Jewish Probate Records

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Probate records are court records dealing with the distribution of a person’s estate after death. Information in the records may include the death date, names of heirs and guardians, relationships, residences, an inventory of the estate, and names of witnesses. Usually when a person died, an account of all their debts and credits had to be made to ensure debtors were fairly compensated and heirs fairly represented. In most countries this created a record that can be searched for genealogical information. Where available, probate records can be useful for Jewish genealogical research since they may pre-date vital or civil registration records and can help establish relationships.

While probate records can be an accurate source of genealogical evidence, they should be used with caution. For example, they may not mention the names of deceased family members or those who previously received an inheritance. A surviving spouse mentioned in a will may not be the parent of the children mentioned. Also, probate records were not created for every person who died. Local laws and customs dictated how these records were kept. In countries where probates where not required, they are more likely to be found for people who had real estate or personal property. Although Jews in Europe generally did not own land, they were often among the tradesmen and merchant classes and therefore may have owned considerable personal property. Unfortunately, probate records rarely exist or may be difficult to locate in the Eastern European countries from which many Jews came.

Laws concerning keeping probate records as well as the dates such records were kept vary from country to country. In some places probate records were not kept, are mixed with other types of court records, or are not well organized or indexed. In other countries they are well indexed and easy to use.

You will need to learn the local customs and laws of the country or region where your ancestor lived to determine whether probate records exist, how they are arranged, and where they are kept. Search this Wiki for "Probate Records" and the country or state where your ancestor lived. See also Jewish Notarial Records. The Family History Library has an excellent collection of probate records for many countries and few for others. Check for probate records in the Place Search of the FamilySearch Catalog for the place where your ancestors lived.