United States, How to Use Probate Records

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Introduction[edit | edit source]

The following sections are summaries of the "How to Use the Record" sections in the FamilySearch Historical Records wiki articles.

About U. S. probate records[edit | edit source]

  • For earlier times, use probate records to substitute for civil birth and death records that do not yet exist.
  • Name indexes make it possible to access a specific record quickly.
  • Check the index for the surname and then the given name.
  • Indexes may contain inaccuracies, such as altered spellings or misinterpretations. If the information was scanned, there may be character recognition errors.
  • The information in these records is usually reliable, but depends upon the reliability of the deceased or the testator.
  • Earlier records may not contain as much information as the records created after the late 1800s.
  • The type of information given may vary from one record to another record.
  • Wills are more likely to be found in rural communities than in larger cities and industrial areas.

Find your ancestor’s probate record (search strategy)[edit | edit source]

Follow these steps.

1. Find your ancestor in the index.

  • Note the locator information (such as page, entry, or certificate number) for the record.

2. Find your ancestor’s probate record:

  • Look for the page, entry, or certificate number (or other locator information) you found in the index.

3. Evaluate and record each piece of information you find for all the family members.

To search the index, you need to know the following[edit | edit source]

  • The name of the deceased.
  • The place of residence.
  • The approximate death or probate date.

Tips for finding your ancestor[edit | edit source]

  • Verify whether the name you found is your ancestor’s. Compare the information you know to the information you find. Look at relationships.
  • When looking for a common name, look at all the entries for the name before deciding which is correct.
  • Check for variant spellings of the surnames.

If you don’t find your ancestor in the index, do the following:[edit | edit source]

  • Check for a different index. There are often indexes at the beginning of each volume.
  • Search the indexes and records of nearby counties.

Find probate records for other family members[edit | edit source]

While you are searching probate records, it is helpful to follow the same steps to find other family members who lived in the same time and place.

1. Look for:

  • Every person with the same surname. This is especially helpful if the surname is unusual or the family lived in rural areas.
  • Children, siblings, parents, and other relatives whose records may be in the same area.

2. Compile the individuals into families, with the appropriate parents. (Create family group records for the families.)

3. Repeat this process for each new generation you identify.

Continue your research[edit | edit source]

Use the information you found to search other records. You can learn more about the same family or look for additional ancestors. Choose what you want to look for next.

If you know this information: Search for or do this:
Probate records and wills Identify heirs and relatives.

Learn about adoptions or guardianship of any minor children and dependents.

Approximate a death date from information you find.

Learn about land transactions.

Look for the second marriage of a parent.
Birth date or age and residence or birth place of the deceased Find census records.

Find church records.

Find land records.
Occupations Find employment records.

Find military or other types of records.

Related Wiki Articles[edit | edit source]

Other Wiki Articles in this Series[edit | edit source]