Probate court is where most (American) wills and adoptions are recorded. Sometimes a Probate Court is also called a Surrogate Court,Orphans Court or Court of Ordinary. Whatever the name, the court can be petitioned by interested parties in an estate, such as when a beneficiary feels that an estate is being mishandled. The court has the authority to compel the executor to give an account of his actions. This can lead to some interesting and detailed descriptions of the life, death, and relationships of the deceased.
Just one example, this page has transcribed Skaggs wills . Besides inventories, it lists relatives and friends, witnesses (often neighbors), and court officials. Some of your ancestors may be hiding there!
The documents found in a probate file will vary from place to place and may include a single letter or a sheaf of court and family documents.
If the file represents proceedings to settle the estate of a deceased, its contents might include…
* a will, if there was one
* codicils (amendments) to the will
* a petition for an executor or administrator
* probate of the will
* a list of heirs or divisees
* an inventory of the deceased’s estate at time of death, including metes and bounds of land
* a report of the committee for partition when heirs cannot agree amongst themselves about how to divide the estate
* receipts from heirs and divisees
* a closing statement by the court
* an inventory of real estate and stocks and bonds held in joint tenancy, even though not part of the probate proceedings
If the file represents a name change, its contents might include…
* a petition for a name change
* a court decree
If the file represents adoption proceedings, its contents might include…
* a petition for adoption
* a deposition regarding the character of the prospective parents
How to find them?