Pennsylvania 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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Probates have been recorded on a county basis since the origin of the Commonwealth in 1682. Complete records are available in most counties. Probate actions taken in a locality before the present county was formed are found in records of the parent county.
Understanding the Pennsylvania 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 Pennsylvania state statutes relating to probate matters can be found at law libraries. For example:
Online digital versions of state statutes can often be found by conducting a search engine search for the term, "Pennsylvania statutes." The following are examples of free, digital books related to Pennsylvania probate laws:
Pennsylvania wills have been filed with the "register of wills" in each county, where they are recorded in indexed books.
The records of the orphan's court include minute books, proceedings, dockets, appeals, bonds, inventories, distributions of estates, marriages (since 1885), births and deaths (1893-1905), and adoptions (since 1925). Published abstracts of wills and administrations with comprehensive indexes are available for most of the oldest or largest counties.
The docket index, estate index, or general index is the first place to search for evidence of probate proceedings. These indexes list all the records created for a particular probate. The Family History Library has obtained microfilm copies of many of these indexes, often up to the 1960s.
The various documents (bonds, letters, inventories, etc.) are usually transcribed into Orphans' Court Record Books or Administrator's Account Books. The Family History Library has microfilmed the wills and orphans' court records for most counties, usually up to the early 1900s. For example, the library has:
- Philadelphia County (Pennsylvania). Register of Wills. Wills, 1682-1916; Indexes to Wills, 1682-1924. (On 327 Family History Library films beginning with 1311039.)
- Pennsylvania. Orphans' Court (Philadelphia County). Orphans' Court Records, 1719-1880: Orphans' Court Index, 1719-1938. (On 417 Family History Library films beginning with 21843.)
The library has few probate records from Lackawanna, Lehigh, Lycoming, Monroe, Pike, Schuylkill, and Union counties. Some probate records are listed in the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog under PENNSYLVANIA - GUARDIAN AND WARD.
A few land, probate, and will records are available on line from Ancestry.com.
Additional probate record information and sources can be found in the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
Pennsylvania- Probate Records Pennsylvania, [COUNTY] - Probate Records
Pennsylvania Research Outline. Salt Lake City, Utah: Intellectual Reserve, Inc., Family History Department, 1998, 2006.
- NOTE: All of the information from the original research outline has been imported into this Wiki site and is being updated as time permits.
- Henry Campbell Black, Black's Law Dictionary, 5th ed. (St. Paul, Minnesota: West Publishing Co., 1979), 1081, "probate."