West Virginia 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.
The area of West Virginia was a part of Virginia until the Civil War, 1861-1865. During that time there was a dispute over secession and fifty western counties broke off to form the “restored government of Virginia,” which remained loyal to the Union. The state of West Virginia was admitted to the Union in 1863.
Once its own state, West Virginia continued keeping probate records in the county courts.
- A brief history of the settlement and boundary changes of West Virginia and the resultant effects on record keeping can be found on Ancestry.
- A discussion of West Virginia Probate Records written by Johni Cerny in Red book: American State, County, and Town Sources can be found at Ancestry.
Understanding the West Virginia 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 West Virginia 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, "West Virginia statutes."
You can obtain copies of the complete probate packets by contacting the county clerk's office in the appropriate courthouse. Some probate matters have been recorded in deed books and court order books.
The West Virginia State Archives has an online index to their county court records.
- The Family History Library has copies of many calendars of wills, order books, witness books, bonds, fee books, inventories, appraisals, and bills of sale from most counties. From Kanawha County, for example, the library has 208 microfilms of fiduciary settlements for 1871 to 1968, and 121 films of wills for 1820 to 1968. Use the wiki page Family History Library Catalog Place-name Search for help in accessing county records.
Statewide Record Collections
The following publications index early wills and estate settlements:
- 1756-1971 West Virginia Will Books Intended to be online indexes and images for will books from all 55 counties of West Virginia. Currently the index is not complete, but additional records will be added as they are completed.
- 1753-1850 Johnston, Ross B. West Virginia Estate Settlements 1753-1850. Fort Worth, Texas: American Reference Publishers, Incorporated, 1969.FHL Book 975.4 P28j WorldCat 2791137This source is arranged by counties and is indexed.
- 1632-1800 Torrence, Clayton. Virginia Wills and Administrations, 1632-1800 . 1930. Reprint. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1985. FHL Book 975.5 P22t WorldCat 769168
Additional Statewide collections
- Early West Virginia Settlers, 1600s-1900s. [S.l.]: Brøderbund, c2000. FHL CD-ROM no. 9 pt. 520 (FHL US/CAN Access Window).
- Johnston, Ross B. West Virginia Estate Settlements: An Index to Wills, Inventories, Appraisements, Land Grants, and Surveys to 1850. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Pub. Co., c1977. FHL Book 975.4 P28jr WorldCat 2900643 Contains abstracts of estate settlements for the 13 counties formed before 1800.
- Plumley, Boyd Fulton. West Virginia Wills, 19th Century. [S.l.: s.n.], 2003. FHL CD-ROM no. 6730 (Computer US/CAN Desktop).
- West Virginia State Archives
Archives And History Library
The Cultural Center
1900 Kanawha Blvd., East
Charleston, WV 25305-0300
Tel: 304-558-0230, ext. 168
- FindLaw has information about West Virginia State Probate Courts.
A wiki article describing this collection is found at:
- Henry Campbell Black, Black's Law Dictionary, 5th ed. (St. Paul, Minnesota: West Publishing Co., 1979), 1081, "probate."