Indiana Probate Records
Probate encompasses all matters and proceedings pertaining to the administration of estates, whether there is a will (testate) or not (intestate). 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. Probate records may not give an exact death date, but the death most often occurred within a few months of the date of probate. Wills usually mention the names of heirs and frequently specify how those heirs are related. Names of children are given, as well as married names of daughters.
- Those named in the will are not necessarily related to the testator.
- A wife is not necessarily the mother of the children named.
- Probate records can be filed in more than one cabinet, ledger, or packet and in more than one office.
Until statehood, the following courts had jurisdiction:
- Probate Court (1790–1805),
- Orphans Court (1795– 1805),
- Court of Common Pleas (1806–1813),
- Circuit Court (1814–1816).
Wills were to be recorded in separate ledgers (1807–1816). After statehood, the Circuit Court (1817–1830), had probate jurisdiction, but separate ledgers rarely were kept, especially prior to 1825, and most courts mixed probate proceedings with other court actions. While many courts began keeping separate probate ledgers in 1825, the primary ledger was called a "Record of Last Wills and Testamentary." Many wills were recorded here and, upon rebinding, were called "Will Records." Not all wills, however, were recorded in this ledger.
In 1829 a separate Probate Court was legislated and, with it, separate Probate Order Books. This court was replaced in 1853 with the Court of Common Pleas. It was abolished in 1873 and its jurisdiction was transferred to the Circuit Court. Many Order Books continued sequential numbering. For most counties, the court with probate jurisdiction has been the Circuit Court. Certain exceptions exist. Superior Courts in Lake, Laporte and Porter counties, for example, have had probate jurisdiction since 1899, and separate Probate Courts were created in Marion (1907), Vanderburgh (1919), and St. Joseph (1945) counties.
Obtaining the Records
A statewide index to the names of persons who left wills in Indiana through 1880 is available in:
- Franklin, Charles M. Index to Indiana Wills: Phase 1, through 1850; Phase 2, 1850 through 1880. Two volumes. Indianapolis, Indiana: Heritage House, 1986-1987. (Family History Library book 977.2 P22f.) This provides name, year, county, volume, and page.
The Family History Library has microfilmed Probate Order Books and Probate Complete Order Books for over half of the counties in Indiana. Do not overlook the Complete, or Final, Probate Order Book. When an estate was settled, the clerk copied into these ledgers all the original papers, including bonds, wills, inventories, sale bills, settlements, and distribution of assets. Following is an example of the types of records that are filmed. These Franklin County records are on Family History Library microfilms:
- Will Records (1813–1925)
- Probate Order Books (1811–1920)
- Probate Complete Order Books (1830–1869)
- Estate inventories (1811–1831)
- Partition records (1860–1872)
- Probate fee book (1831–1839)
Probate records are listed in the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
INDIANA- PROBATE RECORDS
INDIANA, [COUNTY]- PROBATE RECORDS
Probate Record Inventories
Lists of wills and will abstracts for many counties are found in:
- Indiana Source Book: Genealogical Material from the Hoosier Genealogist, includes over 175,000 indexed names.
- Moudy, Vera Mae (Ginder). Directory, Wills and Estate Information in Genealogy Dept., Indiana State Library. Indianapolis, Indiana: Ye Olde Genealogie Shoppe, 1981. (Family History Library book 977.2 P23m.) This is a county-by-county list of books and films at the Indiana State Library.