Vermont, Windham County, Westminster District, Probate Records (FamilySearch Historical Records)
|This article describes a collection of historical records scheduled to become available at FamilySearch.org.|
- 1 Collection Time Period
- 2 Towns Covered
- 3 Record Description
- 4 How to Use the Records
- 5 Record History
- 6 Related Web Sites
- 7 Related Wiki Articles
- 8 Sources of Information for This Collection
- 9 Citing FamilySearch Historical Collections
Collection Time Period
Probate records have been kept from the time the county was formed to 1921.
The following towns are currently within the jurisdiction of Westminster Probate District: Athens, Brookline, Grafton, Jamaica, Londonderry, Putney, Rockingham (including Bellows Falls), Townshend, Westminster and Windham.
Probate records were kept by the probate courts in probate districts. Probate records were court documents and may have included both loose papers and bound volumes. These records were generally known as an estate file, case file, or probate packet. The boxes are usually numbered and the estate documents filed alphabetically by the name of the deceased. These files normally included wills, letters of administration, settlement papers, guardianships, inventories, receipts, distributions, name changes, adoptions, and other records pertaining to estates. Some probate records were recorded in books that may have been labeled with such titles as accounts, administrations, appraisals, minutes, estates, guardianships, inventories, settlements, and so forth. Wills were normally transcribed into a bound volume.
Genealogical facts in probate records are:
- Name of testator or deceased
- Names of heirs such as spouse, children, and other relatives or friends
- Name of executor, administrator, or guardian
- Names of witnesses
- Residence of testator
- Dates the documents were written and recorded. (These are used to approximate event dates, i.e. a will was usually written near the time of death.)
- Description and value of personal property or land owned by the deceased.
How to Use the Records
Begin your search by finding your ancestors in the index. Name indexes make it possible to access a specific record quickly. Check the index for the surname and then the given name. Remember that these indexes may contain inaccuracies, such as altered spellings, misinterpretations, and optical character recognition errors if the information was scanned.
When searching the index it is helpful to know the following:
- The place of residence.
- The approximate death or probate date.
- The name of the deceased.
Use the locator information found in the index (such as page, entry, or certificate number) to locate your ancestors in the records. Compare the information in the record to what you already know about your ancestors to determine if this is the correct person. You may need to compare the information of more than one person to make this determination.
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.
- You may be able to use the probate record to learn about adoptions or guardianship of any minor children and dependents.
- 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.
- You may be able to use the probate record to learn about land transactions.
- 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 employment records or other types of records such as military records.
- 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.
Keep in mind that wills are more likely to be found in rural communities than in larger cities and industrial areas.
Vermont was originally part of Massachusetts. In 1749, New Hampshire claimed a large portion of the area. In 1764, New York claimed jurisdiction over a large portion of the land held by New Hampshire. In 1777, Vermont became independent and was made a state in 1791. Probate records for those who died before 1777 may be in the records of the county and state who claimed the area before Vermont was formally created. Probate courts began recording probate records soon after the county was created. There are 14 counties but 18 probate districts. The four southern counties have 2 districts each. Probate records cover approximately 40 percent of adult males who left wills, but this may be less than 25 percent in some areas. Less than 10 percent of women had wills or estate inventories. Wills are more likely to be found in rural communities than in larger cities and industrial areas. A higher percentage of individuals died without a will, but they may have had their estates probated and distributed through the courts. Wills and other estate documents are found in the estate files.
Why This Collection Was Created
Probate records were used to legally dispose of a person’s estate after his or her death. If the deceased had made a will, the probate process transferred the following from the deceased to an executor or executrix: the legal responsibility for payment of taxes, care and custody of dependent family members, liquidation of debts, and transfer of property title to heirs. If there was no will, the transfer went to an administrator or administratrix. A guardian or conservator was appointed if the deceased had heirs younger than 21 or if the heirs were incompetent due to disability or disease.
The death date, residence, and other facts that were current at the time of the probate proceedings are reliable, but realize that there is still a chance of misinformation. The records may omit the names of deceased family members or those who had previously received an inheritance. In some cases, the spouse mentioned in the will was not the parent of the children mentioned. Also, some wills do not name family members.
Related Web Sites
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Related Wiki Articles
Contributions to This Article
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Sources of Information for This Collection
"Vermont, Windham County, Westminster District Probates, Earliest to 1921," database, FamilySearch (), from Supreme Court of Vermont, Office of the Court Adminsitrator. Vermont State Archieves Records Administration, Middlesex. Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.
Citing FamilySearch Historical Collections
When you copy information from a record, you should also list where you found the information. This will help you or others to find the record again. It is also good to keep track of records where you did not find information, including the names of the people you looked for in the records.
A suggested format for keeping track of records that you have searched is found in the Wiki Article: How to Cite FamilySearch Collections
Examples of Source Citations for a Record in This Collection
"Vermont, Windham County, Westminster District Probates, Earliest to 1921." images, FamilySearch (): accessed April 8, 2011. entry for Thomas Wright, age 27; citing Probate Files, digital folder number 4184707; Essex County Probate Court, Guildhall, Vermont.