Finding probate records by browsing through images on FamilySearch.org
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Finding probate records by browsing through images on FamilySearch.org


Probate documents can be goldmines for genealogical
research, few documents are both digitized and indexed, so expect to put in some real
effort to find these. In this video, I’ll cover how to find things
in digitized probate records once you find the repository. I’ve covered finding the repository in a
previous video. Short version: Not every death results in
a probate record. Start with digitally indexed repositories,
but…. Expect to browse through hand-written indices
in digitized court records, and fourth, always include the source citation to make it easier to find those records again. Before we get too far, it’s really important
to remind yourself that not every death results in probate records. For example, a person who lived hand-to-mouth
isn’t going to make out a will. Wills made out by people without debts or
real estate might not need to be recorded with the county court—the executor could
just distribute the assets. So, with that in mind, start you search on
Ancestry.com or another site where probate records are digitally indexed by name of decedent. I wish it were that easy, but it’s pretty
rare when I can find what want via a digital index. That’s when it’s time to start browsing
through images. I prefer doing this on FamilySearch.org because
the site just feels well suited to browsing. You’ll need to create a free account, but
after that, just search in the catalog for the county you need. let’s look at Lancaster Cty, Pennsylvania
for sources where the author is something like “Pennsylvania. Orphan’s Court” rather than a person’s
name. When you see a person’s name, it means it’s a book. When it’s the orphan’s court,
it means it’s the actual court records We’re looking for Jacob Slough
of Lancaster county who died around 1750. Conveniently, Lancaster
county has an index of wills. Indexes can be sorted in many methods, and
this is my favorite: it uses the first letter of the surname, the first letter of the forename,
and the year of the document. Why do I like this? Well, surname spellings can vary—I’ve
seen a dozen different variants of Slough—so just having the first letter makes it much
easier. I find the J’s, and there is Jacob from
1750. Note down the book and page—
that’s book A, page 204. You’ll have to jump around a bit to find
the right page, but once you do… well, here it is. Jacob’s 1750 will. That county’s records appear straightforward,
but wills are just one type of probate record. There are a ton of other ones, and they’re
not there on FamilySearch.org. I’ve got some videos on the types of documents
involved in probate, but the quick version is that intestate administrations, inventories
and other documents should exist elsewhere. Take Belmont County, Ohio. This is a much bigger list of documents than
in Lancaster county, and the index is much more complicated than in Lancaster. The case number here is pretty important:
Belmont County put most probate records into files by decedent, though wills are still
recorded chronologically in books like they were in Lancaster County. My final point, if you’re extracting images from FamilySearch.org
to add to your tree on another site—I bring them over to ancestry.com—there’s a really
critical step you don’t want to forget. When you copy the image, make sure you also
copy the citation text in the Information tab at the bottom of the screen, and
include that in the metadata of the image. For example, on ancestry.com there’s a “description” attribute for images, and I put the citation right there. If you forget to do that and have a need to
revisit the docs, you don’t want to go browsing through FamilySearch again,
find your person in the index, etc. etc. It’s a lot faster if you have that citation,
which includes the URL of the image.

One Comment

  • MB Scott

    I like your videos and want to include them in a genealogy presentation I am doing. Can you publish your email address so I can contact you directly?

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