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.