Maryland Probate Estate and Guardianship Files (FamilySearch Historical Records)

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Access the Records
Maryland, Probate Estate and Guardianship Files, 1796-1940 .
This article describes a collection of records at
Maryland, United States
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Flag of Maryland
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Location of Maryland
Record Description
Record Type Probate and Guardianship
Collection years 1796-1940
FamilySearch Resources
Related Websites

What is in the Collection?

The collection includes name indexes and images of probate estate files from county offices for the years. The exact offices differ by county.

Currently, the following are included in this collection:

  • Allegany County (1779-1946)
  • Baltimore City (1920-1941)
  • Calvert County (1882-1940)
  • Caroline County (1838-1940)
  • Cecil County (1851-1940)
  • Kent County (1749-1940)
  • Prince George's County (1796-1940)
  • Queen Anne's County (1833-1940)
  • Wicomico County (1868-1940)

Probate records were court documents and may have included both loose papers and bound volumes. The loose records were generally known as a case file or a probate packet. These files normally included wills, settlement papers, inventories, receipts, and other records pertaining to the estates.

Some probate records were recorded in books that may have been labeled with such titles as accounts, administrations, appraisals, minutes, petitions, guardianships, inventories, or settlements.

Each county began keeping probate records from the time the county was created. Orphan’s Court was the name of the probate court at the county level. Probate records were generally recorded in the county where the person lived. Estates were probated for approximately 25 percent of the heads of households in the United States before 1900, whether or not the individual left a will. Wills were more likely to have been found in rural communities than in larger cities and industrial areas. 

You can browse through images in this collection by visiting the browse page for Maryland, Probate Estate and Guardianship Files, 1796-1940.

Collection Content

Sample Images

Probate records include petitions, inventories, wills, guardianships, accounts, decrees, and other court documents. They include the following information:

  • Name of testator or deceased
  • Names of heirs, such as spouse, children, relatives, and friends
  • Name of executor, administrator, or guardian
  • Names of witnesses
  • Residence of testator
  • Dates the documents were written and recorded (

How Do I Search the Collection?

To begin your search you will need to know:

  • The place of residence
  • The approximate death or probate date
  • The name of the deceased

Search by Name by visiting the Collection Page:
Fill in the requested information on the initial search page. This search will return a list of possible matches. Compare the information about those in the list to what you already know about your own ancestors to determine if this is the correct family or person. You may need to compare the information about more than one person to find your ancestor.

View images in this collection by visiting the Browse Page:
To search the collection you will need to follow this series of links:
⇒Select the appropriate "County"
⇒Select the appropriate "Surname Letter"
⇒Select the appropriate "Individual's Name and File Number" which takes you to the images.

Look at each image comparing the information with what you already know about your ancestors to determine if the image relates to them. You may need to look at several images and compare the information about the individuals listed in those images to your ancestors to make this determination.

With either search keep in mind:

  • There may be more than one person in the records with the same name.
  • You may not be sure of your own ancestor’s name.
  • Your ancestor may have used different names or variations of their name throughout their life.

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

I Found Who I was Looking for, What Now?

When you have located your ancestor’s 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. For example:

  • 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.
  • Use the birth date or age along with the residence or place of birth of the deceased to locate census, church, and land records.
  • Use the occupations listed to find other types of records such as employment or military records.

Tips to Keep in Mind

  • You may be able to use the probate record to learn about
Land transactions
Adoptions or guardianship of any minor children and dependents.
  • 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 died in the same county or nearby. 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.
  • When looking for a person who had a common name, look at all the entries for the name before deciding which is correct.
  • The information in the records is usually reliable, but depends upon the reliability of the deceased or the testator.
  • Earlier records may not contain as much information as the records created after 1900.
  • There is also some variation in the information given from one record to another record.

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

  • Look for variant spellings of the names. You should also look for nicknames and abbreviated names.
  • Look for an index. There are often indexes at the beginning of each volume. Local genealogical and historical societies often have indexes to local records.
  • Search the indexes and records of nearby counties.

For a summary of this information see the wiki article: United States, How to Use the Records Summary (FamilySearch Historical Records).

General Information About These Records

County probate records have been kept from the time the county was formed to the present. The included dates vary by county.

Probate records were used to legally dispose of a person’s estate after his or her death. If the deceased had made a will, the probate process transferred the following from the deceased to an executor or executrix: the legal responsibility for payment of taxes, care and custody of dependent family members, liquidation of debts, and transfer of property title to heirs. If there was no will, the transfer went to an administrator or administratrix. A guardian or conservator was appointed if the deceased had heirs younger than 21 or if the heirs were incompetent due to disability or disease.

The death date, residence, and other facts that were current at the time of the probate proceedings are reliable, but realize that there is still a chance of misinformation. The records may omit the names of deceased family members or those who had previously received an inheritance. In some cases, the spouse mentioned in the will was not the parent of the children mentioned. Also, some wills do not name family members.

Known Issues with This Collection

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See a list of known issues, workarounds, tips, restrictions, future fixes, news and other helpful information.

For a full list of all known issues associated with this collection see the attached Wiki article. If you encounter additional problems, please email them to Please include the full path to the link and a description of the problem in your e-mail. Your assistance will help ensure that future reworks will be considered.

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:

"Maryland, Probate Estate and Guardianship Files, 1796-1940" Database with Images. FamilySearch. : accessed 2016. County courts, Maryland.

Record Citation (or citation for the index entry):

The citation for a record is available with each record in this collection, at the bottom of the record screen. You can search records in this collection by visiting the search page for Maryland, Probate Estate and Guardianship Files, 1796-1940.

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 Maryland, Probate Estate and Guardianship Files, 1796-1940.

How You Can Contribute

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.