Massachusetts, Plymouth County, Probate Estate Files (FamilySearch Historical Records)

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Massachusetts, Plymouth County, Probate Estate Files, 1686-1915 .
This article describes a collection of records at
Plymouth, Massachusetts, United States
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Location of Plymouth County, Massachusetts
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Location of Massachusetts
Record Description
Record Type Probate
Collection years 1686-1915
FamilySearch Resources
Related Websites

What is in the Collection?

The collection consists of probate estate files of Plymouth County located at Suffolk County Courthouse in Boston. The files are arranged by number then alphabetical by surname. This collection is being published as images become available. The collection includes records from 1686 to 1915.

You can browse through images in this collection by visiting the browse page for Massachusetts, Plymouth County, Probate Estate Files, 1686-1915.

Collection Content

Sample Images

Probate records include:

  • Petitions
  • Inventories
  • Accounts
  • Decrees
  • Oaths of executors
  • Forms about guardians
  • Other court documents

Information in entries includes:

  • 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 you will need to know:

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

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 "Browse" link in the initial search page
⇒Select the "County"
⇒Select the "Case File Number and Name Range" 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. 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.

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 adoptions or guardianship of any minor children and dependents.
  • You may be able to use the probate record to learn about land transactions.
  • Wills are more likely to be found in rural communities than in larger cities and industrial areas.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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

  • Check for variant spellings of the surnames.
  • Check for a different index. There are often indexes at the beginning of each volume.
  • 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

Essex County was created on May 10, 1643, and was formed as an Original County with its county seat in Salem. Probate records, including the administration of estates, probate of wills, and the appointment of guardians, have been under the jurisdiction of the courts since the 1630s. County courts, and later county judges of probate, were responsible for these functions until 1783, when the probate courts were established. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the probate and family courts were given jurisdiction over adoptions, divorces, name changes, and domestic relations.

The county was divided into two districts in 1869 with the "parent" county seat, at Salem remaining as the probate office for the county.

Probate records were court documents and may have involved loose papers and/or bound volumes. These records were generally known as an estate file or probate packet. Files included all documents related to estate settlement, including settlement papers, inventories, receipts, and wills. Other estate records listed in these files may include accounts, administrations, appraisals, minutes, bonds, petitions, and guardianships.

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 to heirs from the deceased to:

  • An executor or executrix (if the deceased had made a will)
  • An administrator or administratrix (if the deceased had not made a will)
  • A guardian or conservator (if the deceased had heirs under the age of twenty-one or if the heirs were incompetent due to disease or disability)

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. The records may omit the names of deceased family members and those who have previously received an inheritance, or the spouse mentioned may not be the parent of the children mentioned.

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:

"Massachusetts, Plymouth County, Probate Estate Files, 1686-1915." Images. FamilySearch. : accessed 2016. Citing Probate Court. Supreme Judical Court, Boston.

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 Massachusetts, Plymouth County, Probate Estate Files, 1686-1915.

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.