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Massachusetts, Plymouth County, Probate Estate Files - FamilySearch Historical Records

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Massachusetts, Plymouth County, Probate Estate Files, 1686-1915
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This article describes a collection of records at FamilySearch.org.
Plymouth, Massachusetts, 
United States
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Flag of Massachusetts
US Locator Map Massachusetts Plymouth.PNG
Location of Plymouth, Massachusetts
US Locator Massachusetts.png
Location of Massachusetts
Record Description
Record Type Probate
Collection years 1686-1915
FamilySearch Resources
Related Websites


What is in This Collection?[edit | edit source]

The collection consists of probate estate files of Plymouth County located at Suffolk County Courthouse in Boston. The files are arranged by number then alphabetical by surname. This collection is being published as images become available. The collection includes records from 1686 to 1915.

To Browse This Collection[edit | edit source]

You can browse through images in this collection by visiting the browse page for Massachusetts, Plymouth County, Probate Estate Files, 1686-1915.

What Can These Records Tell Me?[edit | edit source]

The following information may be found in these records

Probate

  • Petitions
  • Inventories
  • Accounts
  • Decrees
  • Oaths of executors
  • Forms about guardians
  • Other court documents

Information in entries

  • Name of testator or deceased
  • Names of heirs such as spouse, children,
and other relatives or friends
  • Names of witnesses
  • Residence of testator
  • Lists of belongings, property, and so forth
  • Document and recording dates
(Sometimes the date of death will be given.
Recording dates are also used to approximate event dates,
i.e. a letter of administration was usually written
shortly after the time of death.)

Collection Content[edit | edit source]

Sample Images[edit | edit source]

How Do I Search This Collection?[edit | edit source]

Before searching this collection, it is helpful to know:

  • The name of the deceased
  • The place of residence
  • The approximate death or probate date

View the Images[edit | edit source]

View images in this collection by visiting the Browse Page:

  1. Select the County
  2. Select the Case File Number and Name Range to view the images.


How Do I Analyze the Results?[edit | edit source]

Compare each result from your search with what you know to determine if there is a match. This may require viewing multiple records or images. Keep track of your research in a research log.

What Do I Do Next?[edit | edit source]

When you have located your ancestor’s record, carefully evaluate each piece of information given. These pieces of information may give you new biographical details that can lead you to other records about your ancestors.

I Found the Person I Was Looking For, What Now?[edit | edit source]

  • Use probate records to identify heirs and relatives
  • Use the document (such as the will) or the recording dates to approximate a death date
  • Use the information in the probate record to substitute for civil birth and death records since the probates exist for an earlier time period
  • Use the birth date or age along with the residence or place of birth of the deceased to locate census, church, and land records
  • Use the occupations listed to find other types of records such as employment or military records
  • You may be able to use the probate record to learn about adoptions or guardianship of any minor children and dependents
  • You may be able to use the probate record to learn about land transactions
  • Wills are more likely to be found in rural communities than in larger cities and industrial areas
  • The information in the records is usually reliable, but depends upon the reliability of the deceased or the testator
  • Earlier records may not contain as much information as the records created after 1900
  • There is also some variation in the information given from one record to another record
  • Compile the entries for every person who has the same surname as the deceased; this is especially helpful in rural areas or if the surname is unusual
  • Continue to search the records to identify children, siblings, parents, and other relatives who may have died in the same county or nearby. This can help you identify other generations of your family or even the second marriage of a parent. Repeat this process for each new generation you identify
  • When looking for a person who had a common name, look at all the entries for the name before deciding which is correct

I Can't Find the Person I'm Looking For, What Now?[edit | edit source]

  • Check for variant spellings of the surnames
  • Check for a different index. There are often indexes at the beginning of each volume
  • Search the indexes and records of nearby counties

Research Helps[edit | edit source]

The following articles will help you in your research for your family in the state of Massachusetts.

General Information About These Records[edit | edit source]

Essex County was created on May 10, 1643, and was formed as an Original County with its county seat in Salem. Probate records, including the administration of estates, probate of wills, and the appointment of guardians, have been under the jurisdiction of the courts since the 1630s. County courts, and later county judges of probate, were responsible for these functions until 1783, when the probate courts were established. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the probate and family courts were given jurisdiction over adoptions, divorces, name changes, and domestic relations.

The county was divided into two districts in 1869 with the "parent" county seat, at Salem remaining as the probate office for the county.

Probate records were court documents and may have involved loose papers and/or bound volumes. These records were generally known as an estate file or probate packet. Files included all documents related to estate settlement, including settlement papers, inventories, receipts, and wills. Other estate records listed in these files may include accounts, administrations, appraisals, minutes, bonds, petitions, and guardianships.

Probate records are used to legally dispose of a person’s estate after his or her death. The probate process transfers the legal responsibility for payment of taxes, care and custody of dependent family members, liquidation of debts, and transfer of property title to heirs from the deceased to:

  • An executor or executrix (if the deceased had made a will)
  • An administrator or administratrix (if the deceased had not made a will)
  • A guardian or conservator (if the deceased had heirs under the age of twenty-one or if the heirs were incompetent due to disease or disability)

The death date, residence, and other facts that were current at the time of the probate proceeding are quite reliable, though there is still a chance of misinformation. The records may omit the names of deceased family members and those who have previously received an inheritance, or the spouse mentioned may not be the parent of the children mentioned.

Citing This Collection[edit | edit source]

Citations help you keep track of places you have searched and sources you have found. Identifying your sources helps others find the records you used.

Collection Citation:
The citation for this collection can be found on the Collection Details Page in the section Citing this Collection.
Image Citation:
When looking at an image, the citation is found on the Information tab at the bottom left of the screen.

How Can I Contribute to the FamilySearch Wiki?[edit | edit source]

We welcome user additions to FamilySearch Historical Records wiki articles. We are looking for additional information that will help readers understand the topic and better use the available records. We also need translations for collection titles and images in articles about records written in languages other than English. For specific needs, please visit WikiProject FamilySearch Historical Records.

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