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Lesson 6: Where There's a Will, There May Be a Clue: Probate Records

Probate records are one of the major types of records used in genealogical research. 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.

However, they can serve a secondary, and equally important, role in your research. 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.

Interestingly, probate action can be helpful for immigrant origins research regardless of on which side of the ocean the probate took place. American wills may mention a family's origins in the old country, while foreign wills, notably British, may bequeath property (goods or money) to relatives who had emigrated to the new world.

Nature of Colonial Probate

Probate records are one of the few records which date back to the earliest settlements in North America. Furthermore, with few exceptions, they have been well-preserved. Hence they are an excellent source for documenting Colonial families. Remember, immigrants generally came to the New World in order to better themselves, and their family, economically. The possibilities were endless, as was land and property at that time. Hence, most immigrant males obtained a fair amount of property before their death. Probate is the process of passing that property, both land and various goods, on to one's heirs.

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