RootsTech 2014

Mocavo

Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Lessons learned from a probate inventory

"Massachusetts, Plymouth County, Probate Estate Files, 1686-1915," images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1961-26979-18706-60?cc=1918549&wc=M9S5-2FG:n612103331 : accessed 14 Oct 2013), Plymouth > Case no 21895-21929 Warren, Nathan-Washburn, Benjamin > image 23 of 533.
A probate is a court proceeding to supervise the orderly transfer of assets from a deceased person to his or her heirs. Probate records are extremely valuable in genealogical research because they commonly contain information about more than one generation of family relationships. Normally, in all probates, the administrator or executor (administratrix or executrix) of the estate is required by the probate laws to make an inventory of the assets of the estate. These probate inventories can become an open window into the lives of your ancestors' families.

It can take a great deal of digging and research into original sources to find probate records. It is possible that some of the files may have been digitized online, but in many cases, you will have to search in the court house and town records. The image of the Inventory of Nathaniel Warren shown above is a classic. Nathaniel died on the 14th day of November, 1707 in Plymouth Colony, Massachusetts. From this detailed Inventory, you can see the variety of the possessions of this one man and his family. You can also get an understanding of the size and configuration of his house. You can even form an opinion about how rich or poor he was. Here is the rest of the inventory:

"Massachusetts, Plymouth County, Probate Estate Files, 1686-1915," images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1971-26979-17910-64?cc=1918549&wc=M9S5-2FG:n612103331 : accessed 14 Oct 2013), Plymouth > Case no 21895-21929 Warren, Nathan-Washburn, Benjamin > image 24 of 533.
Even if you can't find your own ancestor's probate file, other files from the same town and time period will give you a good idea of the economic circumstances of the times and your ancestor's surroundings.

Of course, if you find the probate file, you will also find the will and other documents. Here are some suggestions for finding copies of the original documents and some suggested sources:

United States Probate Records
FamilySearch.org's Historical Record Collections
York County Probate Inventories from Colonial Williamsburg
Town Records from early New England Towns in various collections
Essex County Probate Inventories from Salem State University

You may also need some help in reading the old handwriting. I suggest the BYU Script Tutorials.

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