find a will

What can probate records tell me about my ancestry?

Probate records are valuable historical documents that can offer a wealth of exciting information to genealogy researchers. This is because they contain a copy of the Last Will and Testament of your ancestor. 
Wills contain a whole host of information that you cannot glean from looking at birth, death and marriage certificates. Some of this information is quite personal too, what kind of funeral they want, who they decide to leave their most treasured possessions to and who they trust to act as executors.   
Here’s just some of the information you can expect to see in a will:
  • Whether the deceased was married
  • The name of their spouse
  • The names of children
  • Names of grandchildren
  • Address when the will was made
  • Where they were laid to rest
  • Who they wished to bequeath their fortune to
  • Relationships between family members
  • Personal preferences concerning funeral arrangements
  • The religion of the deceased
  • Their job or occupation
  • Where descendants lived
  • Insight into the lifestyle of the deceased
  • Whether or they owned property
  • Personal belongings and items owned
  • Your ancestors signature
Even if your ancestor died intestate (without a will), at the very least probate records contain important names, addresses, dates and sometimes the occupation of the administrators. They also include the value of the estate, so you can find out how wealthy your distant relatives were.
Find a will now – and get amazing insight into the life of your ancestor, as well as a historical snapshot of what it was like to live in that period. 
Charles Dickens for example, died in 1870 – his role states that mourners “who attend my funeral wear no scarf, cloak, black bow, long hatband, or other such revolting absurdity.”
Thomas Jefferson’s will created a trust for his daughter and provided for the freedom of several of his slaves. “I give to my good, affectionate, and faithful servant Burwell his freedom, and the sum of three hundred Dollars.”
William Shakespeare left his wife his 2nd best bed “I give unto my wife my second best bed with the furniture.” This has caused much speculation as to whether the bard did in fact loathe his wife. Although some maintain it was an ordinary custom, in fact beds of prosperous citizens were worth a small fortune in Elizabethan times.

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