Rhode Island Probate Records
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Probate is the “court procedure by which a will is proved to be valid or invalid” and encompasses “all matters and proceedings pertaining to the administration of estates, guardianships, etc.” Genealogists often refer to 'Probate Records' as "All records which relate to the disposition of an estate," whether the person died leaving a will (testate) or not (intestate).
Various types of records are created throughout the probate process. These may include, wills, guardianships, bonds, petitions, accounts, inventories, administrations, orders, depositions, decrees, and distributions. These documents are extremely valuable to genealogists and should not be neglected. In many instances, they are the only known source of relevant information such as the decedent’s date of death, names of his or her spouse, children, parents, siblings, in-laws, neighbors, associates, relatives, and their places of residence. They may also include information about adoption or guardianship of minor children and dependents.
For further information about the probate process, types of probate records, analyzing probate records, and to access a glossary of probate terms, see United States Probate Records.
Probate matters were recorded by town councils until each town established a probate court. Many of the published town records include references to wills and estate matters.
- The New England Historic Genealogical Society located in the heart of downtown Boston, Massachusetts has early Rhode Island probate records available on microfilm. To search their online library catalog click Here.
- The Family History Library has microfilm copies of many of these records. For collection details see the FamilySearch Catalog. Use the "Place Search" option to search for a specific Rhode Island county or town. Then look for the topic labeled "Probate Records."
Statewide Record Collections
- General Council Meeting Minutes and Documents. Salt Lake City, Utah: Filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1974. (FHL 954936-37). The Rhode Island general council, also known as the Council of Probate, kept minutes and documents dealing with probate appeals for the years 1667 to 1813.
- Wakefield, Robert S. Index to Wills in Rhode Island Genealogical Register, Volumes 1 through 4. Warwick, Rhode Island: Plymouth Colony Research Group, 1982. At various libraries (WorldCat); FHL Book 974.5 D2ri.); An excellent index to a large number of Rhode Island wills to about 1850. The Rhode Island Genealogical Register continues to publish abstracts of wills.
- Melnyk, Marcia D. Genealogist's Handbook for New England Research, 4th ed. Boston, Massachusetts: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1999. At various libraries (WorldCat); FHL Book 974 D27g
- Henry Campbell Black, Black's Law Dictionary, 5th ed. (St. Paul, Minnesota: West Publishing Co., 1979), 1081, "probate."
- Val. D. Greenwood, The Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy, 3rd ed. (Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 2000), 309.