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

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Don't Forget to Look at Probate Inventories, Accountings and Sales

An example of a probate inventory and valuation
For hundreds and in some cases, thousands of years, the transfer of a person's property after death has been the subject of legal or governmental action. These procedures imposed at death are collectively referred to as probate actions and almost every country of the world has developed some form of this structured transfer of property. Our system of probate in the United States is primarily derived from English law. Because probate actions involve the transfer of interests in personal and real property, there are a huge number of records of these transactions. None of these records were kept for the purpose of benefitting genealogists or genealogical research. Most of the time, the interest of the community in handling probate matters was concerned with taxes imposed on the transfer of the decedent's interest in the property.

For the past month's, my wife and I have been serving a Senior Mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as Record Preservation Specialists for FamilySearch. We have been working in the Maryland State Archives helping to digitize probate records. During our work of digitizing these records, we have been impressed by their immense value for genealogical research. Unfortunately, most researchers who even know to use probate records consider wills to be the chief records and the only ones of value. I don't want to understate the value of wills, but the entire probate process includes a whole series of valuable records. Some of the valuable types of records usually classified as probate records include the following:
  • Wills
  • Estate inventories and accountings
  • Reports of sales
  • Guardianships
  • Indentures
and here in a former slave state, Certificates of Freedom. In addition, there are all the Court's procedural documents, signatures, and the other associated documents that also contain valuable information. The inventories and accounts of sale are some of the most interesting documents. Here in Maryland, and elsewhere, they list all of the names of those who purchase items from the estate sale. These lists often include the names of all of the family members living in the general area of the location of the deceased's property. These lists also indicate the economic level of the deceased and provide an insight into the types of property owned. In short, they are not only helpful for research, but they are also fascinating. 

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