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Genealogy Resources

Probate Records and Wills

See also: Court Records

Probate is the legal process by which a person's property is distributed after their death. Probate records can help to identify the deceased's living children, and other descendants. Probate (or surrogate) records can provide detailed information about wills, guardianships, adoptions and changes of name. Probate records are found at the county or probate district courthouse. Probate records have been kept by most jurisdictions since they were founded. Some of the earlier records may have been microfilmed or moved to a state archive. The two main probate record types are wills and probate files.

A will is a legal document directing how a person desires their property to be disposed of after their death. It is signed by the person and witnesses, and then filed at the courthouse. The probate file contains all of the records that were created during the probate process. It can include an inventory of the estate, notices about the hearing, testimony and affidavits of claimants stating their relationship to the deceased, invoices for cemetery plots and tombstones, and the final distribution of the estate. If the deceased owned property in more that one county or probate district, there can be records in each of the jurisdictions.

  • Alabama County Probate Records - Imaged documents - Collection of probate records, including case files and other documents created by the Probate Courts of various Alabama counties. Probates were generally recorded in the county of residence. This collection covers probate records created 1800-1930, but the content and time period of the records will vary by county. FamilySearch.

  • Atkinson, Thomas E. Handbook of the Law of Wills and Other Principles of Succession Including Intestacy and Administration of Decedents' Estates. 2nd edition. Hornbook Series, 1937, Reprint, St. Paul, Minnesota: West Publishing Co., 1953.
  • Anderson's 1893 Dictionary of Law.
  • Bartley, Scott Andrew. Researching American wills and Administration Records. Toronto: Heritage Productions, 2004.
  • Greenwood, Val. The Researchers Guide to American Genealogy. 3rd edition. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2000. Has nearly seven pages dealing with probate records, legal terminology, probate process, kinds of wills, contested wills, how-to-find wills, intestate, and guardianships. a later section deals with abstracting wills and deeds.

  • Illinois Probate Records 1819-1970 – Browsable Imaged Records – Images of will books, administrations, journals, inventories, guardian’s records, and order books from various counties in Illinois. The content and time period will vary by county. Illinois created probate courts in 1819. FamilySearch.
  • Leary, Helen. North Carolina Research: Genealogy and Local History. 2nd edition. North Carolina Genealogical Society, 1996.  The chapter on wills is practical and very clear, especially on the typical structure of wills.

  • Louisiana, Orleans Parish Estate Files, 1804-1846 – Name index and images of probate estate files. Each estate file consists of multiple images. The event date is the probate date. FamilySearch.
  • Married Women's Property Rights Bibliography.

  • Maryland, Probate Estate & Guardianship Files 1796-1940 – Name index and images of probate estate files from the Register of Wills office in the county courthouse. Currently, the following counties are represented in this collection: Caroline (1838-1940), Cecil (1851-1940), Prince George’s (1796-1940), and Queen Anne’s (1833-1940), and portions of Calvert (1882-1940). FamilySearch.

  • Maryland Register of Wills Books, 1792-1983 – Imaged Records – Browsable Digital images (currently unindexed) from court records at the Register of Wills in Maryland. Includes the following counties: Caroline, Cecil, Kent, Prince George’s, and Queen Anne’s. FamilySearch.

  • Mississippi, Tippah County Records 1863-1923 - Imaged Records - not indexed yet - This collection includes Probate Records dating from 1868 through 1923, from the Tippah County Clerk in Ripley, Mississippi. FamilySearch.

  • Montana, Rosebud County Records – Browsable Images – Land records, vital records, voter lists and probate case files located at Rosebud County courthouse, Forsyth, Montana. FamilySearch.

  • New York Orange County Probate Records 1787-1938 - Images of probate records and estate files from the Orange County Surrogate's Court in Goshen, New York. At this time this collection does not have a name index or any finding aid. FamilySearch.

  • New York Queens County Probate Records, 1899-1921 - Images of probate records and proceedings from the Queens County Surrogate's Court in Jamaica, New York. FamilySearch.

  • Ohio, Cuyahoga County Probate Files 1813-1900 – Browsable imaged records – not indexed yet – Probate case files from the Cuyahoga County Courthouse in Cleveland. The files are arranged by docket number, case number and date. FamilySearch.
  • Online Searchable Death Indexes for the USA.  Includes Obituaries, Cemeteries & the Social Security Death Index .
  • Public Records Finder. Source for free public records..
  • The Public Records Online Directory is a Portal to official state web sites, and those Tax Assessors' and Recorders' offices that have developed web sites for the retrieval of available public records over the internet. For example, some Recorders' offices have marriage and birth records available online. Although not every county and parish has data online, many have home pages, and where neither is available a phone number has been provided.
  • Rose, Christine. Courthouse Research for Family Historians. San Jose, California: CR Publications, 2004.
  • Salmon, Marylynn.  Women and the Law of  Property in Early America. Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 1986.
  • Sampubco. Databases include indexes to 300,000 wills in 17 states: Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin. You can request copies of most wills for a fee.
  • Sampubco. Indexes to Guardianship records.
  • Shammas, Carole, Marylynn Salmon and Michael Dahlin. Inheritance in America from Colonial Times to the Present. Frontier Press, 1997.  Excellent look at the distribution of wealth from the 1700s to 1980, focusing on the relationship between the inheritance process and changes in capitalism and the structure of the family.
  • South Carolina Probate Records, Bound Volumes, 1671-1977 - Imaged documents - This collection includes wills, records of estates and guardianships recorded by the counties of South Carolina. Although the inclusive dates span a larger year range, most of the records fall between the year 1800 through 1930. FamilySearch.

  • South Carolina Probate Records, Files and Loose Papers, 1732-1964 - Imaged documents - This collection includes wills, records of estates and guardianships recorded by the counties of South Carolina. Most of the records fall between the mid-1800s through 1930. FamilySearch.

  • Texas Probate Records Index. A W.P.A. project of the 1940's generated indexes for probate records housed in at least 30 Texas counties.  This project brings 11 of those counties together into a single alphabetical listing.  Over 26,000 probate cases are represented in this data.

  • Wisconsin Probate Estate Files, 1848-1933 – Images of probate estate case files from various counties in Wisconsin. This collection includes Green County (1848-1885), Pepin County (1900-1935), Shawano County (1861-1933) and Trempealeau County (1900-1920). From Wisconsin State Historical Society & FHL digital images. FamilySearch.