Why did Jonathan Stark leave his prized pocket watch to his nephew, instead of his son? To solve the mystery, turn first to probate records, the legal “last words” of a person’s life. Probates are rich in stories and secrets.
Nothing provides clues to the social status and relationships of ancestors like wills, estate inventories, guardianship petitions, deeds, death certificates, and other documents relating to the disposition of one’s personal and financial life.
A will, for example, may provide hints about the quality of family relationships in an explanation about who inherited what, and why. (Like that pocket watch.) Estate inventories and deeds may give insight into the financial situation and social position of an ancestor. (A canopy bed implied a certain level of wealth, for instance.)
These are the details that inform narrative, and give texture and context to names and dates. These are the specifics that bring a deeper understanding of who our ancestors were, who they cared about, what they treasured, and how they lived. In short, probate records can personalize our ancestors, bringing them out of the realm of data and setting them into their rightful place – our hearts.
Now, the largest online collection of digitized, indexed U.S. wills and probate records is available exclusively at Ancestry – making individual names searchable. Over 170 million document images from all 50 states, spanning more than 200 years, are included in this unprecedented collection, which was made possible through a years-long collaboration between Ancestry and FamilySearch.
Search for your ancestors’ U.S. probate records here. And, while you’re at it, have a little fun searching for celebrities, outlaws, and presidents. What you find will amaze you.