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Friday, December 19, 2014

WHY I LOVE PROBATE FILES

I've been happily going through more Massachusetts probate files the past few days: the Worcester County files on FamilySearch and Essex and Middlesex Counties on AmericanAncestors,org.
Probate files are a great source of information for a genealogist because they have information
that fill in the blanks about families.

For example, in the last few days, I've learned: 

-One of my ancestors was named executor of his father's estate because his
his older brother was insane. I have a pretty good idea why he did.

-Another ancestor's wife was a widow with two sons. After my ancestor died,
one of the stepsons sued the estate to recover his mother's dowry. Up until now I
only knew the woman's first name. Now I know her married name and her sons'
surname. From that I may be able to find out her maiden name.

-Among the things a third ancestor left his wife in his will was a woman named Grace,
a "Negro servant" who he stipulated should belong to his eldest son when the wife
died.

All of these I be discussing in future blogposts.

Probate files can tell you what an ancestor's occupation was, and the inventory list
of the estates will tell you how big their farms were, what clothes they wore, what
tools they used. The names of the heirs could tell tell you who the daughters married
and the signatures of the witnesses could be those of the nearby neighbors who were
also your ancestors.

Of course there are some disappointments. I've found probate files that only consist of
an image of a small piece of paper with the words "No papers found" written on it. Some
times the writing on the documents is impossible to read, either because it's faded or
because the handwriting is just bad.

Probate files are well worth looking into, either online or wherever the documents are located.
The "shaking green leaves" give you the start of the story. Probate files and other court
documents flesh it out.   

1 comment:

Jacquie Schattner said...

I totally agree. I have my third gr-grandmother's will. After the will was written, and before the probate was complete, two of her children died. The executor listed their death info in the will. A daughter who we previously thought died young, actually married young and had 5 children. All listed. Yippee!