District of Columbia Probate Records
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.” Various types of records are created throughout the probate process. These may include, wills, bonds, petitions, accounts, inventories, administrations, orders, 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.
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In 1791, the District of Columbia was created as the seat of the federal government. The areas chosen were taken from parts of Fairfax County, Virginia and Montgomery and Prince George's counties of Maryland. Probate records prior to 1800 for the District of Columbia were kept by the appropriate courts of Virginia and Maryland. After the relocation of the District of Columbia in 1810, local government offices were established. In 1846, the area taken from Virginia was returned with the pre-1846 records as well.
- A history of the creation of the District of Columbia and the resultant record-keeping services can be found at Ancestry. ($)
- A discussion of District of Columbia Probate Records written by Johni Cerny in Red book: American State, County, and Town Sources can be found at Ancestry. ($)
Understanding the District of Columbia probate laws and how they changed over time can help us learn how the estate was administered, taxed, and distributed and might help to solve difficult genealogical problems.
Additional information about District of Columbia state statutes relating to probate matters can be found at law libraries. Online digital versions of state statutes can often be found by conducting a search engine search for the term, "District of Columbia statutes."
Addresses for District of Columbia Archives, Libraries, and Societies can be found at Ancestry. ($)
- Maryland State Archives
361 Rowe St.
Annapolis, MD 21401
Internet: Maryland State Archives
- District of Columbia
- Office of Public Records
1300 Naylor Court NW
Washington, DC 20001-4225
Internet: District of Columbia Archives
- The Probate Division has up-to-date information regarding probate policies in the Superior Court of DC.
A series of transcripts from 1801 to 1919 and the original wills from 1801 to the present are available at:
- Register of Wills and Clerk of the Probate Court
500 Indiana Avenue, N.W., Room 5000
Washington, DC 20001
Wills after 1888, and administrations after 1878, are also at the:
- U.S. District Court
- 333 Constitution Avenue, N.W.
- Washington, DC 20001
- Telephone: 202-273-0555
- Internet: U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia
The National Archives has a series of will transcripts from 1801 to 1888, probate administrations (1801-36 and 1854-78) and guardianship papers (1801-78). They also have an index to administration dockets, guardian dockets, and case files.
Statewide Record Collections
- Provine, Dorothy S. Provine. Index to District of Columbia Wills (1801-1920). Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1992. FHL Book 975.3 P22p, book.
- Pippenger, Wesley E. Index to District of Columbia Estates: 1801-1929. Westminster, Maryland: Heritage Books, c2008. FHL Book 975.3 P22pwe.
- Pippenger, Wesley E. District of Columbia Guardianship Index 1802-1928. Westminster, Maryland: Willow Bend Books, c1998. FHL Book 975.3 P22pw.
- District of Columbia. Clerk of the Superior Court (Main Author). Guardianship Case Index (District of Columbia), 1801-1997. Salt Lake City, Utah: Filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1997. FHL Films 2073131, 2073162-2073164(4 films).
- Bell, Mrs. Alexander H. Abstracts of Wills in the District of Columbia, 1776-1815. Two Volumes. Washington, D.C.: Bell, 1946. FHL Book 975.3 S2b, vol. 2 on film 207695, vols. 1 and 2 on fiche 6051443.
- Pippenger, Wesley E. District of Columbia Probate Records : Will Books 1 through 6, 1801-1852 and Estate Files, 1801-1852. Westminster, Maryland: Family Line, c1996. FHL Book 975.3 P28p.
- Daughters of the American Revolution (District of Columbia), Genealogical Collection, ca. 1700-1900 [Daughters of the American Revolution (District of Columbia)]. Salt Lake City, Utah: Filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1976. FHL Film 845766-870166 (51 films).
- District of Columbia. Register of Wills, Probate Records (District of Columbia), 1801-1930. Salt Lake City, Utah: Filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1996-1997. FHL 2050077-2069435(133 films). Published indexes 1801-1950 FHL Book 975.3 P22p.
- Daughters of the American Revolution (District of Columbia). Record, Abstract of Wills, Municipal Court, Washington, D.C., vol. 4, 1828-1837.19--. FHL Book 975.3 S2.
- Virginia. County Court (Alexandria County) (main author). Will books, 1800-1878; Index to Wills, 1800-1951. Salt Lake City, Utah: Filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1951. FHL Film 30499-30475(6 films).
- Langille, Letitia A. Wills, Book IV, Dated 1799 to 1837: as recorded in the Office of Register of Wills, Municipal Court, Washington, D.C. Salt Lake City, Utah: Filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1972. FHL Film 907978.
- Henry Campbell Black, Black's Law Dictionary, 5th ed. (St. Paul, Minnesota: West Publishing Co., 1979), 1081, "probate."