Probate Records: A Window into Your Ancestors’ Lives

Last Will and Testiment--shutterstock_17164120

Jennifer Davis of Arizona was delighted to find the probate records of her third great-grandfather, James Kerns, whose family settled the Missouri frontier when birth records were few and far between. These records enabled her to correctly piece relationships together, a “family history victory” that had eluded her for years. In the probate records, she also uncovered clues leading to different records that held other useful information.

Probate records are 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. Estate inventories and deeds may give insight into the financial situation and social position of an ancestor.

These details inform narrative and give texture and context to names and dates. These specifics 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 on Ancestry, a FamilySearch partner site, 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. The LDS experience on Ancestry includes integration with the FamilySearch Family Tree to connect your research across the two websites.

Elder Quentin L. Cook said, “These records—and there are millions of them—will help you find more ancestors who may not yet be connected to your family and who need ordinances performed for them in temples. There are more records from around the world…on websites such as Ancestry…which all Church members can now access for free” (“Our Father’s Plan Is about Families,” RootsTech 2015).

Search for your ancestors’ U.S. probate records here. And, while you’re at it, have a little fun searching for celebrities, outlaws, presidents, and prophets. What you find will amaze you.


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