Digging Up Wills
A will doesn't do anything till the one who wrote it dies, and he might make
out several different wills in his lifetime. Maybe his spouse dies and he
remarries, maybe he wants to cut somebody out, maybe he decides to leave all
his goods to his cat. There are a few rules about being able to cut off your
spouse from inheriting anything, but basically, he can leave his stuff to
anybody, related or not.
After someone dies, the probate court judge decides this was the last Will and
Testament that "John Doe" wrote and it is valid; and these are the folks he
said to leave his worldly goods to; and Joe Jones is the person he wanted as
First the Executor, Joe Jones (who has been officially
designated by the court, which has issued to him a document called Letters
Testamentary) has to decide what property John Doe actually owned when he
died. Usually that isn't hard, and Joe files an inventory with the probate
After review, then the court says, okay, the official Executor, Joe
Jones can go ahead and transfer title on these things to the designated heirs,
all as outlined in the will. The Executor probably gets each of the
recipients to sign a receipt which the Executor files with the probate court,
and then the judge says, okay, this probate matter is concluded because the
estate no longer owns any property, and we can close the file.
What makes these probate records interesting to genealogists is that John Doe
in listing his beneficiaries probably identifies their relationship to him.
"I leave my daughter Anna Doe $20 and the second best bed. I leave my brother
Henry Doe my team of horses..." Genealogists like that stuff.
But not everybody makes out a will. If John Doe died without writing a will
but owned something, his property still has to go through probate. (No real
estate title can change hands without some kind of official document being
filed somewhere.) So the family does to the probate judge and says John Doe
died thus and such date and we looked and he left no will. And Judge Brown
says, "Well, who are his heirs?"
And Anna Doe brings in a document swearing
under oath that she is John's daughter, and that he had four other children,
two of whom are already dead, but one of them had four children of his own.
And she has to give the names of all these heirs and probably their birthdates
and death dates and where they live. Probably she asks to be appointed
Administrator of the estate, and if the court agrees, then she gets issued an
official document designating her as the Administrator.
Probably the court
requires her to advertising in the newspaper for any other persons having a
claim on John's estate to give them a chance to prove they are related too.
Then the law of the state dictates how John's property is divided amongst his
heirs. Many states say that in the absence of a will, half would go to a
surviving spouse and the ther half would be divided up among the decedent's
children or something to
that effect. And the law says how surviving parents and siblings fit into the
scheme of things.
Then the court decides how John's property gets divided,
among which people, and Anna as Administratrix is responsible for distributing
it, getting receipts, and reporting back to the probate court.
These records are really great for helping genealogists determine blood ties
because they are very explicit usually and may be more helpful than probates
where there is a will. Of course, the real reason for probate laws is first
of all to protect creditors of the deceased, and then to see that property
distributions occur in an orderly manner.
Am seeking info on Fox family of Grantham, NH. Charity Ann Fox was born there
in 1832. Need father's name and any other info. firstname.lastname@example.org
In Prov. RI, 1705, Hosanna Brown m. Mary Hawkins, Looking for Mary's parents.
Col. Chad Brown b.1729, Smithfield, RI, need his Mother, wife of Othineil
(Othneil) Brown. Parents of Ruth Winsor, B.1751, Wife of Lieut. Ezekial Brown
of Gloucester? Thanks. Cee43@aol.com
Seek par of Waters Nathan WAITE b. 1830/1833 Vt/NY. Res 1850 Cornwall,
Addison, VT w/Nelson DARLING & family. Dismissed 31 Jan 1852 from
Congregational Church-I presume he left for California-where he spent
remainder of his life. email@example.com
Does anyone know of a Bliss list? I thought I saw one somewhere, but can't
remember where. Thanks for any help. Jan Petersen. Jan662@aol.com
Looking for info on "JAMES VAUGHN" (IL.1869) & "JOHN KENT" (TN.1815). Thank
you, Kent VAUGHN, firstname.lastname@example.org
Searching-Frank GRIMES descendant of Abraham & Mary GRIMES of Patterson, La.
Frank GRIMES had son Frank GRIMES Jr., bef or aft moving to Houston, TX. He
lived in projects called Cuny Homes. Claybas@aol.com
Need information on Frederick and Riney (PICKETT) MINGO, and children: Cary,
Isham, Shedrick, Lazuraus, Earnest, Martha, Mary, and Savinia MINGO, all of
Patterson, La. Claybas@aol.com
Seeking others reasearching this central PA family: 1) PETERS, Samuel
(c1821PA-c1865) of Berrysburg, Dauphin s/o John PETERS b PA + Mary Ann Swartz
(1820PA-1877PA) of Juniata>Dauphin email@example.com
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The Genealogy Lady established the "Genealogy Today" newsletter in
April 1997. She answers questions online at New-Jerusalem.com, and
sells books at her Genealogy Book Store.