenn
  • Lassen
  • Napa
  • San Benito
  • Sacramento
  • Solano

The date ranges of the files will vary.


To Browse this Collection

You can browse through images in this collection by visiting the browse page for California, Probate Estate Files, 1833-1991.


Collection Content

Sample Images

What Can this Collection Tell Me?

Information found in this collection may include:

  • Name of testator or deceased
  • Names of heirs such as spouse, children, and other relatives or friends
  • Names of witnesses
  • Residence of testator
  • Lists of belongings, property, and so forth
  • Document and recording dates (Sometimes the date of death will be given. Recording dates are also used to approximate event dates, i.e. a letter of administration was usually written shortly after the time of death.)

How Do I Search the Collection?

To begin your search it is helpful to know at least some of the following:

  • The name of the deceased.
  • The approximate date of death.
  • The place of death.
  • The approximate date of probate.
  • The names of relatives or associates who may have been named in the estate file.

Compare the information on the image to what you already know about your ancestor to determine if it is the correct family or person. You may need to compare several images before you find your ancestor.

View images in this collection by visiting the Browse Page then:
⇒Select the "County" link
⇒Select the appropriate "Case File Number and Year Range"


For tips about searching on-line collections see the on-line article FamilySearch Search Tips and Tricks.


What Do I Do Next?

When you have located your ancestor’s probate record, carefully evaluate each piece of information given. These pieces of information may give you new biographical details that can lead you to other records about your ancestors. Add this new information to your records of each family.

I Found Who I was Looking for, What Now?

  • Use probate records to identify heirs and relatives.
  • Use the document (such as the will) or the recording dates to approximate a death date.
  • Use the information in the probate record to substitute for civil birth and death records since the probates exist for an earlier time period.
  • You may be able to use the probate record to learn about land transactions.
  • Use the birth date or age along with the residence or place of birth of the deceased to locate marriage, census, church, and land records.
  • Use the occupations listed to find other types of records such as employment records or military records.
  • Compile the entries for every person who has the same surname as the deceased; this is especially helpful in rural areas or if the surname is unusual.
  • Continue to search the records to identify children, siblings, parents, and other relatives who may have also died in california. This can help you identify other generations of your family or even the second marriage of a parent. Repeat this process for each new generation you identify.
  • Probate records often have information about adoptions or guardianship of any minor children and dependents. Be aware that the spouse named may not be the parent of the children listed.
  • The records may omit the names of deceased family members and those who have previously received an inheritance.
  • When looking for a person who had a common name, look at all the entries for the name before deciding which is correct.
  • There is also some variation in the information given from one record to another record.
  • The death date, residence, and other facts that were current at the time of the probate proceeding are quite reliable, though there is still a chance of misinformation.

I Can’t Find Who I’m Looking for, What Now?

  • Try viewing the original record to see if there were errors in the transcription of the name, age, residence, etc. Remember that there may be more than one person in the records with the same name.
  • Collect entries for every person who has the same surname. This list can help you identify possible relations that can be verified by records.
  • If you cannot locate your ancestor in the locality in which you believe they lived, then try searching records of a nearby locality in an area search.
  • Standard spelling of names typically did not exist during the periods our ancestors lived in. Try variations of your ancestor’s name while searching the index or browsing through images.
  • Remember that sometimes individuals went by nicknames or alternated between using first and middle names. Try searching for these names as well.
  • Search the indexes and records of California, United States Genealogy.
  • Search in the California Archives and Libraries.

Citing this Collection

Citing your sources makes it easy for others to find and evaluate the records you used. When you copy information from a record, list where you found that information. Here you can find citations already created for the entire collection and for each individual record or image.


Collection Citation:

"California Probate Estate Files,1833-1991." Images. FamilySearch. http://FamilySearch.org : accessed 2017. County clerk offices, county courthouses, and historical records commissions, California.

Image Citation

The image citation is available by clicking on the Information tab at the bottom left of the screen. You can browse through images in this collection by visiting the browse page for California, Probate Estate Files,1833-1991.


How Can I Contribute to the FamilySearch Wiki?

We welcome user additions to FamilySearch Historical Records wiki articles. We are looking for additional information that will help readers understand the topic and better use the available records. We also need translations for collection titles and images in articles about records written in languages other than English. For specific needs, please visit WikiProject FamilySearch Records.

Please follow these guidelines as you make changes. Thank you for any contributions you may provide.