Rhode Island Probate Records
Probate is the “court procedure by which a will is proved to be valid or invalid” and encompasses “all matters and proceedings pertaining to the administration of estates, guardianships, etc.” Various types of records are created throughout the probate process. These may include, wills, bonds, petitions, accounts, inventories, administrations, orders, decrees, and distributions. These documents are extremely valuable to genealogists and should not be neglected. In many instances, they are the only known source of relevant information such as the decedent’s date of death, names of his or her spouse, children, parents, siblings, in-laws, neighbors, associates, relatives, and their places of residence. They may also include information about adoption or guardianship of minor children and dependents. For further information about probate records and the probate process see United States Probate Records.
Probate matters were recorded by town councils until each town established a probate court. Many of the published town records include references to wills and estate matters.
- The Family History Library has microfilm copies of many of these records. They are listed in the Family History Library Catalog under RHODE ISLAND, [COUNTY], [TOWN] - PROBATE RECORDS. From the municipal courts of Providence, for example, the library has 39 films of probate proceedings (1798-1920), will books (1678-1899), and dockets and indexes (1646-1921).
Statewide Record Collections
The probate records of Providence, 1670 to 1730, have been published. Also see Frank Calef's index to Providence probate records of 1663 to 1775 (FHL 022385).
- Wakefield, Robert S. Index to Wills in Rhode Island Genealogical Register, Volumes 1 through 4. Warwick, Rhode Island: Plymouth Colony Research Group, 1982. (FHL 974.5 D2ri.); An excellent index to a large number of Rhode Island wills to about 1850. The Rhode Island Genealogical Register continues to publish abstracts of wills.
The general council, also known as the Council of Probate, kept minutes and documents dealing with probate appeals for the years 1667 to 1813 (FHL 954936-37).
- Melnyk, Marcia D. Genealogist's Handbook for New England Research, 4th ed. Boston, Massachusetts: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1999. (FHL 974 D27g.)
- Henry Campbell Black, Black's Law Dictionary, 5th ed. (St. Paul, Minnesota: West Publishing Co., 1979), 1081, "probate."