Genealogy Immigration/Migration: Using probate records in researching immigrant ancestors

Using probate records in researching immigrant ancestorsital Records 2By Barry J. Ewell

The following are records and resources that genealogists find extremely helpful and full of clues to find immigrant ancestors. The information is designed to provide a quick reference and direction of where to find and search for records as probable places to find information.

Probate records (which document the process of passing property, both land and various goods, on to one’s heirs) are one of the major types of records used in genealogical research. Heirs may be anybody the testator (the person who made the will) chooses to name, including servants, in-laws, friends, and others. Wills and other papers created during the probate process are often the best possible source to document relationships between family members, particularly parent to child. Persons often identified themselves according to the place (often a town) they came from or were born in. Some (but certainly not all) wills and other probate papers may provide a key link between an immigrant in the new world and his family in the old. For example, American wills may mention a family’s origins in the old country. Foreign wills may bequeath property (goods or money) to relatives who had emigrated.

Many of the colonial probate records up through the early 1800s have been published.

How to Use Probate Records
Use probate records to learn the following information about your ancestors:

  • death date and place
  • residence
  • names (and addresses) of descendants
  • details to aid in search for land records
  • other places where the ancestor may have held property
  • relationships, including clues to help sort out adoptions, guardianships, and other unclear relationships
  • economic standing
  • clues about ancestor’s feelings toward family members
  • clues to the deaths of other family members
  • names of stores and vendors frequented by your ancestor
  • your ancestor’s signature
  • occupation
  • citizenship
  • marital status

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