Wednesday, July 6, 2011

To order probate information or not?

You find out that your ancestor made a will. What next? Is it worth ordering?  Where do you order it?
My suggestion is to look at the options for each ancestor for whom you might be able to order a will. Google the ancestor's name and look a family trees online to see if information for the will has been gleaned or not. Decide how much you need to know about the ancestor. If you already have vital records information for the ancestor and the descendants, there may not be much more to learn. If you have questions, a will might be a good bet. But bear in mind that the will just might be brief, and might not reveal much at all.
Sometimes wills do offer a great deal of information. One place to order wills is through Sampubco at You can take a look at the index for free to see if the wills you are looking for are there or not. You can order and receive the will information online. Another option is to order the will through a county clerk. I decided to go this route for my ancestor Henry Keith of Washington County, New York, who died in 1838. I checked the Washington County GenWeb site first, and noted that there might be additional information that the county might be able to provide for me. I wrote to the county clerk, and requested the will as well as additional research for which I included the required small fee. I was very fortunate with the results, as I was sent the very detailed will of Henry Keith, who names all of his children and many of their spouses. The inventory is also quite fascinating, down to the fire tongs and the few farm animals he owned. I was also sent county censuses and court records, revealing more about the life of Henry and his children. The cost for the whole package was very low, and the best option for what I was interested in. But I seldom take the step of ordering a will. I think it is most practical when the information doesn't seem to be anywhere else.  And bear in mind that American Ancestors has many will abstracts scanned online for New York State between certain years, and that the PA GenWeb Archives at also have many will abstracts. One further option is to find books of will abstracts.Some of  these books are available at a Family History Center (LDS), and some may be viewed on google books. Every once in awhile someone transcribes a will and puts the transcription online. Since the word "will" is a common one, one way to do an internet search is to search for the name of the ancestor and the word "probate."

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