probate genealogy

10 Probate Genealogy Research Tips

1. When trying to recover probate records for your ancestor, you should bear in mind that the record will be dated quite a while after the actual date of death. Begin your search with the year of death or estimated year.
 
2. While most will be within the same year – it is possible to find records up to 3 years after the person died. So be prepared for a long search, checking each year separately. After 3 years, it’s fair to assume that probate was unnecessary.
 
3. If you still cannot find anything – there are a small number of cases where un-administered estates come to light when their heir’s die. So, try searching for the records of their descendants.
 
4. Another trick is to search Scottish and Irish probate records too. If your ancestor owned property in Ireland or Scotland, probate may have been granted there. For example, the England and Wales National Calendar contains 110,000 instances of deaths that occurred in Scotland. You can also check records in other English speaking countries such as America, Canada and Australia.
 
5. When you find the entry, you will see a grant type is listed. ‘Administration’ means that your ancestor did not leave a will. However, it is still worth obtaining copies of documents. The probate grant will show you who applied for letters of administration to ‘wind up’ the estate, their relationship with the deceased and the value of the estate.
 
6. When you obtain copies of probate records; review the information carefully. Does it verify what you already know? Are there any conflicts? Is there a chance that it is not your ancestor?
 
7. Be careful how you interpret the information contained within the documents. See our guide to reading historic wills
 
8. A codicil is an amendment made to a will. These contain valuable information as they normally indicate a change in family circumstances.
 
9. Methodically go through the records and write down every piece of factual information you can glean. You may be able to find other sources to search or new family members to research.
 
10. You may be able to find out more about your ancestor from the Inland Revenue or Estate Duty tax on estates 1796-1903.
 
If you’re having trouble with your search, IWC offer a will tracing service for just £49, including copies of all documents found. Just enter as much info as you can into our form and we’ll do the rest.

Do you need a probate genealogist?

A probate genealogist or researcher is a professional who specialises in tracing missing heirs and proving their claim to the deceased estate. Also known as heir hunters, they have extensive knowledge about inheritance law and who is entitled to inherit in cases of intestacy.
 
Probate genealogists are appointed by solicitors, executors and personal representatives to find in the blanks and allow the estate to be officially wound up, even when there is no known next of kin. This includes:
  • Finding missing executors named in a will
  • Tracing heirs named in a will
  • Tracing next of kin in intestate cases
  • Finding rightful heirs according to intestacy law
  • Finding missing documents, wills, assets and insurance policies
  • Proving a blood relationships
  • Verifying family trees
  • Claiming the proceeds of the estate on behalf of heirs when it has been passed to the Treasurer
  • Handling probate and estate administration
A probate researcher will have access to historical records, databases and search tools enabling them to find missing heirs quickly and efficiently. This may involve checking:
  • Census data
  • Electoral registers
  • Births, marriages, deaths
  • Probate documents
  • Military or employment records
  • Historical archives
  • Overseas records
Searches can be lengthy and time consuming for those who don’t have the resources or experience. Often, solicitors give up and pass the estate to the Treasurer to be entered onto the Bona Vacantia. If it is not claimed within a certain time frame, the proceeds of the estate then pass to the Government.
 
With the help of a professional, some cases can be solved within days. The probate process can move forward and the assets of the estate can be distributed to the rightful heirs. 
 
If you’re an executor or administrator and cannot locate relatives or trace rightful beneficiaries of the estate, a probate genealogist can give you swift resolution. It will save you the time, hassle and frustration of trying to conduct specialised research alone. You’ll also be more likely to succeed in your search.

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